Notebook: Tobias showcasing retooled swing

Josh Tobias knew his swing was too complicated last season. He'd see pitches out of the pitcher's hand, know he should hit them hard but was always late to get the barrel to the ball. He went to work this offseason to produce a shorter swing, and he's reaping the benefits in scrimmages this year.

Through the early part of spring practice, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said Tobias and Zack Powers have been the team's two best hitters. The adjustment to Tobias' swing allows him to get his barrel to the fastball quicker than in previous years, decreasing the weak pop ups and increasing hard contact.

"A short swing always equates to more power," Josh Tobias said. "I'd get jammed sometimes or mis-hit some balls because my swing was too long. It took too long to get to the ball. The longer a swing is, the more mistakes you can have in it. The shorter it is, it's as quick to the ball as it can be."

He also spent the offseason trying to add weight. Tobias played at 200 pounds last season and got as high as 215 pounds in the fall. He's now down to 205, but even with the net gain of five pounds, he's much stronger than he was last season. Last year, Tobias worked out on the bench press with 100-pound dumbbells. In the weight room last week, he was benching with 140-pound dumbbells.

"Josh has been one of the guys who has improved the most," Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. "He's just gotten better."

YOUNG PITCHERS STANDING OUT: The Gators will lean heavily on their freshmen class of pitchers this season. The freshmen are talented enough to handle the role and will be given chances to earn important spots on the pitching staff this season.

"They're really impressive," junior Karsten Whitson said. "They have a really good work ethic and there's a lot of guys with really good arms. We're going to need them this year."

Whitson and the other veteran pitchers have spent time talking to the freshmen about what to expect, especially on the road. The Gators will be thrown into the fire early, heading to Miami for a road series during the second weekend of the season. The veterans know what to expect, but it's hard to put it into words for the freshmen.

"The speed of the game picks up," Whitson said. "It's good to have fall to get your feet wet but nothing prepares you for being on the road at South Carolina or any of those bigger schools. I just kind of talk to those guys. They're starting to ask questions about what it's like to play here or there."

With Whitson and Eric Handhold expected to anchor the pitching staff on Fridays and Saturdays, it's likely that a freshman will start the year as the Sunday starter. The early guess that seems most likely is right-hander Brett Morales, who has dazzled hitters since coming to campus in the summer.

"He's got a really good changeup, really good curveball," Tobias said. "But his fastball has some mustard on it. He can throw them all for strikes, too."

The freshmen will be counted on, but an equal weight will be put on sophomore pitchers. Hanhold is in a competition with Whitson, both trying to earn the Friday night role. Even if Hanhold doesn't earn it, he's expected to be much improved this year.

"He probably didn't pitch as well as he wanted to last year," Whitson said. "He's gotten so much better just from the year."

Hanhold posted a 5.88 ERA last season with an 0-4 record, allowing opponents to hit .314 against him. The improvement of location and off-speed pitches have the coaches optimistic he'll have a strong sophomore year, especially after learning from his struggles last season.

"You learn a lot by failure," O'Sullivan said. "It's easy to pound your chest and feel good when things are going good. All those freshmen (last year) had bright spots, too. Danny Young has had a really good preseason. A bunch of the other ones, too."

REED MAKING IMPACT: Freshman outfielder Buddy Reed has been turning heads since coming to campus in the summer. The Gators rarely go out of state in recruiting, but when they saw the 6-3, 200-pound outfielder, O'Sullivan was willing to make an exception.

Reed is still a raw talent. He's a three-sport star, playing baseball, hockey and soccer in high school. Now focusing only on baseball, the coaches are excited about his future.

"He's probably one of, if not the hardest worker we have," O'Sullivan said. "He's got a chance to be a really good player. He's got physical tools that you can't find. He's put himself in a position to get on the field early."

His personality has turned him into a favorite teammate, too.

"He's infectious," O'Sullivan said. "He's got personality, got bounce. He was a real joy to recruit. Some kids you call on the phone and it's hard to pull anything out of them. He was very good to talk to with his personality. His teammates like him."

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