What happened last year came a year ahead of schedule. The Gators got hot during the conference portion of the schedule and ran away with the Southeastern Conference title, winning the league and earning the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with a team led by mostly freshmen and sophomores.
Those players are now a year older, and not many are gone. Florida lost catcher Taylor Gushue (.316 average, six home runs, 49 RBI) and second baseman Casey Turgeon (.259 average, four home runs, 33 RBI), but Zack Powers and Justin Shafer are the only other players that had a plate appearance and are no longer on the team.
On the mound, the number of returners is even more impressive. Florida returns pitchers that threw 80.9 percent of the team’s innings and started 80.9 percent of the team’s games last season. Eight different Florida pitchers made more than two starts, and Karsten Whitson is the only one that isn’t back.
The combination of returning players on the mound and in the field has combined with the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, and the Gators rank between 2-6 in various college baseball polls.
"We have a nice blend of older guys, sophomores who got a lot of experience last year and then we have a nice group of freshmen,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got a mixture of both younger players with some experience and some older guys who have some good leadership. It’s a good mix."
O’Sullivan heads into his eighth year at the helm for Florida, and assistant coaches Craig Bell and Brad Weitzel have been with him since the beginning in Gainesville. Buddy Munroe, who served as the volunteer assistant in 2014, has shifted into the director of baseball operations role, and Lars Davis has joined the staff this season as the volunteer assistant. Davis was taken in the third round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies and spent nine years in the minor leagues before deciding to get into coaching. He was also the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007 as a catcher at Illinois.
We’ll take a look at all 35 players on the Florida roster, starting with the position players.
Position players (with 2014 statistics):
The Gators have leaned on two catchers over the last five seasons. It’s hard to believe, but Taylor Gushue and Mike Zunino stayed healthy and started a majority of the games over the last five seasons. Those eras have now come to a close, and the Gators will be considerably younger this season behind the plate.
That brings challenges of its own. Zunino used to talk as a freshman about the challenges of getting to know an entire pitching staff as a freshman. He spent extra time away from the field talking to pitchers and getting to know what pitches and locations they preferred in different counts. This current crop of freshmen is going through the same thing this offseason.
C J.J. Schwarz, Fr. 6-1, 205 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Palm Beach Gardens High School)- 2014: n/a.This is what you want a freshman catcher to look like physically. Schwarz is built to handle the workload behind the plate and can catch and throw the ball well enough to control an opponent’s running game.
Schwarz could have been taken as high as the supplemental first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, but teams wouldn’t meet his asking price and he elected to go to school. When you see him hit, it’s clear why teams considered him that high in the draft. Schwartz is a power bat, and the ball really jumps when he makes contact. We’ll see what kind of average he can hit for as a freshman, but the power should play immediately.
C Mike Rivera, Fr. 5-10, 205 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Venice, Fla. (Venice High School)- 2014: n/a. Florida hit the jackpot in this recruiting class at catcher. Rivera and Schwarz were both on the 18U USA Baseball team that won a gold medal. The Florida coaches have some options with the two freshmen, and don’t be surprised if there are times when Rivera and Schwarz are both in the lineup with one catching and one at DH.
Rivera doesn’t have the size that Schwarz does, but he’s a different kind of hitter. He doesn’t have as much power, but he has impressive bat control. Watching him take batting practice at the start of fall practice, he hit the ball the other way with authority. Most freshmen struggle hitting the ball hard to the opposite field when they get to college, but Rivera had no issues. He’ll get plenty of at-bats this year for the Gators.
C Mark Kolozsvary, Fr. 5-9, 190 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Tavares, Fla. (Tavares High School)- 2014: n/a.When Kolozsvary committed, all I heard about was how advanced he was behind the plate. It was easy to see in the fall. His best attribute looks to be his arm, but he moved well behind the plate and looks capable of handling a pitching staff.
He was a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff with his bat. Kolozsvary was viewed as a glove-only player by most who saw him in high school, but he showed in the fall he could be more than that in his career at Florida.
