The worst part for Florida came in its recruiting class. According to Perfect Game's recruiting rankings, the top five prospects and only five prospects in the top 100 in Florida's class decided to go sign with the team that drafted them and begin their professional career. The talent that led Florida to three straight College World Series appearances didn't make it to campus because of the draft, causing a frustrating 2013 season.
This year, that isn't the case.
Florida had plenty of success with the 2013 MLB Draft, getting eight of their 11 prospects ranked in Perfect Game's top 225 to campus. The freshmen will join a large junior class to provide a blend of experience and talent to rejuvenate the program.
The season begins on Friday night at 7 p.m. against Maryland.
We'll take a look at all 35 players on the Florida roster, starting with the position players.
Position players (with 2013 statistics):
C Taylor Gushue, Jr. 6-2, 210 lbs. Bats S/Throws R, Boca Raton, Fla. (Calvary Christian Academy)- 2013: .269 batting average, 349 on-base percentage, five home runs, 33 RBI, 27 runs scored in 59 starts. The junior catcher had a strong fall and looks like he could be heading toward a more consistent season. He has always shown flashes. As a freshman, Gushue had a monster first half of the season before struggling to do anything offensively during the second half of the year.
As a sophomore, he was one of the few power bats in the Florida batting order. Gushue's defense has taken steps forward every year with help from O'Sullivan and volunteer assistant coach and former Florida catcher Buddy Munroe. The consistency throughout the season is all that is missing and keeping Gushue from being a high draft pick this summer.
C Braden Mattson, Jr. 6-3, 205 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, San Antonio, Texas. (Clark High School/San Jacinto College)- 2013: n/a. The Gators knew they'd need a backup catcher after Kevin Stypulkowski transferred in the offseason, so O'Sullivan grabbed Mattson out of San Jacinto College in Texas. Mattson signed with TCU out of high school and was a highly regarded prospect before transferring after one year.The coaches will be finding ways to get him in the lineup because he adds the power that wasn't on the roster last season. Mattson saw time at first base and could even play left or right field early in the season while the outfield is short on depth. The designated hitter spot could also be his. Mattson has big time power that the Gators could desperately use after hitting only 28 home runs last season.
C Keith Oren, Fr. 6-1, 190 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, Plantation, Fla. (Calvary Christian Academy)-2013: n/a. Oren was a late addition to the 2013 recruiting class and was brought in to help with the catching depth this season. He has work to do at the plate before he'll be able to make an impact at Florida, but defense is his strong suit. He has looked impressive behind the plate during preseason scrimmages.
C Mike Fahrman, Jr. 6-0, 210 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, Tampa, Fla. (Alonso High School)- 2013: .156 batting average, zero home runs, two RBI, three runs in eight starts. Fahrman was forced into the lineup last season at first base when the Gators were desperately searching for bats. He probably won't see as many at-bats this season because of the added depth, but he's a veteran piece of the team that can hit the fastball if the Gators need him to.
SS Richie Martin, So. 6-0, 190 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, Brandon, Fla. (Bloomingdale HS)- 2013: .300 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, zero home runs, 18 RBI, 24 runs scored, 7-for-10 in stolen bases. Martin gained 15 pounds in the offseason and is noticeably stronger. He still has the speed that can make him special on the bases this year and can get on base while bunting for base hits. He will be much more active with stolen bases this year. Everyone I've talked to around the program uses the same term, "a nightmare on the bases."Nolan Fontana spoiled Florida fans defensively at shortstop, but Martin is close behind if not equal to where Fontana was with the glove. Martin is actually a better athlete than Fontana. He'll be a lot of fun to watch in the middle of the infield this season.
2B Casey Turgeon, Jr. 5-9, 170 lbs. Bats L/Throws R, Palm Harbor, Fla. (Dunedin HS)- 2013: .268 batting average, .367 on-base percentage, five home runs, 32 RBI, 41 runs scored, 9-for-11 in stolen bases. Turgeon didn't make much of a jump from his freshman to sophomore seasons but still had a good year. He had just 11 extra base hits, down from the 18 in his freshman season.
TurgeonTurgeon still brings plenty of value if he puts up similar numbers as a junior. He'll always provide strong defense at second base with the talent to play shortstop if necessary. Martin and Turgeon will be an entertaining pair to watch up the middle this spring.
