Baseball position battles

As the Gators open practice Friday afternoon, there are multiple position battles that will be decide in the three weeks leading up to the start of the regular season.

SECOND BASE: This is the position battle that looks to have the clearest answer. The departure of Casey Turgeon has the Gators trying to find the replacement for their three-year starter at second base, and it could come in the form of a freshman. Dalton Guthrie is the frontrunner for the job and impacts the game in multiple ways. He has an advanced glove for a freshman and the ability to hit near the top of the lineup if needed. He’s an instinctive player in the field and on the bases, and he can use the bunt game to steal a few hits. He’ll also be able to steal bases.

He’s the most logical candidate at this point, but the Gators have others that could push him. Senior Josh Tobias, who is also battling for the third base job, could slide to second base if Guthrie isn’t ready to handle the job.

THIRD BASE: John Sternagel and Tobias split time at third base last season. Tobias began the year as the starter but Sternagel took over near the midway point. Tobias got hot late in the year and served as the starter for the postseason. The position didn’t provide many obvious answers, and they’ll have to battle it out until opening night to determine the starter.

Tobias feels like the safer bet to start the season at third base, but his inconsistency at the plate throughout his career means he’ll have to keep hitting throughout the season to hold the job. Tobias also went back to switching hitting in the offseason, which could help a Florida lineup that looks poised to be loaded with right-handed bats. Sternagel needs to get stronger and develop more power to become a full-time starter at the position.

THIRD OUTFIELDER: Harrison Bader and Buddy Reed will begin the season starting in the outfield, but Kevin O’Sullivan will have to find his third outfielder in practice. The leader coming out of the fall was freshman Logan Browning, an undersized left-handed hitter that can also provide some innings in relief. The 5-8, 180-pounder made a lot of hard contact in the fall and proved he could handle the outfield with his glove.

Ryan Larson could also be a factor after he hit .274 as a freshman with a .344 on-base percentage. If not, he will be a capable fourth outfielder. Freshman Jeremy Vasquez’s left-handed bat could also find a way into the lineup at times this year.

CATCHER: What happens on opening night doesn’t mean much for this position. Mike Rivera and J.J. Schwarz will be behind the plate a lot for Florida this year. Schwarz has the projectable build that should hit for plenty of power in college. Rivera has a line drive stroke and should hit for a high average. It wouldn’t be a surprise if one catches and one serves as the designated hitter throughout the year. Both can hit, and the Florida coaches were thrilled to sneak both through the MLB Draft and to campus.

Rivera and Schwarz both caught on the 2013 USA 18-U National Team and won a world championship. Rivera led the team with 11 RBI and hit .364 with three doubles in 33 at-bats. Schwarz hit .333 with three doubles and nine RBI in 36 at-bats, including a 5-5 game with two doubles against Japan.

THIRD STARTER: The first two starters are basically locked in with Logan Shore and A.J. Puk, but there are questions after that. Junior Eric Hanhold will be heavily involved after having a strong fall. Sophomore Dane Dunning has electric stuff and could find his way into the rotation if he can throw more consistent strikes. Sophomore Brett Morales also figures to be involved in the battle.

If you’re looking for a freshman that could get involved, don’t forget about right-hander Alex Faedo. The 6-4, 220-pounder has a high upside but could be better served in a midweek or bullpen role to start the year.

BULLPEN ROLES: This battle involves almost every pitcher on the team. Assuming Puk is in the rotation, Florida will have six left-handers in the bullpen. Bobby Poyner figures to be heavily involved in late-game situations while Kirby Snead and Danny Young have are proven in high-leverage situations. Outside of the right-handed pitchers that don’t make the rotation, Aaron Rhodes was dominant out of the bullpen last year, especially against righties.

The new piece to keep an eye on is Taylor Lewis. O’Sullivan has the chance to play matchups late in games and not use a true closer, but if he does want one guy, Lewis is the bet to begin the season as the closer. The Chipola College transfer has a low arm angle from the right side and dominated right-handed hitters in the fall.

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