A look at 2014: Outfield

There are two likely returning starters in the Florida outfield for the 2014 season. Harrison Bader put together a strong season in 2013, earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team. Justin Shafer also improved from his freshman to sophomore season. Bader's ability to play left field or center field gives the Gators some flexibility in the outfield.

Harrison Bader was a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class. After previously being committed to Maryland and Michigan, he made the switch late in the process and decided to play his college baseball in Gainesville. It worked out well, giving the Gators another body in the outfield, but he ended up being much more than that.

Bader led the Gators with a .312 batting average and 15 stolen bases. He had just 10 extra base hits, but his value came in his batting average, playing in all 59 games over the course of the season. Bader was second on the team with 37 runs and posted a .371 on-base percentage.

Justin Shafer was tied for second on the team with a .300 batting average. He was tied for the team lead with five home runs, driving in 25 runs with a team-high 103 total bases. He also led the team with a .448 slugging percentage, aided by his team-high 17 doubles.

Defense was an issue in 2012 for Shafer, but he took a step forward as a sophomore, making just two errors in the outfield and getting better jumps on fly balls. He was a liability as a freshman, but Shafer held his own and proved capable of handling the outfield in the future with his 2013 performance. He will be a middle of the order bat again in 2014.

The question comes in the third outfielder position in 2014.

At this point, it makes a lot of sense for Taylor Ratliff to step into the position. He was one of the best hitters on the roster in fall and spring practices, bringing more speed to the roster next season. Ratliff can handle center field, allowing Bader to play left field, if that's the route the coaches elect to go.

Ratliff put together two strong seasons at Jacksonville before transferring to Florida. The Gators put in for a waiver to earn him eligibility in 2013, but the NCAA ruled just hours before first pitch on opening night that Ratliff wouldn't be able to play in 2013. He will be a key factor on the 2014 team.

If a player is going to push Ratliff for the third outfielder job, it'll need to be a player that experiences an improvement over the offseason. There are some candidates to do that, too.

Christian Dicks was an Under Armour All-American out of high school and was expected to make an impact last season. However, he hit .154 as a freshman in 39 at-bats. He has speed and athleticism that the Florida coaches want to go with his flat swing.

Cory Reid started on opening night and got at-bats against left-handed pitchers early in the season before an injury slowed his progress. He ended the year with a .275 batting average in 40 at-bats.

Connor Mitchell will also provide depth after hitting .210 in 62 at-bats last season.

The incoming recruiting class doesn't have many immediate impact outfielders. Dr. Phillips (FL) High School outfielder Ryan Larson and St. George (MD) High School outfielder Michael Buddy Reed are the only two true outfielders coming in from the high school ranks, unless one of the infield signees move to the outfield once they get to campus.

Larson and Reed will be given a chance to see playing time, but the returning players might keep them from doing that immediately in 2014.

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