3B Josh Tobias, Jr. 5-10, 205 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, Greensboro, N.C. (Southeast Guilford HS)- 2013: .260 batting average, .341 on-base percentage, three home runs, 18 RBI, 21 runs scored. Tobias is one of the most talked about players on the team during the offseason. Ever since he started as a freshman, there has always been a sense that he should perform better on the field than he has. This sounds like the year it will happen. He has also dealt with health issues in his first two years, a fractured hamate as a freshman and a bunion that gave him pain while running as a sophomore.Tobias has always been strong enough, but he's actually hitting for more power now heading into his junior season. The Gators have depth from freshmen at third base, but Tobias likely starts the season as the third base. If he struggles again this year, the Gators will have depth to replace him. His athleticism could be used in the outfield during the early part of the season, and he's capable of playing second base if Turgeon gets hurt.
Tobias can be an offensive spark plug
1B A.J. Puk, Fr., 6-7, 225 lbs, Bats L/Throws L, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Washington HS)- 2013: n/a. Puk will do it all this year. His upside is on the mound, but the lanky freshman has an advanced swing with plenty of loft to hit for power. The obvious comparison is former Florida player Brian Johnson, and I backed away from it because it seemed like it just made too much sense.The two really are similar players. Comparing the two as freshmen, Puk might be slightly more advanced at the plate and a little behind where Johnson was on the mound. However, the upside to be a first-round pick like Johnson in three years is there. He can only play first base or serve as the designated hitter, but his bat will be in the lineup from day one, likely in the middle of the order. On the mound, he was up to 92 mph early in the January throwing program, a time when pitchers are rarely at their peak velocity.
1B/3B Peter Alonso, Fr. 6-2, 225 lbs. Bats R/Throws R, Tampa, Fla. (Plant HS)-2013: n/a. Alonso will bring the much-needed power to the Florida lineup. When he signed with the Gators, O'Sullivan told me a story about seeing Alonso play at 7 a.m. on a rainy morning during a travel-ball tournament. Alonso hit the first pitch he saw over the 400-foot fence in center field despite the miserable conditions.He has power to all fields, even drawing some lofty Mike Zunino comparisons in the spring for the way the ball jumps off his bat. Alonso will likely see most of his time at first base or as the designated hitter, but his bat will keep him in the lineup.
3B John Sternagel, Fr., 6-0, 205 lbs, Bats R/Throws R, Rockledge, Fla. (Rockledge HS)- 2013: n/a. Sternagel was one of the biggest gets for this freshman class as Florida got him to campus and away from professional teams. He has a line drive swing and the frame to develop more power during his time in Gainesville. He's solid defensively, and even if he doesn't win the third base job to start the season, he'll see plenty of time there.
1B/3B Zack Powers, Jr., 6-3, 215 lbs, Bats L/Throws R, Seffner, Fla. (Armwood HS)- 2013: .268 batting average, .387 on-base percentage, three home runs, 27 RBI, 25 runs scored. Powers was held out during the fall with an injury but is fine to start the season. Going into the spring, it was uncertain where he'll find at-bats. He was on fire during the start of spring practice and has earned at-bats this season. Powers should see time at third base, first base and designated hitter this year. He could even see time in the outfield during the early part of the season when closer Justin Shafer moves from right field to the mound, but Powers' shoulder issues in the past limit how much and how far he's able to throw.
INF Jason Lombardozzi, So., 5-11, 180 lbs, Bats S/Throws R, Chambersburg, Pa. (Chambersburg HS/College of Central Florida)- 2013: n/a. The nephew of former Florida player Steve Lombardozzi and cousin of current Detroit Tigers player Steve Lombardozzi, Jr., Jason has a strong work ethic and is a good athlete. He can play all over the infield and will serve as a good depth piece for the Gators this year.
1B Logan Shore, Fr., 6-1, 210 lbs., Bats R/Throws R, Coon Rapids, Minn. (Coon Rapids HS)- 2013: n/a. Shore will be more of a fixture on the mound this season, but the Gators will still have him as a potential hitter this year. He showed a good line drive swing and the ability to hit in the SEC. However, his future upside is on the mound.
