Eye on the future: Pitchers

The young Florida pitching staff didn't show its youth very often during the 2014 season. The best news for the Gators is that the young pitchers have a year of experience under their belt, and the pitching staff should be even better next season.

First, let's go through the list of Florida pitchers that likely won't be back next season. Ryan Harris, Justin Shafer and Karsten Whitson are all expected to sign after being taken in this week's MLB Draft. If those are the only three contributors the Gators lose on the mound, consider this offseason a success for the pitching staff.

A young staff had its highs and lows in 2014, but the experiences it went through have created a bright future on the mound.

It started on Friday nights. There's a long list of freshmen pitchers that have made a big impact in Kevin O'Sullivan's seven years in Gainesville. None of them have come close to what Logan Shore did this season. He's also the only freshman to make a big impact as the Friday night pitcher under O'Sullivan.

Shore went on the road and started games in difficult environments like Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Those experiences will only benefit him going into his sophomore year.

His freshman season ended with a 7-4 record and 2.17 ERA. Expect the win-loss record to improve next season as the Florida offense improves and Shore gets more starts after coming out of the bullpen during the first two weekends of 2014. In 95.2 innings, Shore allowed a .241 batting average against and walked only 20 batters while striking out 68. He also allowed one home run on the season.

My pick for breakout pitcher next season is A.J. Puk. He showed signs of it last season. His mid-90s mph fastball gives him an important tool to success at the college level, but his mechanics became inconsistent at times and hurt his ability to throw consistent strikes. When his mechanics were locked in, as O'Sullivan said early in the season, he was dominant.

A full offseason will give Puk an opportunity to work on that and take a step forward. I expect him to join Shore next season and give the Gators two aces heading into the season.

Aaron Rhodes is draft eligible after his redshirt sophomore season, but the undersized right-hander is expected to return. Rhodes was effective as a starter, including a one-hit shutout of Missouri, and could provide a veteran arm in any role next season. Danny Young heads into his junior season in a similar role, being able to help in the starting rotation or out of the bullpen.

Right-hander Dane Dunning is another high-upside arm. Even when he struggled at times, he was always able to record strikeouts. The coaches changed his breaking ball from a loopy curveball to a sharp slider just months before the season started. A full offseason working on it should make the pitch even better. He struck out 27 batters in 21 innings this season, and Dunning was one of the team's best pitchers during the offseason scrimmages.

Brett Morales is also heading into an important offseason. He was the best pitcher on the team during the scrimmages, but after starting the year as the Saturday starting pitcher, it never translated. Morales ended the year with a 6.56 ERA, the highest on the team. The ability he showed during the offseason is still there, but he has to be more effective next season.

Kirby Snead was the team's best reliever all season. The left-hander will continue to be counted on during his sophomore season. He doesn't touch 90 mph, but he made big pitches and got important outs for the Gators, including the final out when Florida clinched the SEC title in Knoxville.

Eric Hanhold and Bobby Poyner, who is draft eligible this year, will both provide flexibility for O'Sullivan. They can serve as starting pitchers or as relievers and played an important part of the Florida pitching staff this year.

Heading into their sophomore seasons, Shaun Anderson and Tyler Deel will also be counted on to serve in more important roles.

The 2014 recruiting class will also provide a boost. The highest ranked commitment is Grant Holmes, but he is expected to be a first round pick and unlikely to make it to Gainesville. Behind Holmes, the high school signee most ready to make an impact is right-hander Alex Faedo. The Alonso High School product is 6-5, 210 pounds, and if he makes it through the MLB Draft and shows up on campus in Gainesville, he can help right away.

The Gators are also hoping to get help from the junior college level. Chipola College right-hander Taylor Lewis would provide a big boost to the Florida bullpen. He threw 81.2 innings last season, posting a 2.98 ERA and striking out 95 hitters to go along with 22 walks.


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