C Mike Fahrman, Jr. 6-0, 205 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Tampa, Fla. (Alonso High School)- 2014: .167 batting average, .231 on-base percentage with five RBI in 24 at-bats.Last season, Fahrman was mostly used as a pinch hitter and got some spot starts against left-handed pitchers. The Gators didn’t have enough right-handed bats on the bench when they faced lefties, and that’s how Fahrman got those at-bats. That might not be the case this year with the added depth in this year’s recruiting class.
A walk-on earlier in his career, Fahrman will mostly be used as a bullpen catcher. However, if the freshmen catchers struggle to start the year, he could see more time than expected.
The infield looks a little different after Tuesday. Florida first baseman Pete Alonso broke his foot and will miss an undetermined amount of time, but it isn’t a season-ending injury. Slated as the team’s cleanup hitter to start the year, it hurts the power in the lineup. The Gators will need to find a capable first baseman while Alonso and Jeremy Vasquez (broken finger) are out. A.J. Puk is the only other natural first baseman on the team, but the Gators aren’t sure how he’ll handle playing first base and being in the starting rotation.
Alonso’s injury has given the coaching staff a lot to figure out, but there are still enough options to make it work.
SS Richie Martin, Jr. 6-0, 185 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Brandon, Fla. (Bloomingdale High School)- 2014: .265 batting average, one home run and a team-high 49 runs scored and 18 stolen bases in 20 attempts.Martin’s defensive issues plagued him last season. He’s a natural shortstop that will stay there at the next level because of his elite athleticism. He can make the extraordinary play look routine but sometimes struggled with the easier plays. His 21 errors can’t happen again, and everyone around the program is optimistic that they won’t. The junior talked about improving the mental side of his game in the offseason, which should improve some of the mistakes that caused him to make errors.
What has changed the most since the end of last season is the bat. After hitting .265 last season, Martin went to the Cape Cod League and broke out against some of the best MLB Draft prospects in the country. The shortstop hit .364 and stole 17 bases, valuating him up draft boards after breaking the Bourne Braves record for batting average. ESPN’s Keith Law put him at No. 13 overall on his draft board in November. Keep in mind how young Martin is, too. He will be drafted after this season as a 20-year-old and could be the younger college player drafted this year.
2B Dalton Guthrie, Fr. 5-11, 170 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Sarasota, Fla. (Venice High School)- 2014: n/a. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the leadoff spot on Friday. The Gators will replace three-year starter Casey Turgeon with a freshman, and there are plenty of similarities in their games. Guthrie has the ability to play shortstop if needed, but his glove and instincts play perfectly at second base. The coaches have raved about his instincts and the little thing he does to make the team better.
Guthrie isn’t a power hitter, but his bat control and ability to get on base could earn him a spot near the top of the lineup. O’Sullivan has generally tried to keep freshmen from the top spots in the order early to avoid them feeling too much pressure in the early season, but I’m not sure he can keep Guthrie out of the leadoff spot this year. He can bunt for hits and is an instinctual base runner.
1B Pete Alonso, So. 6-2, 225 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Tampa, Fla. (Plant High School)- 2014: .264 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI in 60 games played. This year, Alonso has been my breakout pick. That all changed on Tuesday night at practice when he broke his foot, the same foot he broke in the fall. When Alonso returns later this year, he’ll be the best power hitter to play at Florida since Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino left. The ball jumps off his bat. He actually got better as the season went on last year, ending it with a .264 batting average but a .290 average in conference play.
His power was on display early in the fall, hitting a home run that cleared the parking lot behind the left field bleachers. I asked O’Sullivan if it was the furthest ball hit at McKethan Stadium since Tucker and Zunino left, and he corrected me by saying, “That’s the furthest one I’ve ever seen hit here.” The power is real, and Alonso should have a monster season when he’s back.
Also keep in mind Alonso can play right field and will be mixed between first base and right field when he returns as the coaching staff searches for the best lineup.
3B Josh Tobias, Sr. 5-10, 205 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Greensboro, N.C. (Southeast Guilford High School)- 2014: .305 batting average, three home runs, eight RBI and four doubles in 105 at-bats. The Gators used John Sternagel and Tobias at third base last season. Sternagel went through a hot streak in the middle of the season, but Tobias ended the season as the starter when he got hot. Plagued by injuries and streakiness throughout his career, Tobias has a lot of potential but hasn’t shown it yet.
