Tobias’ hot streak sparking Florida

Kevin O’Sullivan spoke to his team before the year about how important one breakout senior can be to a season.

The Gators (21-5, 3-3 SEC) haven’t had many of them in recent years, having only 12 seniors on the team in the last five seasons. Most players are eligible for the MLB Draft after their junior seasons and leave college campuses to start their professional careers. O’Sullivan told the team stories of multiple players across the Southeastern Conference that had average careers during their first three years, but after deciding to return for their senior seasons, some put it all together and proved to be an important piece on a quality team.

Through the first six weeks of the 2015 season, third baseman Josh Tobias looks to be just that for Florida.

“It seemed like there have been teams in this league where there are seniors that come back for their last year that have been good players and then all of a sudden the light goes on and they end up having really good senior years,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m hoping Josh can keep this up because he can be one of those guys.”

Tobias' career has been marred with hot and cold streaks. When he has been hot at the plate in the last three seasons, it’s hard to find a better hitter on the team, but the hot streaks didn’t last long and Tobias would soon play himself out of a starting job. He got off to another hot streak during the third series of this season against Stony Brook, at one point recording a hit in eight straight at-bats. Instead of falling into a funk at the plate, it has been followed by four weeks of elite production from the third baseman.

Leading the team’s regulars with a .391 average, Tobias, who was not made available for this story, made a unique change during the offseason that could explain the improvement.

He came to Florida as a switch-hitting high school All-American from Southeast Guilford (NC) High School. He felt more comfortable from the right side of the plate during his freshman year and elected to bat only right-handed, which stuck for his first three years in Gainesville. Heading into his senior year, Tobias went back to switch-hitting and had to relearn his left-handed swing. Through the first 26 games of the year, he’s hitting over .400 from the left side and has become Florida’s cleanup hitter.

“I’ve never seen this in my career before, a guy hitting one way for three years and then all of a sudden his senior year, he goes back and swings it from the other side with the success he’s had,” O’Sullivan said. “You’re not going to see this very often.”

Teammates credit Tobias’ tireless work ethic during the fall. He worked long hours in the batting cage and film room, trying to regain the feel of his swing from the left side of the plate. He spoke with Florida center fielder Buddy Reed, another switch hitter on the team, to go over some of the finer points of keeping both swings ready to go.

The hard work continued to pay off on Tuesday night in DeLand in his first game back from a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. The Gators ran out to a 5-1 lead before Stetson scored five straight to go up 6-5 after six innings. With only four outs left, Tobias broke a 6-6 tie with a two-out, two-run home run, his first career home run from the left side of the plate.

“It was definitely something we needed,” Florida left fielder Harrison Bader said. “It was a huge swing. He’s a leader, someone I’ve always looked up to and respected as a player and individual off the field. He’s a talent, but more importantly, he’s a guy that’s up in the clubhouse and helping younger guys. What he has done this year is really amazing.”

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