With the departing production of SS Richie Martin (1st round, Oakland), OF Harrison Bader (3rd round, STL), and 3B Josh Tobias (10th round, Philadelphia), the Gators entered the offseason knowing that their everyday 1-3 hitters must be replaced. This would be cause for concern for most, Florida Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan included.
“Obviously last year with Richie and Tobias in the left side of the infield, that’s the best we’ve had here,” said O’Sullivan.
The concern is mitigated by the startling array of class O’Sullivan has at his disposal and accordingly, the Gators do not expect to miss a beat from last year’s potent offense. With sophomore Dalton Guthrie (the projected leadoff batter) moving to shortstop and expected to thrive, the critical positions became 2nd and 3rd base. Highly-celebrated members of the 2015 recruiting class Deacon Liput (taken in the 39th round by the Yankees) and Jonathan India (taken in the 26th round by the Milwaukee Brewers) have taken advantage of the attrition, with both expected to start in the season opener against Florida Gulf Coast Friday night. Both had stellar falls against the best pitching staff in the country. O’Sullivan believes he has three guys (Shore, Puk, and Faedo) that could be #1 starters on this year’s #1 ranked team. If they can do even reasonably well as the .400 batting average both managed against their own pitching staff indicates, the Gators will get the kind of production from the end of the lineup that most teams can only dream about at the top of the order.
Everywhere in the lineup, the Gators have exceptional talent. In Buddy Reed, the Gators have a prototypical leadoff hitter and preseason All-American that is relegated to the #2 spot. At how many of Florida’s rivals would first basemen Pete Alonso, member of the 2015 All-SEC tournament team after missing the first 30 games of the season with a broken foot, be the top power hitter? At Florida, that honor goes to bats JJ Schwarz, who returns after a freshman season that saw him lead the Gators in in RBI (73, third in the nation), homers (18, fourth in the nation), doubles (16), sacrifice flies (6) and slugging percentage (.629), all while collecting a list of accolades that is longer than this article. Depending on the situation, you could see them man the 3 and 4 spots, or slide back to the 4 and 5 spots, allowing sophomore Jeremy Vasquez, projected RF that can also play 1B (.339 regular season, .378 postseason), to add a little more speed to the top of the lineup. Their versatility is only outmatched by their talent, a truly frightening prospect for opponents.
This year’s Gator lineup is daunting from top to bottom. Even if you successfully navigate the top of the lineup (unlikely), the drop off to the back of the lineup is minimal, at least as far as ability goes. It will offer no breaks in dominance from the stellar pitching staff. To beat the Gators, you’ll have to bring your best performance and even that may not be good enough. If any one of the Florida’s units performs to their potential, it will likely result in a Gators victory. If everyone shows up, there are few teams in the country that can withstand that level of excellence for 7 innings, much less a best-of-three series. Everything is there for this to be a historic team. Everything is there for this team to dominate every aspect of the game. On the eve of the season, everyone is picking Florida to win their first CWS championship. Given what the Gators possess, you’d be hard-pressed to agree with any other sentiment.
Projected Lineup :
1. SS Dalton Guthrie
2. CF Buddy Reed
3. DH/C JJ Schwarz
4. 1B Pete Alonso
5. RF Jeremy Vasquez
6. C/DH Mike Rivera
7. 2B Deacon Liput
8. 3B Jonathan India
9. LF Ryan Larson