He is good defensively at third base and could even play outfield or second base if needed. However, his power is an intriguing option at third base. Tobias was a switch hitter in high school but went right-handed only when he got to campus. This fall, he went back to switch hitting and batted .300 from the left side despite not doing it since high school. He’ll continue switch hitting during the season. He had the job in the fall, but a slow start to the spring has kept John Sternagel in the race.
3B John Sternagel, So. 6-1, 205 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Rockledge, Fla. (Rockledge High School)- 2014: .238 batting average, one home run and 12 RBI in 41 games. When Sternagel was at his best as a freshman, he hit for a good average and got on base. However, he didn’t hit for much power as a freshman and needs to get stronger. His line drive approach helped him make an immediate transition to SEC pitching, and his glove was solid enough to play as a freshman.
A hot streak at the end of the spring will earn Sternagel a chance to win the job. O’Sullivan will probably alternate between Sternagel and Tobias at the beginning of the season, trying to find the best fit before conference play begins. He’s also a candidate to play first base some while Alonso is out.
1B/DH A.J. Puk, So. 6-7, 225 pounds. Bats L/Throws L. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Washington High School)- 2014: .222 batting average, six RBI, eight walks in 63 at-bats. Watch Puk take batting practice, and it’s easy to see why the Florida coaches want to give him chances to hit. Scouts rave about his upside on the mound and everyone believes that’s where his future is at, but that won’t stop him from getting at bats as a two-way player in college. He has plenty of loft in his swing that should produce more power with an increase in at-bats. It just didn’t show up last season.
As always for a two-way player, there’s a challenge for O’Sullivan in using him. The Gators will want him rested when he is used as a starting pitcher during the weekends. He could play first base if the coaches approve of letting him play in the field before or after a start on the mound. But O’Sullivan will have to see how he handles it early in the season before making a decision on how to use him when he isn’t pitching.
1B/OF Jeremy Vasquez, Fr. 5-11, 205. Bats L/Throws L. Palm City, Fla. (Martin County High School)- 2014: n/a. Whether it’s as a corner outfield or a first baseman, Vasquez’s hitting ability was expected to earn him some at-bats early this season. He was second in batting average during the spring behind only Martin when he suffered a broken finger that will keep him off the field during the first three weeks of the season.
Vasquez probably won’t hit for big power as a freshman, but he has a line drive approach and can spray the ball to all fields. I threw him into the infield group because he could fill in for Alonso, but he very well could end up getting more at-bats as a corner outfielder this season. It’s just another option for O’Sullivan and the coaching staff when he gets healthy.
INF Christian Hicks, Fr. 6-4, 200 pounds. Bats L/Throws R. St. Augustine, Fla. (The Bolles School)- 2014: n/a. When I asked about some surprises early in fall practice, Hicks was one of the first names I heard brought up. The same talk continued into spring practices. Everyone knew he could field the ball when he got to campus. He played shortstop in high school but looks more like a third baseman in college.
The surprise came with his bat. His swing looked much better than expected, even standing in to face some of Florida’s best pitchers. Hicks has a knack for getting the barrel to the baseball. Considering Tobias has been inconsistent throughout his career and Sternagel is unproven, it’s not crazy to think Hicks gets a chance this season. He has a big body that should add strength throughout his time in college, and his best days are ahead of him. Hicks is another one that could see time at first base until Alonso returns.
INF Taylor Lane, Fr. 6-2, 200 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Chesapeake, Va. (IMG Academy)- 2014: n/a. Lane is a great athlete and has potential to be a solid contributor in time. His swing looked better than I expected, and the speed is impressive to watch. He hit a ball in the right-center field gap in practice, and watching him run the bases was impressive. He can be a little stiff when fielding ground balls in the infield though.
He served as the shortstop on the team Martin wasn’t on during offseason scrimmages, and it would be interesting to see if he was the guy if Martin needs a break during the year. Florida could also slide Guthrie to shortstop and adjust from there, but Lane’s speed can be a difference maker for him.
