Eye on the future: Outfield

The future of the Florida outfield looks good on paper. The Gators lose Braden Mattson, who played right field out of necessity, but they bring back three talented players with enough depth behind them.

Left field

Ryan Larson opened the 2014 season as the team's left fielder and two-hole hitter. His bat didn't produce like it did during the offseason, which isn't rare for a freshman, and he lost his role. The at-bats were diminished when Harrison Bader returned from a 19-game suspension to play center field.

There were still big moments in the season for Larson. He delivered a walk-off single to complete the sweep of Missouri in extra innings and played solid defense when brought in during the late inning. He's a strong defender, intelligent base runner and can control the bat.

He needs the bat to improve for next season. If he is going to be penciled in as the starting left fielder, the Gators need more offensive production. However, the coaches like what he can do with the bat -- being used to bunt and hit-and-run -- and that's why they had him hitting second to start the season.

Center field

Harrison Bader is the guy here, and he showed why during the last few weeks of the season. He impacts the game in every possible way. He created his own defensive highlight reel and provided leadership to a young, inexperienced outfield. His bat improved as the season continued, and he provided clutch hits. When Florida one strike from a loss at Tennessee in the first game of the final conference series, Bader doubled to tie the game and send it to extra innings. He created a run with his legs in extra innings to win it for Florida.

The only part of his game that didn't translate was his power. He hit two home runs in 167 at-bats, which isn't terrible, but I would take the over on that number for next season. He has become the first complete center fielder for Florida since Matt den Dekker left after the 2010 season.

Enjoy Bader for one more season before he heads to a professional team.

Right field

Buddy Reed gives the Gators their second center fielder. While Bader served his suspension during the first 19 games last year, Reed played center field and made a number of impressive plays. He can take over for Bader in 2016 if needed.

Like Larson, this is an important offseason for Reed to take the next step with the bat. Reed can play defense, run and throw, helping him make an impact even if the offense doesn't improve, but it's what is keeping him from being a complete player. The Florida coaches knew he would be somewhat raw offensively when he came to campus, but they were pleasantly surprised with his swing. That's what earned him a spot in the opening night lineup.

Reed, a switch hitter, learned how to hit the ball to the opposite field from the left side of the plate, and he stayed up the middle with his swing from the right side. He has the intangibles to make a difference on the field even if the offense doesn't get better, but most believe he's destined for a breakout sophomore season.


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