OF Justin Shafer, Jr., 6-2, 210 lbs., Bats R/Throws R, Lake Wales, Fla. (Lake Wales HS)- 2013: .300 batting average, .345 on-base percentage, five home runs, 25 RBI, 30 runs scored. Shafer was seventh in the SEC with 17 doubles last season and gained weight in the offseason, hoping to turn those doubles into home runs. Even if that doesn't happen, he'll always hit for a high average and be an important part of the Florida lineup. His patience could improve at the plate and would serve as him taking the next step if he walked more, but his approach of swinging a lot has worked out well during his first two years. He hit .350 over the team's fall workouts. This year, he'll have more help throughout the rest of the lineup and should have less pressure on him at a lower spot.
The biggest improvement for Shafer has been his outfield defense. He came in as an infield and was forced to learn the outfield on the fly. It was ugly early, even getting pulled out of a game at South Carolina for dropping a routine out. Now, he looks like a natural. It's a credit to his hard work and development from the Florida coaches, but Shafer has settled into an above average defender in the outfield.
OF Harrison Bader, So., 5-11, 190 lbs, Bats R/Throws R, Bronxville, N.Y. (Horace Mann HS)- 2013: .312 batting average, .371 on-base percentage, one home run, 22 RBI, 37 runs scored, 15-for-21 in stolen bases. Bader joins Tobias as the most talked about returning players this fall, and the sophomore outfielder was my pick for the offensive MVP this season. That was before his January issues. Bader got into a scooter accident and will be suspended indefinitely while the Gainesville Police Department investigates his blood alcohol level at the time of the accident.Bader is up 15 pounds from last season, and it has changed him as an offensive player. Bader will never be a player that hits 15 home runs, but his power increase was noticeable during the fall. Simply put, he's a better hitter. And that's after he led the team in batting average as a freshman. He'll be able to handle center field and serve as a middle of the order hitter for the Gators once he returns. Bader will be one of the best overall players on the team this spring, but no one is sure when he'll be back on the field to help.
OF Buddy Reed, Fr., 6-3, 200 lbs, Bats S/Throws R, Finksburg, Md. (St. George's School)- 2013: n/a. The upside here is incredible. Reed might not be an All-SEC player during his freshman year, but don't be surprised if it comes in the next few years. He has it all. A former three-sport athlete in high school, playing baseball, hockey and soccer, Reed is only now playing baseball as his only sport.He has long arms and a frame to fill out plus impressive speed. He can handle center field defensively and has a strong arm. The tool that needs the most work is his bat. The original worry was about how much contact he would make, but he showed good contact skills during the offseason practices. He's still figuring things out to hit well enough at the SEC level, but all the potential is there for it to come in a hurry. A broken thumb slowed his progression in the fall, but Reed can still make an impact this year. His swing is mechanically sound and he makes consistent contact, giving the coaching staff optimism about his future.
His 6-3, 200-pound frame would have been drafted much earlier if he played in a southern state, but he was under-scouted in Maryland. The Florida coaches think they've hit the jackpot on this one.
OF Ryan Larson, Fr. 6-0, 185 lbs, Bats R/Throws R, Orlando, Fla. (Dr. Phillips HS)- 2013: n/a. Based on everything I heard about Larson coming into school, I wasn't sure how long it would take for him to make an impact. After a strong offseason, he'll be on the field immediately this year. With Bader's suspension and Shafer locked into starting spot in the outfield, Larson and Reed are the favorites to start on Friday night, with Larson in left and Reed in center.Larson's best attribute is his instincts. He may not have the tools of some other players on the team, but Larson has good strike zone recognition and gets good breaks on balls in the outfield. He is always in the right place and anticipates plays. The coaches love him and will get him on the field right away.
The Weekend Rotation (with 2013 statistics):The best-case scenario for this pitching staff is clear. Karsten Whitson would reach his All-American potential, Eric Hanhold would translate his improvement from practice to the games and freshman Brett Morales would be one of the best freshmen in the nation. The coaches are optimistic that's what will happen this year, but there's an equally threatening downside to this starting rotation.
Whitson is coming off a shoulder injury last year that kept him off the mound for the entire season. Hanhold posted a 5.88 ERA as a freshman and Morales is still a freshman that brings unknowns of its own.