INF Jason Lombardozzi, Jr. 5-11, 180 pounds. Bats S/Throws R. Chambersburg, Pa. (Chambersburg High School)- 2014: .120 batting average and six runs scored in 25 at-bats. Expect similar amounts of playing time for Lombardozzi this season. He’s a valuable utility guy that can truly play anywhere on the field, including the outfield, but the Gators won’t lean on him much this season outside of maybe as a defensive replacement.
There are two guarantees in the Florida outfield -- Harrison Bader and Buddy Reed. After that, there are a lot of options without a clear favorite. Expect the Florida coaches to juggle the third outfielder throughout the non-conference schedule and try to find the right fit by the time SEC play starts during the fifth weekend of the schedule. We listed Alonso as a first baseman because that’s where I think most of his starts will come when he returns, but he’ll also get plenty of starts in right field to start the year.
OF Harrison Bader, Jr. 6-0, 190 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Bronxville, N.Y. (Horace Mann High School)- 2014: .337 batting average, two home runs, 27 runs scored and 24 RBI in 44 games played. After returning from his suspension last season, Bader showcased his All-SEC talent. He’s the emotional leader on this team and will likely hit third in the order. There isn’t much weakness in his game. He can hit for average, steal bases and has delivered multiple clutch hits in his first two seasons.
He will play mostly left field this season while Reed slides over to center field. Reed handled the spot last season when Bader was suspended, but he does have the stronger arm between the two. That’s the only obvious difference, as Florida essentially has two center fielders this season.
OF Buddy Reed, So. 6-3, 200 pounds. Bats S/Throws R. Finksburg, Md. (St. George’s School)- 2014: Hit .244 with 26 runs scored and five stolen bases in 60 games. Reed is my early guess for most improved player in 2015. The tools have always been there, and one year as the starter last season helped him get used to college baseball. It was the first time the three-sport athlete in high school focused exclusively on baseball.
He added about 15 pounds of muscle, but the speed is still there. He’ll always be a good defender with a good arm. The bat should take a major step forward this season, and the defense will always be strong. He should also be more active on the base paths this season.
OF Logan Browning, Fr. 5-8, 180 pounds. Bats L/Throws L. Lakeland, Fla. (Lakeland Christian High School)- 2014: n/a. Perfect Game ranked Browning the second lowest of the incoming freshmen in their recruiting rankings, but if the offseason was any hint, that ranking will be very wrong by the time his career at Florida is over. He’s undersized but the ball jumps off his bat and he has surprising power.
Possibly a starter in the outfield as a freshman, the coaches feel like they got a steal with Browning. During his first scrimmage at Florida, I watched Browning face left-hander A.J. Puk, who is especially difficult on left-handed hitters like Browning. Puk threw a slider that started at Browning’s head, but the freshman stayed on it and lined it into right field for a single. He has an advanced approach for an inexperienced player.
OF Ryan Larson, So. 6-0, 185 pounds. Bats R/Throws R. Orlando, Fla. (Dr. Phillips High School)- 2014: .274 batting average, seven RBI and nine runs scored in 24 starts. Larson was a solid contributor as a freshman last season and could be in line for more playing time this season, depending on how other players handle their chances. With Bader and Reed locked into starting roles in the outfield, O’Sullivan could choose to platoon the left-handed Browning and the right-handed Larson. Either way, Larson is a solid defender who can control the bat and help Florida this year. At worst, he’s a solid late inning defender.
The Weekend Rotation (with 2013 statistics):
The Florida pitching staff is deeper than the group that anchored the team last season, but there will also be a different look on the mound. Last season, Logan Shore was the only Florida pitcher to throw more than 57 innings last season. He threw 95.2 innings as a freshman, and nine different Florida pitchers threw between 36-57 innings.
Those splits should be different this season. After Shore started a game last season, the Gators were staring at two games without many consistent answers on the mound. The coaches rolled through multiple pitchers as the second and third starters on the weekend, and it wasn’t easy to find consistent contributors.
With a year of experience, the Gators have multiple pitchers that could take the next step and throw more innings. Dane Dunning, Eric Hanhold and A.J. Puk are three that could see a big jump in innings this year, and there are still multiple arms behind them to fill out roles in the bullpen.
