Looking at the future: Gators’ pitchers

Heading into the 2016 season, Florida will have the best group of starting pitchers in the country.

There were only a handful of teams that rivaled the group the Gators had in their starting rotation during 2015, but the MLB Draft hit most of them.

The Gators didn’t take any hits to the starting rotation because they were too young.

What it leaves is a group loaded with talent heading into the offseason. Florida starting pitchers A.J. Puk and Logan Shore will get experience this summer with the Collegiate National Team with USA Baseball. Dane Dunning and Alex Faedo will both get experience in the Cape Cod League.

Shore and Puk will anchor the 2016 rotation as they head into their draft-eligible seasons. For the past two seasons, Shore has been the ace of the staff. As a freshman and sophomore, the right-hander went 18-10 with a 2.47 ERA. He doesn’t have the elite stuff that Puk has, but Shore’s command and plus changeup makes him an ace in college. The big step forward in 2015 for Shore was the curveball, which was much improved from 2014 when he rarely threw it.

Puk was expected to make a big jump in 2015, but it didn’t come until the end of the regular season. He had a sub-2.00 ERA over his final six starts, and his mid-to-upper 90s mph fastball had scouts buzzing that Puk was a candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. He’ll be watched closely next season and have a lot of pressure on him to perform at that level. Consistent strikes will be the challenge for Puk, but he did it late in the 2015 season and gives the Gators a second ace to pair with Shore.

If there’s a battle in the starting rotation, look for it to come between Dane Dunning and Alex Faedo for the third spot. Dunning started the year in the rotation and had a good season, but he was too prone to big innings and could fall apart without much notice. Faedo was more consistent, throwing a lot of strikes for a freshman and showcasing a plus slider that will make him a dominant starting pitcher at Florida.

However, both of them can’t be in the rotation with Puk and Shore. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan will have to be creative to find the best ways to get the most out of a pitching staff with the four power arms.

That will be especially important because Florida’s bullpen is expected to be wiped out by the MLB Draft. Eric Hanhold (6th round, Milwaukee), Taylor Lewis (9th round, Atlanta), Aaron Rhodes (26th round, Los Angeles of Anaheim) and Danny Young (7th round, Toronto) are all expected to sign professionally. Redshirt sophomore Mike Vinson was a 24th round pick by Detroit and will have a decision to make. Add in Bobby Poyner graduating and likely signing with the Boston Red Sox, who selected him in the 14th round, and that takes away five proven arms from the bullpen.

So who will step up?

There are some who likely will, but there aren’t a large number of obvious answers. The Gators could transition Dunning into a closer because of his electric stuff, but he has the repertoire to be a starting pitcher. However, the one who doesn’t win a job in the rotation has to be used somewhere.

Florida does return Kirby Snead, who has been really tough on left-handed hitters, and he could move into the role Poyner served in this year that can be extended if needed.

I do have one breakout candidate in the bullpen. Shaun Anderson will be heading into his junior year, and the coaching staff has been high on him in his first two seasons despite him being able to carve out an important role. He throws a lot of strikes and can reach 94 mph with his fastball. Anderson pitched in mop up duty, especially during the NCAA Tournament, and showed what he can do. Don’t be surprised if Anderson emerges as the go-to arm out of the Florida bullpen next year.

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