The questions are a big reason why O'Sullivan elected to give the ball to a proven veteran on opening night. However, the rotation will change a lot, especially through the early part of the season.
Friday- LHP Bobby Poyner, Jr. 6-0, 200 lbs, Wellington, Fla. (Palm Beach Central HS)- 2013: 3-3, 3.41 ERA. Allowed 28 hits and seven walks while striking out 16 in 37 innings pitched. Entering spring practice, Bobby Poyner was expected to be a reliever or maybe a midweek starter, but he put together a strong spring and was Florida's best pitcher in the preseason practices. He's also a valuable piece on the mound because of his experience. He has started on the road against Southeastern Conference opponents and against Florida State, but the road atmospheres haven't fazed him. The hope from the coaches is that his experience will help him deal with the excitement of opening night.
The left-hander doesn't walk hitters and attacks the strike zone, which is why O'Sullivan trusts him and continues to use him in different roles in his career. He moves his fastball all over the strike zone and controls it well. His off-speed pitches are solid but not spectacular. Poyner will give the Gators a trusted presence on the mound that can limit the opposing team's running game.
Saturday- RHP Brett Morales, 6-1, 200 lbs. Tampa, Fla. (King HS)- 2013: n/a. In a strong freshman class of pitchers, it's Morales that had the best offseason. Other pitchers have shown flashes like -- Dane Dunning and A.J. Puk -- but Morales is the one that has been the most consistent. He's still raw on the mound, starting his career as a pitcher during his sophomore season. He doesn't have the tall, lengthy frame of other freshmen
Morales flashes a mid-90s fastball that usually sits 91-93 mph. Perfect Game clocked his best at 94 mph during his high school career. He throws a curveball that has 11-5 action, sitting in the mid-to-upper 70s. His changeup is just as advanced. It's rare to see a freshman with three pitches he trusts as much as Morales does, especially considering he is still new to pitching. The sky is the limit for this one.
Sunday- RHP Karsten Whitson, Jr., 6-4, 220 lbs, Chipley, Fla. (Chipley HS)- 2013: n/a, redshirt with arm injury. Whitson is coming off a shoulder injury that kept him out last season. After easing him into it during the fall, the Florida coaches have treated him like a normal pitcher in the spring without any limitations and his arm has responded as they hoped.
Whitson threw only fastballs and changeups during most of the fall to keep the taxing of his slider off the arm, but it looks like a dominant pitch again this spring. For Whitson, who turned down $2.1 million after the San Diego Padres selected him ninth overall in the 2010 MLB Draft, this is the big season where he needs to stay healthy and prove to scouts that he can be the dominant starter he was when he showed up in Gainesville.
The Bullpen (alphabetically, with 2013 statistics):The non-conference portion of the schedule will help O'Sullivan decide on the roles of his bullpen. There aren't many settled going into the season, but Justin Shafer will start the year as the closer with Ryan Harris serving as the utility man that can get outs in any situation.
The difference in this bullpen and most across the country is the number of left-handed pitchers. O'Sullivan will throw them all on the mound early in the year to see which roles to use them in during conference play.
Shaun Anderson, Fr. 6-4, 225 lbs. Coral Springs, Fla. (American Heritage HS)-2013: n/a. Anderson might have some the best mound presence on the Florida roster. He's a big freshman that has filled out and has an intimidating presence on the mound. His curveball was his best off-speed pitch during the fall and has potential to be a strikeout pitch in the future.
RHP Jay Carmichael, So., 6-2, 175 lbs. Cape Coral, Fla. (Mariner HS)- 2013: 3-1, 3.08 ERA. Struck out 26, allowing 24 hits and 15 walks in 38 innings pitched. Carmichael was a life saver for the Gators last season. After Karsten Whitson went down before the season and Crawford was inconsistent, Carmichael earned the Friday night start in Florida's first road series at Florida. And he beat the Commodores.He dealt with arm issues through the rest of the season, but he's now healthy and capable to fill any role on the Florida staff after showing that he could last season.
