First, let’s address the new baseball. For those who don’t know, college baseball is going to a new ball this year with flat seams. It is expected to increase offensive production, a chance that the game desperately needs. The early word from the Florida coaches is that the new ball is doing just that. The coaches and players think the ball is jumping more off the bat now than it did last season.
With one swing, Pete Alonso brought the most exciting offensive moment of Tuesday. I’m trying not to exaggerate here, but I really believe it was the longest home run I’ve seen at McKethan Stadium since Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino left. I even talked to someone who has been here throughout Kevin O’Sullivan’s tenture and said it was the longest home run they’ve ever seen at McKethan Stadium. There was no question off the bat where the ball was going, and it sailed well over the trees behind left field of the stadium.
Alonso showed a little bit of what he could do last season, but his breakout came in the summer. Alonso went to the Northwoods league and was second with 18 home runs and third with a .354 batting average. He will be a true power source in the middle of the Florida order this year.
Another guy who jumped out to me on Tuesday was Buddy Reed. He is much stronger than last season, and it showed on his triple. He smoked a line drive to right-center. The ball didn’t look like it got off the ground much, but it carried and fell about 10 feet short of the warning track. With his speed, Reed cruised into third base standing up and way ahead of the throw.
His arm looks really good from the outfield, and even though he’ll likely play right field this spring, he gives the Gators two outfielders that could play center fielder, along with Harrison Bader.
Josh Tobias came to Florida in the summer of 2011 as a switch hitter. He didn’t do well from the left side of the plate and ultimately hit only right-handed in games through the first three years of his career. This fall, he’ll go back to switch-hitting to see how he does from the left side and whether or not it’s something he should do in the spring.
Tobias started the scrimmage with a double off the very top of the right field wall off Puk. He’s off to a hot start during the first week of scrimmages.
Freshman Dalton Guthrie has been praised most for his glove and instincts, but the bat showed up on Tuesday. He barreled up a fastball and doubled off the left field wall. Power won’t be an important part of his game, but he has potential to hit near the top of the order and make an impact.
The coaches are optimistic about Richie Martin and think the ball is coming off his bat differently this year. He won’t ever be a power hitter, but he can use his speed to hit for a higher average than he did last year. For as fast as Martin is, it never felt like his speed played as big of a threat to the opponent as it should have. On Tuesday, Martin walked and the fourth ball went to the backstop. He dropped the bat, sprinted to first and even made it to second before the throw could get there.
Four pitchers threw on Tuesday, and the best was the only newcomer. Right-hander Taylor Lewis was at Chipola College last season and brings a unique style to the mound. Remember John Taylor and Jose Mata from the South Carolina team that beat Florida in the 2011 College World Series championship series? Lewis is similar, but actually throws harder, sitting in the upper 80s and occasionally throwing in the 90s. His low arm slot is tough on right-handed hitters. The ball has a lot of sink out of his hand, and he has a good slider to keep hitters from sitting on the pitcher.
Even lefties struggled with Lewis on Tuesday. It’s difficult for hitters to get the ball up in the air against him, producing a lot of ground balls and double plays. Don’t be surprised if he steps into the closer’s role this spring.
Shaun Anderson only threw 17.2 innings last year, but he had a good summer and could have a big role this year. He throws a ton of strikes, something always important to Kevin O’Sullivan. Anderson threw his big curveball with success on Tuesday, and outside of the long home run to Alonso, the sophomore had a good outing.
I went into Tuesday expecting to see Dane Dunning and A.J. Puk showing big improvements from their freshman years. It didn’t happen. I know the coaches were happy with their first outings last week, but Tuesday wasn’t good.
Dunning’s first inning was a struggle. O’Sullivan told the teams to switch sides before he could record the third out. Dunning cruised through his second inning before struggling again through the third and final inning of work.
Puk was better, and I don’t think he actually gave up a run, but it was a lot like his outings as a freshman. He fell behind and worked long counts. The good news is most of his misses were too low to be strikes. He threw some really good sliders and got some swings and misses with his changeup.
I was told that both Dunning and Puk threw better in their first outing last week, but there’s no question Tuesday wasn’t a positive day for them.