Changing the offense

Florida's three-year run of College World Series appearances has been predicated on power. The Gators had seven players hit at least five home runs last season. The number won't be close to that high this season, as head coach Kevin O'Sullivan changes the identity of his team. Florida will be active on the base paths this season to maximize the team speed that it hasn't had since 2008.

It's all about roster maximization for Kevin O'Sullivan. When he took over the Florida program before the 2008 season, the Florida roster was built with speed. The Gators had three players — Avery Barnes (26), Matt den Dekker (20) and Cole Figueroa (20) — steal at least 20 bases during that season. Florida stole 109 bases as a team, the eighth most in school history.

Recruiting soon changed the way the team was constructed. Preston Tucker got to campus for the 2009 season and was joined by Mike Zunino, Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox in 2010. Before long, the Gators had a team stacked with power from top to bottom.

O'Sullivan built a dream lineup with the old bats that put home runs in college baseball at an all-time high. That worked before the NCAA changed bat regulations without much warning for college coaches. After a historic hit to the roster during the 2012 MLB Draft, the Gators will be more focused on using speed and playing small ball during the 2013 season.

"Our offense is going to be different," Kevin O'Sullivan said. "How you coach and approach things changes every year depending on your personnel. The personnel is different. It certainly can be as successful, but we're just going to have to do it a different way."

The Gators lost 61 of the team's 75 home runs last season. The transition to speed is a better fit for the roster, but it's also imperative. Florida can't sit back and wait for the three-run home run. It used to be one of the few teams in the country that could still do that in the new era of BBCOR bats.

With the most important games in college baseball being played at TD Ameritrade Park, which has served as a massive pitcher's park, the Gators hope their new approach is a better fit in the postseason. They'll still have to score enough runs to get there.

With pitching staff anchors Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson returning for the 2013 season, the Gators don't have to be explosive on offense, but they will need to be creative.

"Last year, we came up to the plate and everyone could just hit it out whenever they wanted," Florida second baseman Casey Tugeon said. "This year, it's going to be different. We're really fast — not as much power as last year. I'd say this year is going to be a lot more fun.

"I've never really played on a team where the speed was (this) unbelievable."

When the Gators started fall practice in October, practices were different. More time was spent on bunting drills to make sure every player in the lineup could get a bunt down. The coaches called for more bunts during scrimmages to make players more comfortable with it once games start on February 15.

That hasn't changed in the spring. Hitters are spending more time working on bunts so that the Gators are ready to do it in games when the regular season starts.

"It's going to be small ball," Turgeon said. "It's a lot of moving the runners. We're not going to hit the ball out a lot. We'll still get out fair share, but there will be a lot of guys running and a lot of guys bunting. We'll do it all."

The speed is another element of it. Because there aren't as many hitters in the lineup that will consistently hit the ball into the gaps for extra base hits, the Gators will have to create that through stolen bases. O'Sullivan wants his players to run.

Nolan Fontana's 13 stolen bases led the Gators in 2012, and only two other players were in double figures.

O'Sullivan isn't as sure about his lineup this season, but there are plenty of players that can run. Third baseman Josh Tobias, shortstop Richie Martin and outfielder Harrison Bader are the players the Gators will lean on to steal bases.

"We're going to run a lot more this year than we did last year," Tobias said. "That's fun. I like to run. It's going to make our offense a lot more explosive than it was last year."

Tobias will be an important part of the offense

Bader and Martin are key newcomers that will fit into the new plan. Bader was a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class but will factor in immediately in center field. He ran the fastest 60-yard time when the Florida team ran it in the fall.

Martin is the heralded freshman that has created a buzz around the program. He'll be the starting shortstop on opening night and has a good chance to serve as the team's leadoff hitter. Expectations are high for his ability to change the game on offense and defense.

When he gets on base, Martin can be disruptive, just as he was during fall scrimmages. He has good instincts and athleticism that help him serve as the perfect table setter for the Florida lineup. He's also an engineering major that got just one "B" during the fall semester.

"He's a very good player, very mature," O'Sullivan said. "He's our hardest worker. He's very talented. He has some big shoes to fill with Nolan departing, but he has worked extremely hard.

"With he and Casey up the middle, it's as good of a middle as you're going to see at this level."

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