Eye on the future: Infield

The Gators won't have many holes to fill in the lineup next season, but the biggest one comes behind the plate. Catcher Taylor Gushue is expected to sign with a professional team, and others could follow him.

Catcher

Florida catcher Taylor Gushue is almost certainly gone. He is expected to be taken anywhere between the third and fifth round after winning the batting title among SEC players during conference action. This will be the biggest loss on the Florida roster heading into next season.

The replacement isn't clear at this point in time. Braden Mattson came to Florida as a junior college transfer last year. He came as the backup catcher, but he hit too much to stay out of the lineup, and the Gators played him at first base and right field. His return is uncertain, as he will get drafted and could elect to start his professional career.

There is help in the recruiting class -- for now. Catcher J.J. Schwartz is the crown jewel of the hitters in the recruiting class, but his stock has risen in the last year and he is now expected to go in the top three rounds of the draft. If that happens, it's hard to see him make it to campus.

Venice High School catcher Michael Rivera is a good hitter but should make it to campus since he is only 5-10, 180 pounds. He doesn't have the ideal catcher size like Schwartz, who is 6-2, 190 pounds. Rivera hit very well at the high school level and projects to be a solid catcher in the SEC.

If Gushue, Mattson and Schwartz all sign professionally, Rivera will join Keith Oren as the only catchers on the Florida roster. This feels like a position the Gators could need another junior college player next season.

First base

Zack Powers graduated and will leave the program, but the Gators should get more production from first base next season. There are a few candidates to play the position. Pete Alonso showed last season that he can hit in the SEC, but his defense at first base was an issue and needs to improve if he wants to play the position every day next season.

The wildcard here is A.J. Puk. The Florida staff has a history of easing two-way players into playing both ways as freshmen, which could explain why Puk only had 60 at-bats last season. Heading into his sophomore year, it's possible that he plays first base every day when he isn't pitching.

Incoming freshman Jeremy Vasquez, who is 6-0, 195, projects to be a good college hitter as a first baseman and might even be able to handle a corner outfield spot if necessary.

Second base

Casey Turgeon is the biggest wildcard of Florida players in the MLB Draft. He will be drafted, but it comes down whether or not he wants to sign. The bonus likely won't be high, and there's a chance he could return for his senior year at Florida. It would serve as a big boost to next year's roster.

If Turgeon does leave, the Gators have Venice High School infielder Dalton Guthrie signed and expected to come to campus. Guthrie's draft stock has risen in recent months, so there is a chance he doesn't make it to Gainesville. The son of former big leaguer Mark Guthrie would be a big boost to the middle of the Florida infield.

Shortstop

Richie Martin returns for his junior season with a clear area of his game to work on. As a sophomore, Martin made 21 errors. He was the only player on the Florida roster to make more than seven errors. Kevin O'Sullivan said throughout the year that Martin's errors didn't come back to hurt the team, but they can't afford to start a shortstop that makes that many errors next season.

The strangest part about it was when the errors happened. Most of them were on the routine plays. His natural athleticism helps Martin get to ground balls that most college infielders wouldn't, and he has the ability to make tough plays. But when it's a ball hit right at him, Martin can sometimes overthink it and throw the ball too high to first base.

Third base

This has the potential to be a battle throughout the offseason between John Sternagel and Josh Tobias. In the offseason, Tobias played the best of the two and earned the starting job for the beginning of the season. Once the year began, his power surge and improved bat didn't translate and he lost his job early in SEC play.

Sternagel began to start and started out on a tear. He chipped in with the game-winning home run against Georgia and had a solid freshman season, being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. However, in the last few weeks of the regular season, Sternagel's numbers began to dip.

Tobias was given a chance and got hot, starting down the stretch and into the NCAA Tournament. Both will be given a chance at the starting job next season. Sternagel probably couldn't play another position, but Tobias could slide to second base or even the outfield if necessary.

Incoming freshmen Hunter Alexander and Taylor Lane can provide depth at the position.


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