Gators' pitching as good as it gets

Led by preseason All-Americans and projected 1st round draft picks Logan Shore and A.J. Puk, the 2016 Gators pitching staff is widely regarded as the best in the country and the prevailing inspiration for their lofty preseason status.

With a roster that is as deep as it is talented, this Gators pitching staff will strike fear into any and all opposition they encounter. The Gators will possess an experienced rotation that will return four pitchers that made 12 or more starts last season. Few teams in the country can boast a Friday night starter as accomplished as Shore, who enters his junior season used to that role, having occupied it since his arrival on campus two years ago. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Shore was 11-6 with 2.72 ERA last season, posted 86 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings and was one of four Gators to be named to the USA Baseball team. While Shore can attack batters with a low-90’s fastball that has good movement and an adequate curveball, his changeup is his most devastating offering.

Shore is a front-runner for nearly every pitching accolade in college baseball, but the same can be said of Puk, whom many scouts believe is the superior prospect and a potential #1 overall pick. Puk looks to maintain his position as the Saturday night starter, which given his status among professional scouts, simply has to demoralize the opposition. Possessing elite size, the 6’7” Puk began to dominate midway through last season which continued into the postseason, having posted a 1.54 ERA in 4 starts and earning All-SEC Tournament honors. Having similar resumes, a healthy rivalry between the two aces was predictable.

“It’s kind of like a competition between us,” Puk exclaimed. “Shore will go out and do his thing and then I’ll go out and try to match him or do even better, and it goes right down the line.”

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 Puk, who recently earned USA Baseball's International Performance of the Year for his efforts in a combined no-hitter against Cuba, ended his sophomore campaign 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA and 104 K’s in 78 innings, becoming the first Gator to strikeout a century of batters in a single season since 2007. Puk uses his height to his advantage, as evident from his fastball that consistently hits the upper-90’s. He spent the offseason working on his changeup, a prospect that Logan Shore cast as bad news for opposition.

“It’s hard for hitters to see,” chuckled Shore, revealing his lack of sympathy for opposing batters. “It’s definitely hard to pick that up. (Puk) being able to throw that hard and pitch that way with his slider and changeup make him virtually unhittable.”

The up-for-grabs #3 spot in the rotation will see competition from several highly qualified candidates. Junior Dane Dunning (6-3, 205) was 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 14 starts and sophomore Alex Faedo (6-5, 220) finished 6-1, 3.23 in 12 starts. Faedo should be considered the favorite to fill that role after a sensational postseason performance during his freshman year. Dunning will also compete for the spot, but the talent of Faedo, highlighted by his 2-0 record and 1.98 ERA in 3 postseason starts, will likely prevail, giving him an excellent platform to takeover for his draft-bound compatriots next season. Dunning will likely be relegated to the midweek games. Heralded freshman Brady Singer, a second round pick coming out of high school, has been praised for his talent and work ethic since arriving on campus. Having impressed his teammates and coaching staff alike during the fall, Singer will be expected to contribute early.

The departures of juniors Taylor Lewis (9th round, Atlanta) and Danny Young (8th round, Toronto) will see significant turnover in the bullpen. However, the Gators have both the talent on the roster and the right man for the job in Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, whose resume with pitchers is as impressive as it gets. Junior right-handers Shaun Anderson and Frank Rubio, junior left-hander Kirby Snead, and sophomore lefty Scott Moss will compete for innings. Anderson, Rubio, and Snead combined for a 3.43 ERA in 76 innings; Moss did not pitch in 2015.

This Gators pitching staff is gifted, deep, and experienced. The top-end talent would be the envy of plenty Major League farm systems. A deep run in Omaha last year will ensure that the Gators will not encounter too many situations with which they are unfamiliar. On paper, there is simply no team in the country that can compete with this group of arms. As old as the game itself, the adage ‘good pitching beats good hitting’ will surely have Gator fans confident going into the season. Considering how talented the lineup will be, being able to proclaim that pitching will be this team’s strength exposes the embarrassment of riches O’Sullivan has at his disposal, riches that fans expect to see embarrass the opposition. 

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