Eye on 2013: Hitters

OMAHA, Neb. – There is plenty of talent and depth expected to leave the Florida program before next season. The challenge for head coach Kevin O'Sullivan and his staff is to develop the existing players. The Gators have a combination of another strong recruiting class coming in and the return of some more experienced players than it may seem like.


The Gators will lose an All-American behind the plate in Mike Zunino. The junior has been a fixture in the middle of the batting order for two years and one of the most feared hitters in the country. His void won't just be on the field, but he has been the leader of the team from behind the plate with his control of the pitching staff.

Lucky for Florida, his replacement has been watching from close behind.

Taylor Gushue is expected to take over behind the plate in 2013. Gushue graduated early from high school and played the 2012 season for the Gators instead of Calvary Christian Academy. He started out on fire, hitting .327 with four home runs and 12 RBI in his first 16 games. Opposing teams made adjustments, and Gushue couldn't counter. He ended the season hitting .206 with five home runs and 21 RBI.

The switch hitter provides power from both sides of the plate, but he needs to be more consistent with his average. Despite his inconsistencies, Gushue proved he can get on base after finishing fifth on the team with 23 walks.

Freshman Kevin Stypulkowski will add depth behind the plate. The 6-2, 200-pound switch hitter can drive the ball from the left side and should gain more strength when he gets to college.


The Gators had a log jam at first base last year with Brian Johnson, Vickash Ramjit, Gushue and Austin Maddox all battling for at bats. With Gushue likely moving behind the plate, Ramjit is the only player that remains on the team who can play first.

Ramjit went into the 2012 season down on the depth chart at first, just as he did in 2011. However, by the time the postseason rolled around, Ramjit was right back in the mix at first base with Johnson getting time as the designated hitter and Maddox focusing on relieving.

Ramjit ended the season with a .273 batting average, .329 on-base percentage, five home runs and 20 RBI. He'll need to be more consistent at the plate and in the field if he's going to be able to hold the job done for the entire 2013 season. No one has ever questioned Ramjit's ability to hit a fastball, but his off-speed recognition needs to improve.

Brady Roberson could see early playing time at both corner infield spots in 2013. The freshman from Palm Beach Central High School can really hit and opened eyes at the FACA Baseball All-Star Classic in Sebring.


Casey Turgeon started as a freshman and had a strong season in 2012. The Gators lost four-year starter Josh Adams after the 2011 season, but Turgeon stepped in and didn't skip a beat defensively with a .974 fielding percentage.

At the plate, Turgeon hit .281 with a .368 on-base percentage, four home runs and 30 RBI. He was fifth on the team with 94 total bases. Turgeon also chipped in by going 10-13 in stolen bases.

Physically, Turgeon might be maxed out in his 5-9, 165-pound frame, but he still has surprising strength with as hard as he swings. He matured throughout his freshman year by learning how to hit the ball to the opposite field, especially against left-handed pitchers.

Turgeon has the range to make the move to shortstop if the Gators need him to, but there's a freshman that will factor in at that spot.


Nolan Fontana will leave Gainesville as one of the most decorated shortstops in school history. The junior earned accolades such as Freshman All-American, SEC All-Freshman Team, SEC All-Defensive Team, semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award and was eventually taken with the first pick in the second round by the Houston Astros.

The likely replacement comes to Gainesville for the Summer B session. The Seattle Mariners selected Bloomingdale High School (Brandon, Fla.) shortstop Richie Martin in the 38th round, but Martin has already confirmed he will be on campus in Gainesville later this month.

The 5-10, 170-pound shortstop earned the MVP at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star game after going 4-for-5 with a triple and three stolen bases in two games.

As a senior, Martin hit .438 with six doubles, two triples, 19 RBI, 21 stolen bases and 25 runs scored. He was ranked as the 20th overall player in the state of Florida by Perfect Game. His speed makes him an exciting player, especially for the athletic, speed-based team Florida is reshaping the roster towards in the future.

Cody Dent also returns to the team and will add depth to all the infield positions.


Josh Tobias could be the answer to the rotating third basemen the Gators have used in recent years. He was the opening night starter and held the job for a month before fracturing his hamate bone and missing five weeks of the season. Once recovered, Tobias' bat constantly improved.

The freshman ended the season with a .252 batting average, .320 on-base percentage and ten RBI. He had the most inconsistent year of the freshmen that were in the lineup, going through constant hot and cold streaks, but Tobias showed the ability to hit at the college level.

His .914 fielding percentage and team-high 11 errors are an issue, but he also had many diving plays that showed what he is capable of. The freshman was complimented throughout his high school career for his glove, and an offseason should help him regroup in the field.

The issue at third base is that Zack Powers will return after missing the 2012 season because of a torn labrum. Powers and Tobias were named the third baseman on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

They actually followed similar career paths. Each had inconsistent freshmen seasons with the glove but showed potential with the bat. It's hard to imagine Tobias not in the opening day lineup because of his success at the plate late in the 2012 season, but the Florida coaches are also high on Powers, who could also switch to the outfield if necessary.


Kevin O'Sullivan hasn't needed much time to think about the outfield when filling out his lineup in recent years. Daniel Pigott and Preston Tucker have been mainstays in the outfield in recent years, and both will need to be replaced before the 2013 season.

Justin Shafer is returning after a freshman season that ended strong. He hit .284 with 27 RBI and was Florida's hottest hitter when the season came to a close. Shafer came to college with raw tools on the diamond, but his high school football career, which yielded a few Division One offers to play quarterback, might have stunted his growth. Focusing only on baseball, Shafer started to thrive down the stretch of the season.

If he gets stronger and has the offseason he is capable of having, Shafer should hit in the middle of the order. He didn't hit a home run in 162 at-bats, but Shafer has the frame to add weight and get stronger. The power projection is an important part of his game. He could play either corner outfield spot in 2013.

Tyler Thompson has received a medical redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in 2012, and he will return for his fifth year in 2013. His return gives the Gators a much need veteran presence that would be participating in his sixth year. Thompson was hitting .319 with a .365 on-base percentage before the injury in his 16th game played. He had two home runs in 47 at-bats but provided some power in the bottom part of the lineup. He might need to hit higher in the lineup in 2013, but Thompson's experience is be the most beneficial part of his return.

Those two players would force the Gators to find a third outfielder.

Florida recently added Marcus Davis from Walters State Community College. As a sophomore, Davis hit .441 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI. He will step in and be immediately eligible in the fall. Davis signed with LSU out of Providence (OH) High School, where he played on the baseball team with current Tigers running back Spencer Ware.

He told the Knoxville News that he had "some issues" with LSU head coach Paul Mainieri and felt it would be better to go the junior college route. Perfect Game ranked Davis as the sixth best high school prospect in Ohio when he graduated high school in 2010. He has plus bat speed, especially on pitches down in the zone.

Christian Dicks could be the one. The 6-2, 190-pound outfielder is another freshman with plus speed and has the instincts to be a good outfielder. The Gators have a lot of speed next season after not having much of it in recent years.

One intriguing prospect is Cory Reid. He will be a redshirt freshman in 2013 but traveled with the team and worked to improve his swing throughout the 2012 season. Reid looked lost during fall practices in 2011 but slowly improved the bat. If he can hit at a consistent level, he can make an impact at the college level. His speed, defense and arm are all good enough to contribute in the SEC.

Connor Mitchell could also get some time on the field. The former walk-on from Plant High School took advantage of his opportunities in 2012 and could get in the mix for one of the starting jobs next season.

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