LHP Tyler Deel, Fr., 6-5, 190 lbs. Jacksonville, Fla. (Fletcher HS)- 2013: n/a. Deel was a late addition to the 2013 recruiting class but all you have to do is look at his measurables to figure out why. He's a tall, lanky left-hander whose best days on the mound are ahead of him. He was mostly in the upper 80s during the fall but has the frame to add weight and get stronger.
RHP Dane Dunning, Fr., 6-3, 190 lbs, Fleming Island, Fla. (Clay HS)- 2013: n/a. Dunning and Morales were the standout freshmen pitchers of the fall for Florida. Dunning needs to add weight and has the frame to do so, but he already has the arm to make an instant impact this season. He uses a big curveball that can be thrown for a strike or bounced on the plate to get a swing-and-miss, and his changeup showed improvement throughout the fall.He looks like the type of high school pitcher that comes to college, adds weight and sees a big velocity spike. Don't be surprised if that happens, but even if it doesn't, Dunning has plenty to be successful on the mound. Scouts in the beginning of the spring were raving that he looked exactly like his brother -- San Francisco Giants reliever Jake Dunning -- at the same stage.
RHP Eric Hanhold, So. 6-5, 205 lbs, Palm Harbor, Fla. (East Lake HS)- 2013: 0-4, 5.88 ERA. Allowed 44 hits and 11 walks while striking out 24 in 33.2 innings. This is the breakout candidate of the year on the pitching staff. It was easy to see that Hanhold had all the potential in the world last season. His velocity jumped during his senior season of high school and was routinely 91-93 mph as a freshman. This offseason, he put together his off-speed arsenal.The big improvement has come with his slider. He changed the grip on it over the offseason to make it more of a hard, biting slider instead of a slurve. He has the projectable frame to be a high pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, and that's why O'Sullivan took a risk on him out of high school. It should start paying off this season.
RHP Ryan Harris, Jr. 6-2, 215 lbs, Jupiter, Fla. (Jupiter HS)- 2013: 5-4, 3.07 ERA. Allowed 53 hits and 15 walks while striking out 51 in 58.2 innings. Harris is the early favorite to lead the pitching staff in appearances. He likely won't start the season as the Florida closer, but this allows O'Sullivan to use him in high leverage situations, whether it's in the fifth inning or the eighth inning. Harris uses his deceptive delivery to get the ball on hitters faster than it looks, and his fastball is already in the mid-90s. He's the perfect reliever for when the Gators someone to come in and get a double play.
RHP Keenan Kish, Jr. 6-4, 205 lbs. Worchester, Pa. (Germantown Academy)-2013: Allowed five hits and three walks in 5.1 innings while striking out seven. The question for Kish isn't his stuff. He's always had a good arm and can miss bats. He just has to find a way to stay healthy this season. He can serve in any role on the Florida pitching staff, but none of that matters if the Pennsylvania native can't stay out of the trainer's room.
LHP Scott Moss, Fr. 6-5, 215 lbs. Deltona, Fla. (Deland HS)-2013: n/a. This is the kind of pitcher O'Sullivan loves to coach. He's a tall, lanky left-hander who still has plenty of upside and ability to improve on the mound. He was in the upper 80s, touching 90 in high school and that's mostly where he sat during the fall for Florida. As he continues to gain weight and get stronger, he could add some more velocity.Like most lefties, he gets good movement on his fastball, tailing inside to left-handed hitters. He's most comfortable with his curveball, which could be a weapon in turning him into a left-handed specialist this season. Moss has all the tools to be a weekend starter in the future.
RHP Dean Pelman, Fr. 5-11, 205. Weston, Fla. (American Heritage HS)-2013: n/a. Pelman was a late addition to the 2013 recruiting class. The Florida coaches made him a priority late in the process and got him. He'll miss all of the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the fall.
LHP A.J. Puk, Fr. 6-7, 225 lbs, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Washington HS)- 2013:n/a. When he isn't hitting and making an impact at the plate, Puk will be making a difference on the mound for Florida. He originally committed to the Gators as a pitcher, but the more Florida coaches watched him hit at showcases around the country, they figured they needed to give him a chance at the plate, too. He'll likely make his first appearance of opening weekend at the plate, serving as the team's designated hitter or first baseman.