FRIDAY: RHP Logan Shore, So. 6-2, 215 pounds. Coon Rapids, Minn. (Coon Rapids High School)- 2014: 7-4, 2.16 ERA, allowing 86 hits and 20 walks while striking out 68 hitters in 95.2 innings. After completing one of the best freshman seasons in Florida history for a pitcher, Shore heads into his sophomore seasons with plenty of expectations. He was named National Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game last season and posted a lower ERA against SEC opponents than non-conference opponents.
So what will he do for an encore? It might be unrealistic to expect the sophomore to duplicate his freshman numbers this season, but Shore gives the Gators an unquestioned ace to start on Friday nights this year. The rest of the rotation spots should have more answers this season than they did last year, easing some of the pressure on Shore to carry the load last season. He didn’t pitch in a summer league, giving him a chance to rest his arm after 95.2 innings last year, and a slight leg injury kept him off the mound for the fall. He’ll be ready to go for the start of the season and should be set for another strong year.
SATURDAY: RHP Dane Dunning, So. 6-3, 190 pounds. Fleming Island, Fla. (Clay High School)- 2014: 1-1, 4.50 ERA. Struck out 31 hitters while giving up 17 hits and 11 walks in 24 innings last year. At the end of the 2014 season, Dunning was my pick to have a breakout 2015 and be in the starting rotation. He wasn't slated to be there when the spring began, but he pitched too well for the coaches to keep him out. Watch him pitch and it’s easy to see how high his upside is. He has a live fastball in the 90s and knows how to miss bats. Hitters hate facing him.
Dunning struggled with his control at times last year. It showed up again in the fall during scrimmages, falling behind in counts and have too many long innings. He has spurts where he loses his control and needs to overcome that if he wants to reach his potential this season. Those spurts didn’t happen as often during the spring, and he made a strong push for a job in the weekend rotation. Now he'll have to carry that into the season.
SUNDAY: LHP A.J. Puk, So. 6-7, 225 pounds. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Washington High School)- 2014: 5-2, 3.19 ERA. Allowed 33 hits and 18 walks with 46 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. This is the best pitching prospect on the team simply because of the upside. Shore has the polish and could pitch well in the minor leagues now, but they don’t make a lot of 6-7, 225-pound left-handers that throw 95 mph. The challenge for Puk will always be control. When he throws strikes, he can dominate SEC teams. When he struggles to find the strike zone, it can get ugly.
His fastball has natural sink and gets a ton of ground balls and strikeouts when he is on. The coaches believe he has turned the corner and will be able to go deeper into games this season. He still had some bad starts in fall scrimmages, but the spring has been much more consistent for him. The Gators need him to be consistent when the lights come on to start the year, and the belief is that it will happen.
The Bullpen (alphabetically, with 2014 statistics):
The bullpen is what will separate Florida from most of the teams in college baseball. D1baseball’s Aaron Fitt already said Florida “might have the deepest pitching staff in the nation.” The starting rotation should be able to handle more innings this season, but if not, there are plenty of arms waiting in the bullpen that can handle a bigger role.
Including Puk in the rotation, there are seven left-handed pitchers on the staff that could see innings this year. The only question is about Scott Moss, who is over 11 months off Tommy John Surgery last year. It gives O’Sullivan a chance to play matchups late in games because of the extended depth he has this year.
RHP Shaun Anderson, So. 6-4, 225 pounds. Coral Springs, Fla. (American Heritage High School)- 2014: 0-2, 5.60 ERA, allowing 27 hits and three walks in 17.2 innings. Anderson got on the mound as a freshman because he threw strikes. He stayed too much in the middle of the strike zone, and that’s why his numbers were hurt. Anderson doesn’t have the upside of Puk or Shore, but he’s a good college pitcher that can help Florida out of the bullpen, as a midweek starter or even in the weekend rotation if his command is better this year.
Anderson may not light up the radar gun, but he has a big, 12-6 curveball that keeps hitters off balance. He’ll be a valuable member of the Florida pitching staff this season, regardless of what role it happens in.
