For some, the draft talk has been a bit of a distraction. Junior first baseman Pete Alonso came to Florida as an undrafted player out of high school but according to PerfectGame.org he’s now listed as the 105th best player available for the draft. Alonso, who recently returned from injury this past weekend at the Regionals in Gainesville, is trying to stay focused on the season.
“It’s obviously there, but I really don’t feel like talking about it,” Alonso told the media on Wednesday. “That’s not why (we’re here). It’s going to be an important part, but we’re here to play.”
“It’s definitely a huge topic, but I try and avoid it,” junior closer Shaun Anderson said. “The important thing is winning this weekend and last weekend. There is some talk around the locker room about it, but it’s not a huge conversation. We’re focused on the games here.”
Front and center for the Gators is junior left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk. The preseason All-American hasn’t had the win-loss total most thought he would have this year, but he’s been as good as advertised for most of the season on the mound.
Many have Puk going in the top spot of the draft on Thursday, most of not all have him going in the top five picks overall. His coach and teammates think Puk deserves every bit of the attention he is getting for the upcoming draft. Perfect Game and MLB.com both have Puk going 4th in the draft on Thursday. MLB.com says that slot is worth a $5.25 million dollar payout.
According to coach and teammates, Puk was on course to go this high from the day he arrived on campus.
“I said this early on, he’s 6-7, left handed and he came in throwing 88-92,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “If he just gets a little bit better here and goes out there and performs, he’s in discussion because of all the physical traits he has to be a potential 1-1 (1st round, #1 pick) candidate.
“In this recruiting process you see him for 2-3 innings and move on to the next field and you see him a little there and there. The fact is he played first base, had a coordinated swing, and he’s 6-foot-7 and had a chance to get in school. There was some coordination stuff that I believed would help his delivery down the road.
“Did I predict it? I didn’t predict it, but I’m not surprised. I am happy for him. It will be interesting to see what happens Thursday.”
Alonso agrees with O’Sullivan.
“I knew that day one he was on campus,” Alonso said of Puk going to be an ultra-high draft pick. “He’s a stud. He was going to develop and become an amazing player and he has.
Gator closer Shaun Anderson took a different route to get where he is projected to go in the draft this week. Anderson was the very last pick of the draft three years ago when coming out of high school. Perfect Game has him slated as the 75th best player available for the picking frenzy that will occur in the next few days.
Anderson too knew Puk was going to be special from the beginning of his Florida career.
“I know Sully knew it from day one too,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know Puk until freshman year, then freshman year when I saw him pitch, I knew he was something special. I just didn’t know how special he could be. In the past few years he’s worked hard to develop everything he has and he deserves it.
Junior outfielder Buddy Reed doesn’t like to go against Puk in practice.
“As a hitter, he’s 6-foot-6 and more like 8-foot,” Reed said with a smile. “He has a 97 to 100 mile an hour fast ball that moves. He has a sweeping slider and a really good change up. As a hitter, you might want to bunt. If you can’t do that… then good luck.”
Anderson and Puk are just two of the possible six arms that could get drafted off of the Gator staff. Perfect Game lists Puk at #4, junior Logan Shore at #26, Anderson at #75, junior Dane Dunning at #78, redshirt sophomore Scott Moss at #192, and junior Kirby Snead at #455 in the top 500 prospects.
It is a pretty amazing group of arms for one college baseball team.
“There are probably a few guys on this pitching staff that have a chance to pitch a long time,” O’Sullivan said. “I will say that you better enjoy it because it isn’t easy getting all of these arms together. There is a lot of stuff that goes into it.
“You have to get them through the recruiting process, then through the draft (after high school), then getting them to campus and helping them get better, then them actually performing at the highest level… there is a lot to go into it.”
Puk and Shore came into the season as All-Americans. Both have lived up to the billing on the mound. But O’Sullivan is very proud of and happy for a couple of others that had to settle into roles that they weren’t exactly expecting to be in when they came to Florida.
“Logan Shore and A.J. have gotten their notoriety and rightfully so. The thing that has been one of the most gratifying things for me this year is seeing the emergence of Shaun Anderson and being able to come out and so what he’s been doing, because he’s worked so hard and he’s been a great teammate and he’s put himself in a really good position and the other one is Dane Dunning.
“I have been very vocal about those two kids because they haven’t been the go-to guys. For them to be able to finish their careers on such a positive note for me is very gratifying.”
Anderson has tied a school record for saves at 13. He wanted to be a starter and was pushing for a starting job when the season started. He still wants to take on that role as a professional even though he is appreciative of the position he was put in and knows it helped him get what is about to come to him.
“I would prefer to start,” Anderson said. “I have 4-5 pitches I can throw for strikes so I can go a couple of times through the lineup. If it meant I needed to relieve here then I would relieve here and be the best reliever I could. At the beginning of the year I pressed to be a starter, but things fell into place for me to be a closer. I’m not going to argue with that. Sully’s given me the opportunity to close out games and I’m going to do the best I can. I think at the next level I am going to strive to be a starter.
Dunning has been spectacular this year almost every time he’s been inserted into a game. In the SEC Tournament and the Gainesville Regional this past weekend he was as good as Florida put on the mound. He stepped up his game from a sophomore season that was a good one, but not
“Really just locating my pitches,” Dunning said of where he made the big improvements in his game. “Last year I kind of got away. I would go a few innings that I wasn’t locked in and focused. This year I think I’ve changed that. I’m focused when I’m pitching and locating better. It’s just the mental aspect.”
“Some people say I may not have had the best season, but it isn’t about me, it’s about the team,” he said. “Whether I have been good or bad from the plate or in the field we’ve won games. So, I’ve definitely contributed to the team’s success. All the other guys have contributed as well. Regardless what people say about us as players, we are number one in the country. Regardless what people say, I am more focused on the team than anything.”
O’Sullivan knows the best days are ahead for his prized center fielder.
“As a person he’s very energetic, a positive influence, he’s got energy, his teammates love him, he’s loose… all of those things,” O’Sullivan said of Reed. “From a player’s standpoint you are getting a phenomenal athlete that hasn’t touched his ceiling yet. Most players that leave college at 21 they have kind of reached that ceiling, I don’t know where Buddy is at.”
Alonso is slotted #105 on Perfect Game’s list and you have to wonder if he will move up on draft day given the heroic effort he has put in on his come back from injury in the last week.
“The biggest thing with him… I think he missed 27 days because of his hand… and you have the draft looming and a lot of players might quite honestly not rush back. He’s been very unselfish,” O’Sullivan said of Alonso. “He rushed himself back to get in the line up to help his team win. It’s a story I will tell forever. Talk about a selfless act. Let’s do everything we can with our hand and try to help our team win. Most players would want to get through the draft first to see where they go and if we’re still playing then maybe I will play. It says a lot about his character, and to be honest I am very appreciative for it.”
O’Sullivan seems at peace with his group that will be gone a year away from graduation. The nation’s top team has more in the arsenal, and more are on the way. However, there are several of the high school players he has recruited and gotten commitments or signed scholarship papers from that will also have their names called by major League baseball in the next three days.
Pitchers Braeden Ogle of Jensen Beach HS (#73), Andrew Baker of, Haines City HS (#321), and Nick Long of Sarasota HS (#239) are three arms to watch. Outfielders Kennan Bell of Episcopal HS (#257) and Austin Langworthy of Williston HS (#210) along with infielder Garrett Milchin of The First Academy HS (#456) are also prospects that will get long hard looks in the next three days.