Zunino excited about 2013 Gators

The Gators will be under new player leadership this season after last year's senior class graduated and the junior class was wiped out by the MLB Draft. There are just two seniors — Cody Dent and Vickash Ramjit — left on the roster. Former Florida catcher Mike Zunino thinks the Gators could still surprise. He saw the young talent last season and expects it to blossom this spring.

"With Sully and the whole coaching staff, they're going to be ready to play," Mike Zunino said. "They'll compete. We're always going to have good arms marching out there. You know that aspect of it is going to be good. They're going to be playing a little more small ball and running more. I know it's a young group, but hopefully they play with a chip on their shoulders with something to prove."

The new offense will be the biggest change. Zunino hit in the middle of last year's Florida offense that was unique because of its power. Any hitter in the lineup was a threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's not the case this year. The Gators will lean on their speed and athleticism to try creating runs on the base paths.

There were signs of it last year. Josh Tobias and Casey Turgeon added speed to the lineup last year, and with some younger players bringing more athleticism to the lineup, Zunino has seen in practice that the Gators will run more often.

"To know that you don't have to bop the ball out of the park to score runs, all they have to do is put the ball in the gaps and run," Zunino said. "If they trust themselves and not get out of their team aspect of the game, they'll be fine. Last year, we had the privilege to sit back and wait for a big home run or a big hit. This year, it's going to be nice because all nine guys will be pulling each other and needing each other in the lineup.

"It's going to be nice. When you have those guys top-to-bottom, there's really no break for the pitcher in there."

The leadership will still be there. Vickash Ramjit is the most vocal leader on the team, while junior aces Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson are also taking the reigns of the team.

The freshmen last season were able to sit back and watch the upperclassmen lead. There was so much experience on the 2012 team that the freshmen didn't need to speak up or try to lead. That's not the case anymore. Now heading into their sophomore years, players like Justin Shafer, Tobias and Turgeon will be expected to lead.

"I've seen a lot of the young guys and how they interact in practice," Zunino said. "(The sophomores) are taking over those roles as leaders. It's tough for them. They're taking on those roles as sophomores instead of usually when you're juniors or seniors. They've matured a lot in that year."

The duo of Crawford and Whitson will keep the Gators in any series this year. Zunino watched from behind the plate as they grew and developed on the mound. While Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall are gone from the rotation, Zunino doesn't expect much of a drop off as the two new aces take over.

"Those are two really solid guys to march out there on a Friday and Saturday," Zunino said. "It'll be fun to watch. They both have great stuff, power arms. They're going to fit into the SEC just fine. They'll compete just like they have the last two years. I know whoever Sully deems as the third starter, I know they'll compete, too. That's all it is."

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan leaned heavily on his trio of upperclassmen —Greg Larson, Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez — at the end of the games last season. Because of that, the freshmen didn't get on the mound too much last year.

The Gators will have to rebuild the bullpen this season. Ryan Harris and Corey Stump both pitched well in limited action last season and have taken that into preseason practices this year. Daniel Gibson will also be trusted with a bigger role.

There are multiple electric arms in the bullpen that can earn roles if they perform in the tight situations.

"They all like to attack hitters," Zunino said of the bullpen arms. "I heard great things about Harris coming back from summer ball. Kish threw the ball well last year. Stump is going to be a great lefty out of (the bullpen). Gibson… There are just so many guys that have power stuff and good breaking balls. They're going to go out there and compete. Once they go in and get comfortable, they just have to do their job for an inning or so and let the next guy do his."

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