Sophomore LHP primed for breakout year

Years before they dipped into buckets in the McKethan bullpen, two Florida pitchers were already facing off with their hands cinched around plastic bats. The field was far less sophisticated than the well-tended clay they'd soon tread. The balls were far lighter than what they'd grip donning orange and blue. But for childhood games of wiffle ball, Corey Stump's front yard fared just fine.

Stump, older brother Jonathan and Brian Johnson spent the early part of their childhoods three houses apart in Lakeland, Fla. However, at 12 years old, Johnson picked up with his family for a more-than-100-mile trek to a new home in Cocoa Beach. The Stumps remained stemmed in central Florida.

Though both Johnson and Stump were now rooted in different parts of the state, they'd soon be reunited again in the realm of the diamond.

Upon Johnson's graduation from Cocoa Beach High in 2009, the left-hander set out to perform on the mound for the Gators. Jonathan, too, took his talents to college ball playing for the Berry College Vikings. But it was during Johnson's time at Florida that he received a call from head coach Kevin O'Sullivan about a familiar high school player he was scouting on a recruiting visit.

"When Sully saw him pitch, he called me and was like, ‘Corey Stump says he knows you,'" Johnson said.

Johnson soon picked up the phone himself and talked to the Lakeland Christian pitcher about Florida.

"(I told him) that UF would fit him great, and if he wanted to grow as a baseball player, the coaching staff at Florida will do that," he said.

Flash-forward to 2012, Stump's debut season in orange and blue and the start of Johnson's last before the Red Sox scooped the lefty as their 31st pick in the first round of the MLB draft.

"I was a little nervous, I'm not going to lie, just like everybody else was," Stump said. "(Johnson) took me under his wing and told me just be careful. Don't really care about anything else except focusing on throwing for strikes and getting hitters out. That's all you really need to do."

Though Johnson and Stump are both left-handers (unlike brother Jonathan — a right-hander), Johnson said they're different pitchers, so helping Stump with his mentality on the mound trumped aiding the newcomer with his mechanics.

"I felt like he was pitching worried," Johnson said. "You can't pitch like that — just have fun. It's the same game you've been playing your whole life."

At the close of Florida's season, which was halted by a 5-4 loss to Kent State in the College World Series June 18th, Stump had clocked in four innings throughout his six appearances, registering a 2.25 ERA allowing three hits, two runs, one error and two walks.

This season's Friday night starter, Jonathon Crawford, had a similar run in his first season at Florida. In 2011, Crawford held a 4.91 ERA for 3.2 innings pitched in his five appearances bulked with six hits, three runs, two errors, one walk and four strikeouts.

It was Crawford's sophomore year the Okeechobee native really emerged as a force to be reckoned with for Florida, especially when he inked the history books in the NCAA tournament. Crawford chalked up the tournament's seventh no-hitter ever in Florida's 4-0 defeat of Bethune-Cookman. It was the first no-hitter for the Gators since '91.

Crawford then went on to pitch for the 2012 USA College National Team and enters this season with a slew of accolades including spots on Baseball America's 2013 Preseason All-America Team along with teammate Karsten Whitson.

While Crawford's sophomore spark was a truly monumental instance, O'Sullivan said a breakout year for Stump could be in the cards.

"They both had very similar freshman years," he said. "And I'm hoping Corey has a similar year as Jonathon did his sophomore year. He's certainly worked hard and we're going to need him to be good for us."

Since last season, O'Sullivan said Stump, who comes in at 6'5, 220-pounds, has matured and gained strength.

"His confidence is obviously at an all-time high right now," O'Sullivan said. "We're going to need him for us to be good – for us to end up where we want to be."

When evaluating himself for a role in Florida's bullpen this season, Stump said he brings a tall, left-handed presence bearing a different throw from the left side.

Crawford, too, harped on Stump's advantage from the opposite edge of the mound.

"He's a great pitcher and we're going to need him to contribute a lot this year," Crawford said. "He's going to have to go out there and give us some innings as a lefty."

Though Johnson no longer shares a bullpen with Stump or Crawford and is heading to Fort Myers in the coming days for spring training with former UF teammates Austin Maddox and Greg Larson, his praise for Stump still glimmers.

"He's just the kid that always is coming to the field with a positive attitude," Johnson said. "And he's one of the hardest working kids I know."

Stump and his teammates are currently gearing up for their season opener on Feb. 15th against Duke, and even though Johnson won't be on the fiel, the impact he's made on the mound and Stump won't soon be forgotten, according to O'Sullivan.

"We had a tremendous group of players," O'Sullivan said of Johnson and the rest of the departed players from last season. "Those guys, even though they're gone, their legacy is still here with us and they passed along some great things to other players and next year will be another group of great players. Certainly they're missed, but definitely not forgotten. Their legacy still lives on day-to-day with our players."

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