A few spots still open in Gator Baseball

The Florida Baseball season opens up Friday February 17, when the Gators kickoff a homestand with William and Mary and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has a talented returning squad and some questions at positions in terms of who will fill those roles. O’Sullivan says the talent is there, he just has to figure out where to go.

 Practice started Friday and O’Sullivan met with the media beforehand. The optimistic O’Sullivan was ready to get things going and figure things out.

“First we gotta get back into game speed a little bit,” he said. “We’ve been doing the individual work. We gotta stay healthy, of course. Maybe solidify our bullpen a little bit more. I think that’s going to take some (time) into the season to figure out. I think we’ll use the first four weeks to kind of shore up our bullpen a little bit. I think position player wise we still have a couple questions of who’s going to play where but for the most part I think that stuff is settled. Obviously our weekend rotation is settled. We just gotta get back into game speed and stay healthy.”

The biggest question marks in terms of who would play certain spots are at first base, center field, and then a bullpen that will be a work as you go kind of thing as the early season plays out.

“I think we still got some question marks at first base,” he said.  I think Christian Hicks swung the bat really well this fall, put himself in a really good position. Obviously J.J. Schwarz can play some first base. Keenan Bell, Garrett Milchin really swung the bat real well. I think around the infield, second, short and third you can figure out who will play there. Behind the plate we feel really good with Mike (Rivera) and JJ (Schwarz) and Mark (Kolozsvary) has really come a long way. He’s going to have to play a lot for us this year as well.

Lauren Lettelier / LML Photography

I think left field you’re probably looking at Langworthy, freshman from Williston, swung the bat real well this fall. In right field you got Maldonado and in center we’ve got two really good options in Blake Reese and Andrew Baker. We’ll also use Andrew, possibly, towards the end of the ball game, out of the pen. We’ve got a lot of answers to the questions, we think, but we’ve still got a lot more to go.”

Always a defensive minded coach, O’Sullivan understands the need for offensive production as well. Pete Alonso was a big time offensive machine for the Gators over the last two seasons and is gone now. O’Sullivan has to find the right guy to fill those shoes without missing a beat on the defensive end as well.

“You want to say it comes down to the bat but I think first base is one of the most underrated positions,” O’Sullivan said. “They can save you a lot of runs over there, especially balls in the dirt and being able to do a move, come in on a bunt, those types of things. It’s not as easy a position as people think it is. We’ve got about three or four options. Obviously J.J. is probably the only right handed bat over there; the other three are left-handed. I think all four of them are good enough defensively that it will probably come down to the bat. We’re certainly not going to sacrifice anything defensively.”

Leadership is a big component for teams to make it to post season and compete there. O’Sullivan feels like the leaders on this team will be good ones and as good as he has had at Florida.

“Yeah I do,” he said when asked whether there is good leadership. “I say that and I thought last year’s team did too. I really liked that class. I will say this though, with Mike (Rivera) and Dalton (Guthrie) and J.J. and Alex Faedo, they’re all really good friends and they’ve really gone out of their way to take the freshmen under their wings early on in the fall and I cannot imagine that those guys could not handle the expectations, not only from a team standpoint but from an individual standpoint, as well as anybody we’ve had here.

“I don’t want to compare it from other teams because we play some really good teams and really good players but in regards to those four players and what’s expected of them from a leadership standpoint and probably a draft standpoint, come June, I would expect them to handle it as well as any player we’ve had.”

Kan Li / Scout

While he feels great about a weekend starter rotation of Alex Faedo, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar, O’Sullivan is still up in the air about his bullpen. What he does know is that he has a trio of catchers he can count on and expects to do a great job.

“I mean it’s invaluable,” he said about the luxury at the catcher position. “You can’t have a good staff without having a good catcher or two or three. We’re fortunate to have three good ones. So those guys are invaluable. It’s like in any sport. You can’t win in football unless you have a good quarterback. You can’t win unless you have guys behind the plate that are not only good but they have some leadership skills. That’s why it’s so hard to find those guys. Like you said, we’re fortunate to have three really good ones that are interchangeable. Yeah they definitely helped out the young pitchers."

He’s also added some dual threat players to the roster. Guys that can pitch and hit / field. We will see freshmen like Garrett Milchin, Austin Bodrato, Andrew Baker, Kirby McMullen, and Austin Langworthy both on the mound and at the plate this spring and summer.

The flexibility in doing this is something O’Sullivan knows he can utilize.

“Well it certainly lengthens your roster,” he said. “I mean, it gives you more options. I think we’ve kind of moved in that direction. They’re hard to find. I think in the next couple years, I think 2018 and 2019  I counted like 8-10 potential two-way players. I think we’ve tried to evolve our recruiting a little bit to where we can find a guy or two more every year maybe that can run a little bit, because obviously the game out in Omaha is a little different. You gotta have a little more versatility.

“I don’t think you can be too right-handed or too left-handed. You have to have balance that way offensively. I think the two-way player gives you a lot of options especially if you’ve got to play an extra game or two in a regional setting or in an Omaha setting.”

A regular to the College World Series under O’Sullivan, he has approached this offseason like every other outside of maybe the recruiting changes he has made.

“I think the tone every year is the same thing,” he said. “Try to get better and win as many games as you can and put yourself in position to win the SEC Championship and try to be one of those lucky 8 teams at the end of the year that’s got a national seed so you can play at home. We haven’t really overstated our goals. I think our goals every year are the same. That’s, like I said, to win an SEC Championship and then put yourself in position at the end of the year where you’re back in Omaha and hopefully you can win that last game of the year which we’re trying to do.”

Florida never has an issue with strength of schedule. With the SEC being a power house nationally and several state of Florida teams regularly owning spots in the Top 25, O’Sullivan is confident the pre-conference schedule will prepare hit top five team for a tough conference schedule.

“I think where we’re positioned with the SEC schedule and playing Florida State three times and Miami three times every year and the other in-state teams that are regional-type teams every year, I think our schedule sets up good every year because of where we’re at in Florida,” he said.

“Specifically some other teams… I know William and Mary we’ve already looked at them a little bit. They return 7 of their 9 hitters. They lost their first baseman and center fielder. They return their whole weekend rotation. I believe they beat a really good Bryant team in the Charlottesville regional. Actually beat Virginia, and we know how good they are, in their own regional to knock them out. So they return a lot of experience. They run their conference tournament last year, I believe so. I mean, we’re three weeks away but we’ve at least looked at it a little bit. Their second baseman looks like their best hitter. He’s a junior coming back, switch-hitter. So it’ll be interesting. And they’re older. I think two of their three starters on the weekend are seniors. They’ve got a left-hander that’s a sophomore that logged a lot of innings last year.

“Not looking too far ahead, then we’ve got Miami the second weekend. There’s some trial and error there too. We’ve got to figure out our bullpen a little bit. We’ll mix and match. If you look back from last year, we didn’t know Shaun Anderson was going to be our closer. I think it was like the third or fourth weekend where he kind of evolved into that. We just kind of said, ‘You know what, it’s his job to lose now at this point.’ And you guys know how good a year he had. But we’ll see. I’m confident enough that we’re gonna be able to find some guys out of the pen that are gonna be able to help us.”

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