Notebook: Hanhold key to 2014

There aren't many certainties on the Florida pitching staff this fall. Head coach Kevin O'Sullivan likes the talent he has on the mound, but with plenty of newcomers and inexperienced players, the coaches will have to find which pitchers fit different roles. Sophomore Eric Hanhold is expected to fit into the weekend rotation after his offseason improvement.

Last season wasn't pretty for Hanhold. He finished his freshman year with an 0-4 record and a 5.88 ERA, the highest of any pitcher on the staff with at least 30 innings. Hanhold allowed 44 hits and 11 walks in 33.2 innings pitched.

He always had the ability on the mound. Even when the 6-5, 205-pound right-hander was getting hit hard as a freshman, he was still in the low 90s. The potential was easy to see.

Now heading into his sophomore year, he's starting to reach it.

"The biggest jump anyone makes it from his freshman year to sophomore year," Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He certainly has made that jump."

Hanhold credits being comfortable and the improvement in his slider. He changed the grip on the pitch, changing it from more of a slurve into a hard, biting slider. He's more comfortable on the mound after a year in the program and knows what to expect over the course of the SEC schedule.

"Everything has improved," Eric Hanhold said. "Pitches are getting harder, sharper. And then just the location."

It's too early for O'Sullivan and the Florida staff to make a decision on the weekend rotation, but if Hanhold continues to showcase his improvement this fall, the sophomore will be a key part of Florida's rotation.

"We're going to lean on him this year," O'Sullivan said. "He needs to be one of those guys that's pitching on the weekend. He needs to be challenged that way, accept that role and responsibility. I feel good about where he's at mentally. He's going to be a big key to our success."

FRESHMEN IMPRESSING: The Gators have the top-ranked freshman class in the country this season, according to Baseball America. While O'Sullivan pointed towards those rankings as more interesting to the fans, it's easy to see the added talent on the roster this fall.

"We do have a good class with a lot of work to do, but we've added some depth to our pitching and added more power to our lineup," O'Sullivan said. "It's a very talented group."

The group of pitchers will immediately upgrade Florida's talent on the mound. Hanhold singled out Brett Morales, Dane Dunning and A.J. Puk as standouts so far, while Harrison Bader talked about how challenging it has been to face Morales and the numerous left-handers.

Morales brought an advanced changeup to Gainesville to go along with his low-to-mid 90s fastball, and his curveball is improving in only a few outings this fall.

"He's got a good arm," O'Sullivan said of Morales. "He's only been pitching for a few years. He was an infielder growing up most of the time and he took to the pitching thing more seriously his junior year of high school. He's got a good arm, his breaking ball is much improved. He's come in with a really good changeup, but I feel like he's throwing the ball well."

Freshmen Shaun Anderson and Logan Shore have also received positive reviews from teammates this fall. With most of the pitchers having success, the one part that makes these freshmen different than most under O'Sullivan is their advanced feel for the changeup.

It's usually a pitch O'Sullivan has to spend time working with his newcomers on, but this class has a veteran feel for the pitch already.

"I'm really impressed with their ability to command their secondary pitches, and most importantly their changeups," O'Sullivan said. "We've got quite a few freshman that have done a great job with their changeups so far."

THIRD OUTFIELDER: Sophomore Harrison Bader and junior Justin Shafer locked into two of the starting outfield positions. The third outfielder is up for grabs. The Gators have two freshmen outfielders that are turning heads on campus this fall.

Ryan Larson and Buddy Reed will give the Gators options. Larson has a line-drive swing with above average instincts while Reed has all the physical tools to be special. Reed broke his thumb last week and will miss the rest of fall practice, but the six-week timeframe for recovery will have him ready to go for spring practice.

The Gators are comfortable with both freshmen getting playing time this spring.

"Ryan Larson has had a really good preseason," O'Sullivan said. "Buddy Reed has been coming on like gangbusters. His work ethic is off the charts. We feel good about that."

MARTIN STRONGER: Shortstop Richie Martin played 12 games last season before breaking his finger while trying to bunt against Miami. It kept him out for weeks, and when he returned to the lineup, it came in the outfield. He wasn't able to throw the ball comfortably from the infield, and because of his natural athleticism, he was able to play the outfield successfully for the first time in his career.

This fall, he moved back to his natural position of shortstop. He's 10 pounds heavier after gaining muscle in the offseason. Martin is also young for his class, turning 19 in December.

"He's stronger," O'Sullivan said. "His angles in the infield are much better. He's putting a charge into the ball that he wasn't quite able to do last year because of his strength."

PITCHING ROLES: The Gators lost ace Jonathon Crawford, closer Johnny Magliozzi and left-handed set-up man Daniel Gibson following last season. After those three, there were many clear roles on the pitching staff. The Gators are using the fall to get some clarity on who will serve in what role on the pitching staff in the spring.

Eric Hanhold and Karsten Whitson seem likely to have two of the weekend rotation spots, but no one is sure who the ace of the team will be.

"That's the biggest question we have right now -- trying to figure out what these roles are going to be," O'Sullivan said. "Who's going to be our Friday night guy, that's one of the biggest keys right now."

The only returner that threw key innings out of the bullpen is Ryan Harris. O'Sullivan said the junior right-hander has a "much improved" slider to go along with his mid-90s sinking fastball.

Then there are the left-handers. O'Sullivan has a roster with seven trusted left-handers that could all come out of the bullpen, allowing him to play matchups in the late innings.

"We've got quite a few left-handers that I feel good about in the bullpen," O'Sullivan said. "The strength of our team the last few years was being really good at the end of the game. We're going to pay a lot of attention to who's going to fill those roles, but we have some options."

WHITSON IMPROVING: O'Sullivan is only letting Karsten Whitson throw fastballs and changeups as they ease him back to full health. Whitson redshirted last season after a shoulder injury crept up during preseason practices.

He began throwing soon after the 2013 season came to an end and is expected to be fully healthy when the 2014 season begins.

"We're trying to be as conservative as we possibly can," O'Sullivan said. "We're pleased with where he's at. He has made great progress, and we're exciting him to be healthy when the season starts."

Whitson's teammates are seeing it, too. The velocity has been back up to 94-95 mph in scrimmages this fall. After watching Whitson sit out and not be able to pitch on a team that could've used him last year, the Florida players are excited to get him back on the field.

"He's bouncing back good," Hanhold said. "He's getting his arm ready, coming back strong. Hopefully he'll be a big part of it for us this year."

Fightin Gators Top Stories