However, his future is on the mound. He's the tallest player on Florida's team and is still figuring out how to pitch, but he uses a three-quarters arm slot to give opponents a different look. Puk gets natural sink on his fastball, and it comes with an easy deliver that doesn't require much energy. The curveball and changeups continue to improve. Puk will make a difference on the mound this season, but his best years are ahead of him.
RHP Aaron Rhodes, So. 5-11, 200 lbs. Venice, Fla. (Venice HS)- 2013: 1-0, 4.42. Allowed 20 hits and 10 walks in 18.1 innings while striking out 14. . Rhodes could be set up for a strong year out of the Florida bullpen. The coaches have changed his arm angle a few times since he came to Gainesville, but he's now throwing from a three-quarters angle to gets armside movement but still shows up at 90-92 mph on radar gun's. He's likely limited to the bullpen since he really trusts only two pitches, but he can be an effective reliever at the back of the Florida bullpen this year.
Frank Rubio, Fr. 5-11, 190 lbs. Miami Shore, Fla. (St. Thomas Aquinas HS)- 2013: n/a. Rubio came in as a walk-on and seemed unlikely to make the roster at the start of the fall, but all he did was get outs on the mound. He throws from a three-quarters angle that causes different looks for a right-handed hitter. He'll sit in the upper 80s, and even though he likely won't start the year with a big role, he's capable of helping the team by eating innings.
RHP Justin Shafer, Jr. 6-2, 210 lbs. Lake Wales, Fla. (Lake Wales HS)- 2013: 1-1, 5.20 ERA. Allowed 27 hits and 10 walks while striking out 26 in 27.2 innings. Shafer was so dominant during the fall before the 2013 season that he earned the Sunday starter job to start last season. It didn't last long. The Gators now believe he's ready to handle more time on the mound after throwing just 27.2 innings last season.Shafer's future is in the outfield, but he'll start the season as Florida's closer. The coaches like his mindset on the mound and ability to execute in pressure situations. With a position player, the coaches would also prefer to use Shafer on the mound as a starter or closer -- not a middle reliever. He's expected to start the season as the closer for Florida.
RHP Logan Shore, Fr. 6-1, 210 lbs. Coon Rapids, Minn. (Coon Rapids HS)- 2013: n/a. Shore could see time as a two-way player if the Gators get desperate for a bat, but his future is on the mound. He's a good athlete that repeats his easy delivery well. There's nothing flashy from Shore -- just three pitches for strikes and attacking hitters. That's a recipe to make an early impact on the mound under O'Sullivan.
LHP Kirby Snead, Fr. 6-0, 195 lbs. Alachua, Fla. (Santa Fe HS)- 2013: n/a. Snead didn't have the elite offers that other players in this freshman class did, but he was still an important target for O'Sullivan. Watching the South Carolina Gamecocks trot multiple sidearm relievers out of their bullpen in recent years got O'Sullivan thinking that he'd like one or two to use.That's what Snead will do. He's a low-slot left-hander that will likely fit into a clear role inside the Florida bullpen. He's death on left-handed hitters, a weapon that can always be used late in games to come in and get one or two outs against lefties.
LHP Corey Stump, So. 6-5, 215 lbs. Lakeland, Fla. (Lakeland Christian HS)- 2013: 0-2, 2.45. Allowed five hits and one walk while striking out two in 3.2 innings before his season ended with an injury.Stump missed most of last season after having shoulder surgery. His timetable for a return is still up in the air. Stump's upside has always been high.
RHP Mike Vinson, So. 6-4, 215 lbs. Miami, Fla. (Christopher Columbus HS)- 2013: 1-0, 4.79 ERA. Allowed 27 hits and six walks while striking out 19 in 20.2 innings. Vinson pitched out of the bullpen last season and looks to be ready to do that again this season whenever he gets on the mound. He has the size and ability to develop in his future at Florida.
LHP Danny Young, So. 6-2, 200 lbs. Boca Raton, Fla. (Saint Andrew's School)- 2013: 3-4, 4.28 ERA. Allowed 47 hits and 13 walks while striking out 23 in 40 innings. Going through the roster in the offseason, Young was one that fell through the cracks for me. He had a great fall and has the Florida coaches optimistic about his sophomore season. He'll always be trouble for left-handed hitters, but Young also proved last year he can start if needed. The lack of headlines won't keep him from making an impact on the mound this season.