Despite the strange timing, the MLB Draft gets underway Monday when the first two rounds will occur, beginning at 7 p.m. on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will take place at 1 p.m. on Tuesday while rounds 11-40 finish up on Wednesday starting at 12 p.m.
While the Gators leave for Omaha on Wednesday and begin College World Series play on Saturday against Miami, the next three days will be busy ones for the future of the program.
There won’t be many surprises from the current Florida roster.
It would be a surprise if shortstop Richie Martin, left fielder Harrison Bader, reliever Taylor Lewis or right-hander Eric Hanhold were on the Florida roster next season. Players always have more leverage after their junior seasons, and all four will be in that position to sign professionally whenever Florida’s season ends.
Martin is projected as high as the late first round and should be off the board in the first 40 picks on Monday. Even if his offense hasn’t been elite this spring, his defensive skillset is and there is zero doubt among scouts that he can stick at shortstop as a professional.
Bader got off to an offensive tear to start the year but has been OK in the second half of the year. The big draw to him is the power that had been added this year. After three total homers in his first two years, the junior now has 15 homers this season. Bader could play center field for most college teams, but Buddy Reed has kept that from happening this year. Bader was more than sufficient in center field as a sophomore.
Lewis has a 1.24 ERA and has allowed 40 hits and 11 walks in 51 innings pitched this year. He’s a safe pick for a team that wants a reliever who could move fast through the minor leagues. Hanhold, although posting a disappointing 4.26 ERA this year, is seen as a prospect because of his power arm and size. His 28 hits and 11 walks allowed in 25.1 innings aren’t ideal, but the production doesn’t match his repertoire on the mound. His best innings are ahead of him.
The Gators also have two seniors that should get drafted -- left-handed reliever Bobby Poyner and third baseman Josh Tobias. Poyner’s 56/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio will be intriguing to teams despite his lack of size or velocity. Tobias has experienced a breakout year and leads the Gators with a .373 average and .447 on-base percentage. Don’t be surprised if a professional team elects to start Tobias at second base in the minor leagues. He can handle the position defensively, but Dalton Guthrie’s emergence this year has kept it from being necessary.
There aren’t many wildcards in the junior class. Right-hander Aaron Rhodes, a fourth-year junior, has graduated and participated in Senior Day festivities, so it’s doubtful that he will be back. Danny Young would be an important bullpen arm for the Gators next season, but it’s tough to think a left-hander that throws in the 90s would be taken low enough to return. With Lewis, Rhodes and Poyner all likely gone, Young would have an inside track to increased innings next year if he wanted to return and boost his stock.
The recruiting class isn’t as black and white.
The top prospect is Plant High School outfielder Kyle Tucker, the younger brother of former Florida outfielder and current Houston Astros left fielder Preston Tucker. The two could be teammates in the future, as the Astros are one of the teams rumored to be looking at the younger Tucker in the top 10 picks. It’s highly unlikely that he ends up in Gainesville next season.
Tucker is in a tier of his own from the Florida signing class as one expected to go in the first round. After him, there’s a five-player group that will be the ones to keep an eye on this week and could go either way -- middle infielder Jonathan India, outfielder Daniel Reyes, right-hander Brady Singer, left-hander Thomas Szapucki and right-hander Jacob Woodford.
India would compete instantly for a middle infield spot, whether at shortstop to replace Martin or at second base if Dalton Guthrie slides to shortstop. No decision has been made on the middle infield spots next year, and Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan plans to let the players battle it out during the offseason. India, an American Heritage High School product, would be heavily involved in that position battle.
Reyes has light-tower power but swung and missed too much at the high school level. A year ago, he was a top-10 high school player in Perfect Game’s rankings. The Mater Academy Charter school product is now down to No. 39 overall, but he would be another immediate impact bat that would be in the running for the left field job to replace Bader.
Singer saw his stock take a big jump forward during the last six months and is now seen as a possibility to go as early as the supplemental first round. The Eustis High School right-hander can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and has a funky delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. Singer and Szapucki, a Dwyer High School graduate, are the two that I wouldn’t bet on ending up in Gainesville.
Woodford is an important piece for the future. The Gators are expected to lose Dane Dunning, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore to the 2016 MLB Draft, which would be a big blow to the 2017 rotation. Woodford, a teammate of Kyle Tucker’s at Plant High School, could help solve some of those issues if he gets to campus. He also has plenty of talent to be heavily involved for the Gators on the mound in 2016 as a true freshman.
Gulf Coast High School left-hander Michael Zimmerman and American Heritage High School left-hander Hunter Bowling would be the next two to watch this week. The two couldn’t be more different on the mound, but both are attracting interest from MLB teams. Zimmerman pitches in the upper 80s with a plus curveball, and he has been gaining steam in the eyes of professional scouts in recent months.
Bowling is all about upside. Listed at 6-8, 220, the lefty has been clocked as high as 93-94 mph at some showcases, but he has been 87-89 mph at others. He has the frame that should provide more velocity in the future. The question is whether or not he’ll have a chance to do that in Gainesville.
The good news for Florida is the 2016 roster will be talented no matter what happens. The coaching staff should get a better idea of what it will look like by the end of the draft on Wednesday.