LHP Logan Browning, Fr. 5-8, 180 pounds. Lakeland, Fla. (Lakeland Christian High School)- 2014: n/a. Browning will make an impact at the plate and on the mound for Florida. He’ll get time as a starting outfielder this year, but he’ll also be another left-hander O’Sullivan can use out of his bullpen. His fastball can reach 90-91 mph with a curveball that teammates think is one of the best on the team. His two-pitch mix could make the son of former big leaguer Tom Browning an important part of the Florida bullpen.
LHP Tyler Deel, So. 6-5, 190 pounds. Jacksonville, Fla. (Fletcher High School)- 2014: Threw 3.1 innings, allowing only one walk and striking out three. Deel had limited chances in 2014, and he’s one in a long list left-handers trying to find innings this season. He did all he could to prove he deserved more innings in outings last season but they only came in mop-up duty. The coaches are happy with his outings this spring and think he’ll see more important innings this spring.
RHP Alex Faedo, Fr. 6-4, 220 pounds. Tampa, Fla. (Alonso High School)- 2014: n/a. This is what coaches want their incoming freshmen to look like on the mound. Faedo is a big right-hander that should add weight and strength throughout his college career, but he’s already capable of handling a big role on the pitching staff this season. The son of the head coach at Alonso High School, Faedo can serve as a midweek starter or a reliever for Florida this year.
The fastball comes out of his hand easily and is in the low 90s. He has located the fastball well through his spring outings. His 11-5 curveball has good break that missed plenty of bats, and the changeup is at least average. He has the upside of a Friday night starter before his career in Gainesville is over.
Eric Hanhold, Jr., 6-5, 205 pounds. Palm Harbor, Fla. (East Lake High School)- 2014: 4-3, 4.20 ERA. Allowed 45 hits and 18 walks while 36 strikeouts in 49.1 innings. Talent has never been the problem for Hanhold. He showcased it again in the Cape Cod League last summer and has the talent to be a high-round pick. Sitting 90-94 mph with his fastball, the pitch also has sink and produces a lot of ground balls when Hanhold is on.
When his slider is on, Hanhold usually dominates. If the changeup happens to be on at the same time, he looks like a first-round pick. The challenge for Hanhold this season will be the harness that. He stood out in fall scrimmages, but he has done that in recent years and didn’t translate it into the season. He needs to do that this season to help the Florida team and boost his draft stock heading into the 2015 MLB Draft.
RHP Taylor Lewis, Jr. 6-0, 170 pounds. Claxton, Ga. (Chipola College)- 2014: n/a. Remember how South Carolina used to beat Florida in the late innings from 2010-12? The Gamecocks did it by playing matchups out of the bullpen with side-armers that gave difficult looks to hitters. That’s what Lewis is. He tormented right-handed hitters in scrimmages with a low arm angle, but he still reaches the 90s. When he was at Chipola College, Lewis was mostly 88-91 mph on the mound but scouts saw him at 92-93 mph at times. He has shown that extra gear of velocity at times this spring.
Because of his success against righties, the Florida staff made him face a lot of left-handed hitters. And he still didn’t struggle much. His slider is tough on righties, and he dropped it on the back foot of left-handed hitters to get swings and misses. The Florida coaches can play matchups late in games if they’d like, but if there’s a frontrunner for the closer job, it’s Lewis.
RHP Brett Morales, So. 6-1, 195 pounds. Tampa, Fla. (King High School)- 2014: 0-2, 6.56 ERA, allowing 25 hits and 10 walks while striking out 16 in 23.1 innings. Morales did not live up to expectations as a freshman. A highly regarded prospect out of high school, he started the year in the weekend rotation and quickly pitched his way out of it. The dominance he showed in scrimmages before the 2014 season disappeared when the season began.
Now he has to work his way back. Morales is good enough to make that happen, and he has to improve this season to avoid getting lost on a deep pitching staff with plenty of capable arms. His fastball can be flat, which isn’t a problem when he pitches down in the strike zone. But when it’s up, it doesn’t have the velocity or movement to avoid being hit hard.
LHP Scott Moss, RFr. 6-5, 215 pounds. Deltona, Fla. (DeLand High School)- 2014: n/a. Moss is an unknown at the college level, but the Florida coaches like him a lot and are excited to see what he can do. He missed last season and took a medical redshirt after getting Tommy John surgery, and he wasn’t ready to pitch in the fall. He is pitching now, but it’s hard to imagine he’s thrown into an important role at the start of the season this soon after the surgery.
