Two important weeks for Florida baseball

If Florida didn’t have any late additions to its team, the Gators were still expected to be the No. 1 team next season.

The Gators are set to return four pitchers that made at least 12 starts last season -- Dane Dunning (5-2, 4.03 ERA), Alex Faedo (6-1, 3.23), A.J. Puk (9-4, 3.81) and Logan Shore (11-6, 2.72). In the field, Florida has to replace left fielder Harrison Bader, shortstop Richie Martin and third baseman Josh Tobias.

The return of Freshman All-American catcher J.J. Schwarz (.332 average, 18 homers, 73 RBI) will lead the middle of the Florida lineup. First baseman Pete Alonso (.301 average, five homers and 32 RBI) and outfielder Jeremy Vasquez (.339 average, two homers, 20 RBI) will provide power threats in the middle of the order after battling injuries last year.

Many national college baseball writers have already mentioned how impressive Florida’s talented roster will be next spring. What not many expected was what happened over the last two weeks.

It started on July 11 when right-hander Jackson Kowar made a late commitment to Florida. From Charlotte Christian (NC) High School, the 6-4, 180-pounder originally signed with Clemson but asked for his release when head coach Jack Leggett was fired. Kowar began to look around and considered Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt before committing to Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators on July 11.

Kowar has a low three-quarters arm slot that makes him difficult on right-handed hitters. He touched 92 mph during his senior year, but as his frame fills out in college, most scouting services agree that there is more velocity to come. Kowar also has good feel for his curveball and changeup that make him capable of being a starting pitcher.

When the MLB Draft happened, there weren’t many surprises. Right-hander Brady Singer, outfielder Kyle Tucker and right-hander Jacob Woodford were all taken in the top two rounds. Left-handers Thomas Szapucki and Michael Zimmerman were both taken in the top 11 rounds and signed to begin their professional career. Tucker and Woodford signed early in the process, but as time went by, Singer and the Toronto Blue Jays were late in the process without a deal.

Heading into last Friday’s deadline, Singer was one of the few prospects in the top 10 rounds that hadn’t reached a deal. The 5 p.m. deadline passed without anything happening, and the Eustis High School product was locked into playing at Florida.

There weren’t going to be many questions about the Florida pitching staff next season without Kowar and Singer. Add the pair of 90+ mph arms into the mix, and the Gators have two more elite prospects on the staff. Roles are still to be determined on the mound in the fall and spring before the season starts, but the depth of the Florida pitchers took a step forward.

After Dunning, Puk and Shore likely begin their professional careers following the 2016 season, the Florida staff looked like it might be thinner than usual in the future. However, getting Kowar and Singer both on campus answer questions about the depth this season and in the future.

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