Florida head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan met with the media before the fall practice started Tuesday and was really pumped about seeing what the new year might bring.
"It feels great,” he said. “I think like everybody else, the anticipation of the first practice is exciting, not just for the older guys but obviously for the new guys. We have a couple of young freshmen throwing today for the first time. It's exciting. I’m looking forward to having a good fall."
O’Sullivan is not shying away from talking about what kind of team he has for the 2017 season and expects this team to be really good yet again.
“First of all I think on paper, talent wise, we’re as good as we’ve been,” he said. “I don’t know how much of a drop off we’re going to have from last year. No disrespect to the guys that left because they’re tremendous, tremendous players. I think we’re in a position now where you’re not rebuilding you’re reloading. Obviously disappointed about the way last year ended but we just gotta kinda get a little bit better in every area.”
Florida does have to replace some supreme talent that is now off to professional baseball. The pitching rotation was hit big time with several big arms that are gone along with the loss of Buddy Reed in center field and Pete Alonso gone from first base.
“I don’t think there’s one specific spot where we gotta change what we’re doing but we do have to figure out first base, figure out the outfield,” O’Sullivan said. “Some of these freshmen need to step in right away and I think the strength of our team obviously is our pitching — our starting pitching more specifically.
O’Sullivan expects that Junior Alex Faedo and sophomores Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar will be the weekend starters for the Gators.
“I don’t know, on paper, this is about as good as a starting rotation as we’ve had and we’ve had some good starting pitching, as everybody knows,” O’Sullivan said. “The starters are going to have to be really good for us in the spring. In the fall, each pitcher probably throws between 17 and 22 innings or so. Probably most importantly we gotta stay healthy. We have to stay healthy. Hopefully we’ll stay healthy throughout the fall.”
"It's kind of a unique situation. We lost some really good arms. All in all, I think there's about $11 million in signing bonuses with last year's class that left, but I don't think anybody's going to feel real sorry for us with Faedo, Singer and Kowar on the weekend. That's probably what we anticipate right now. You've got three 6-foot-5 right handers that throw 92-97 for strikes. Alex had a tremendous summer with Team USA and he was their No. 1 pitcher. Singer is in some publications the No. 1 prospect in the (Cape Cod League) as a freshman. And you guys have seen how good Jackson can be when he's healthy. He's healthy today. I think the weekend rotation is going to be as good as any in the country. We've got to redo the bullpen, but we've got plenty of pieces.”
Having been to the College World Series numerous times and won SEC Championships at Florida, O’Sullivan like the rest of his team and the fans want to get over that last hump of bringing home a national championship to Gainesville in baseball.
One issue for not getting over that hump is that he feels he has to build a team one way to win in the SEC, but that might not be the best kind of team to play in Omaha at the end of the season against teams from outside the conference.
With that in mind, he has taken on a little bit different approach in recruiting players to play at Florida.
“When you hit the ball in the air in Omaha, you remember the one J.J. (Schwartz) hit, in left center field, that ball would have been in the parking lot here,” O’Sullivan said. “Unfortunately there it was an out, but I just think, recruiting wise you just look at it and you try to put together a little bit of a better lineup. Guys who run, who can hit are hard to get to school because speed is one of those tools that’s really hard to find and if you’ve got a guy who can run and who can really hit, those guys end up going really good in the draft. So like Buddy Reed, he was a guy who could really run but he was an athlete, and he kinda developed here. But for every Buddy Reed, there are guys that don’t develop, that don’t get their baseball skills to the point where he got hit. Like I said we’re just going to try to be a little more dynamic and a little more creating on the recruiting end and pay a little more attention to speed and not be one-dimensional.”
O’Sullivan is always going to have a strong pitching staff. The best arms in America come to Florida because he knows how to coach them and get them to the next level. But, he is also starting to realize that a lot of any one thing can be detrimental to other parts of the team.
"I really do believe there's a certain way you have to be built to win in the SEC and that's usually power arms and you've got to be able to swing the bat,” he said. “Obviously when you get out to Omaha, it's a totally different set of circumstances with the field. So I think for us recruiting-wise, we've kind of evaluated it a little bit. We have got to get a few more guys in the lineup that can be a little more versatile. We've got to be a little more dynamic offensively and not be one-dimensional. But it's a fine line because the formula to win in the SEC may be a little bit different than in Omaha. It's our job to adjust and to be able to make those adjustments. The other thing is we've always had pitching depth and that helps you out through the course of the year, but when you get to the postseason, if you play in a regional and you win all three, you only play three games. In a super-regional, it's the best two out of three. And then when you get to Omaha, you have a day off in between games. Your depth doesn't show up in the postseason. So what does that mean? Maybe we recruit a few more hitters and try to lengthen out our lineup a little bit more. Pitching and defense is what gets you there, but maybe from a recruiting standpoint, but a little more emphasis on a few more hitters each there just so we can lengthen our lineup a little bit more."