Although the departure of Harrison Bader (3rd round, STL) will be felt, this unit has both the depth and talent to overcome the loss of his productivity. With a combined 149 starts in 2015 between them, the projected outfield is expected to produce in their ever different roles.
Sixty-nine of those starts return in the form of Junior CF Reed, who increased his output in every major offensive category from a stellar freshman campaign. A prototypical leadoff hitter, Reed “is a threat to get on base anytime he puts the ball in play” states Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan about one of his three preseason All-Americans. “Then he can go on and steal second and third, too.” 18 of the Gators 80 stolen bases were recorded by Reed. His speed is also a tremendous asset on defense, where his 3 errors last season were astonishing low for someone who played in 70 baseball games. 2015 also saw Reed become the first Gator to be named to the SEC’s All-Defensive Team since 2012. “I just tell Buddy to take whatever he wants and I’ll take the leftovers,” laughs OF Ryan Larson. “It’s hard to not be good defensively with Buddy Reed in centerfield.”
Larson, a junior who made 47 starts in RF last season, will transition to LF, where he made an additional 4 starts. He batted .305 last year, which was a marked improvement from his freshman output of .274. He is expected to man the #8 hole in the lineup, where his steady hitting and team-high 7 sacrifice bunts will be put to good use.
Larson’s move to LF, coupled with Peter Alonso’s stranglehold on 1B creates an opportunity for sophomore Jeremy Vasquez in right, who made 14 of his 29 starts there last season. After missing the first 16 games of the season with a broken hand, Vasquez had a freshman season full of superlatives, none so more important (or satisfying) than his postseason performances against rivals Miami and Florida State, both resulting in Gator advancements. A loaded lineup will likely see Vasquez bat towards the end of the lineup. If he improves on his .339 average from a year ago, he will see both his role and draft stock amplified going into his junior season.
Santa Fe College transfer Nick Horvath is expected to contribute, as is Danny Reyes, a member of the Gator’s heralded 2015 #1 recruiting class.
Drafted by the Red Sox in the 39th round, Reyes was a preseason All-American heading into his senior season at Mater Academy in Miami Springs. Following his high school career, Reyes was named the #2 outfielder in the state of Florida by Perfect Pitch. He will be expected to play early and often, as his level of talent is something Gator fans want to see developed further.
A solid unit at worst, the 2016 Gators outfield will look to expand upon the success of last year’s unit. The Gators possess the talent and depth to make a meaningful contribution to a championship roster. If Buddy Reed can stay healthy, he just might be the most important piece to a team that has the potential to end in another championship run.