Moss has been throwing throughout the spring, including facing live hitters for multiple weeks, and he has looked comfortable doing so. The ceiling is high for this tall left-hander, and it’ll be interesting to watch how O’Sullivan uses him this year. When he comes back and is fully healthy, he’s just another left-hander the Gators can use on the mound.
LHP Bobby Poyner, Sr. 6-0, 205 pounds. Wellington, Fla. (Palm Beach Central)- 2014: 5-4, 3.47 ERA. Struck out 46 hitters and walked 10 in 57 innings. The talk during the MLB Draft last season was about plenty of other players and recruits besides Poyner. But when the coaches found out for sure they were getting him back, they were extremely excited. He’s a versatile piece that his filled multiple roles for O’Sullivan. He began last year as the Friday night starter and ended the year with four saves, the second most on the team.
He’s undersized and doesn’t blow hitters away, but he’s very valuable to this Florida pitching staff. The versatility is a big deal. Poyner likely starts the year as a late-inning arm out of the bullpen, but O’Sullivan has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to bring Poyner in as early as the sixth inning and let him finish out a game. He could even become a starting pitcher again if one of the other options stumbles out of the gate.
RHP Aaron Rhodes, Jr. 5-11, 190 pounds. Venice, Fla. (Venice High School)- 2014: 5-2, 2.48 ERA, allowing 43 hits and 15 walks in 54.1 innings while striking out 51 hitters. Rhodes was an extended reliever at the beginning of the year before earning a spot in the starting rotation. It’s not unthinkable that he does it again this year. Rhodes has to stay healthy this year. His slider is almost unhittable for right-handers, and he could be a late-inning reliever called on to get some righties out. But he has to stay healthy for that to happen. Small, nagging injuries have kept him off the mound multiple times during his career and has kept him from bigger roles.
RHP Frank Rubio, So. 5-11, 185 pounds. Miami Shores, Fla. (St. Thomas Aquinas High School)- 2014: Allowed nine hits and two runs in eight innings of work. Rubio was used basically to save arms in blowout games last season. That’s probably the role he will fill again this year, but he threw five complete games in the New York Collegiate Baseball League last summer and had a 2.28 ERA in those games. He’s unlikely to be a high-leverage reliever this season, but the coaches are optimistic with the way he has been throwing in the spring. He can get outs and save arms for other games.
LHP Kirby Snead, So. 6-0, 190 pounds. Alachua, Fla. (Santa Fe High School)- 2014: 3-0, 2.40 ERA. Snead allowed 43 hits and walked just five batters while striking out 22 hitters in 41.1 innings. Snead doesn’t have dominant stuff on the mound and isn’t able to blow it by hitters, but that’s what made it even more fun to watch him as a freshman. He found new ways to get hitters out and made it look incredibly easy, especially for a freshman in his first season of college baseball.
His arm angle makes it tough on left-handed hitters, but he surprised a lot of people by consistently getting right-handers out. He’s yet another valuable late-inning arm that has already earned the trust of O’Sullivan.
RHP Mike Vinson, RSo. 6-4, 215 pounds. Miami, Fla. (Christopher Columbus High School)- 2014: n/a. After not pitching last season, Vinson rejoined the staff after a strong summer. He was named a top-five prospect in the Valley League by Baseball America and Perfect Game while striking out 34 hitters in 37.2 innings. An injury slowed him in the fall, but the right-hander will be given a chance to get important innings out of the bullpen this spring.
LHP Danny Young, Jr. 6-2, 200 pounds. Boca Raton, Fla. (Saint Andrew’s School)- 2014: 5-0, 2.23 ERA. He struck out 36 hitters and allowed 55 hits in 48.1 innings. For me, Young is always the forgotten guy. He’s similar to Poyner in that he can and has filled multiple roles on the Florida staff. Last year, he made nine starts and 16 relief appearances. He could be a candidate for some midweek starts in big games this year, but Young likely starts the season in the bullpen for Florida. He’s another in a long line of left-handed relievers O’Sullivan can use.