O’Sullivan sees progression to the opener

The Florida Gators Baseball Team opens the season on Friday February 17, 2017 at home against William and Mary and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan likes what he sees out of his mostly veteran team. A somewhat seasoned weekend starting rotation and a bevy of arms in the bullpen that will have to work through some growing pains, is complimented by 6 starters returning in the field and a group of freshmen that are talented and exciting.

O’Sullivan met Tuesday with the media and as usual was all smiles as he talks about the season that is almost upon us. A terrific recruiter, he has a lineup that is really talented in every phase of the game and it’s just a matter of putting it all together to make a cohesive unit.

“It’s been good,” he said when asked how preseason practice has been going so far this year. “Starting pitchers are about 60 pitches, Jackson Kowar will go tonight. We’ll extend him four innings, get him close to 60. Alex (Faedo) threw just under 60 the other day and Brady Singer was just under 60 — 57 pitches — yesterday. They’re right on track. We’ll get them out there one more time each before opening weekend.

“The bullpen has been coming along. The young guys are getting better, throwing a ton of strikes. We’re playing really good defense. I think the hitting part is a little bit still behind, the pitching has been ahead of the hitting, which is normal, to be expected this time of the year. I think the bats will pick it up here this time next week or so.”

The bullpen is talented, but who will do what is still unknown. They will work through that during the season to define the roles of all his bullpen pitchers.

“Yeah, I think so,” he responded when asked if it was still a work in progress. “We have more lefties… that I like, Andrew Baker has the hand, so he won’t be able to swing the bat for a month or so but he’ll be available to pitch for us. He threw a bullpen yesterday. We’ll get the stitches out right before opening weekend so he’ll be cleared to pitch.

“I like (Frank) Rubio, he’s older, a senior and been throwing the ball really well. I think we’ll probably mix and match a little bit. Hopefully as the season gets going here, at least those three starters on the weekend, hopefully we don’t need much pen, to be honest with you. I do feel comfortable and confident that our pen is going to be fine once all the dust settles. You just gotta be careful, I gotta put them in situations where they can be successful and get a little confidence, hopefully run with it.”

The Gators signed another stellar recruiting class and these guys can hit. Garrett Milchin, Austin Bodrato, Tyler Dyson, Keenan Bell, Andrew Baker, Austin Langworthy, and Kirby McMullen are all new names that can swing the bat and will looking to make their entrance to the field and at the plate at some point in the season.

They have a bit to learn, especially with how aggressive Florida’s pitching staff is at practice.

“We throw a ton of strikes, O’Sullivan said. “There’s no sense in getting to two strikes. We’re two of our first three pitches for strikes. That’s our philosophy. If the guy’s up there throwing strikes, swing the bat. But the freshmen, you know how it goes. There will be a learning curve. I don’t know when it will hit. Will it be at the beginning of the year? Will it be in the middle of the year? Will it be at the end? You don’t know. Very rarely do freshmen go the whole year -- or anyone really -- without going through a difficult time or so-called slump. That’s going to happen. You just hope it doesn’t happen for very long. But it’s going to happen. Hopefully we’re mature enough to handle it, which I think we are.”

O’Sullivan feels solid about the middle and left side of his infield. While there is a battle going on at first base for playing time, sophomore Deacon Liput is locked in at second, junior Dalton Guthrie at short stop, and Jonathan India at third. But, what happens if any one of those guys goes down. It appears that India is the most flexible to move around.

“Well, we have Blake Reese in center field,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s versatile. He can come back into the infield. Christian Hicks, if something ever happened to Indy, we’d probably move Hicks over to third. If anything ever happened to Guthrie, we’d probably move Indy over to short, which we’ve been doing. If anything happens to Deacon, obviously you can move Indy over to second and move Hicks to third or you can play Hicks at second. It’s not ideal, but he’s certainly good enough. Blake Reese can come in and play some second base.

“Obviously, at first base, we have multiple options (J.J. Schwarz, Christian Hicks, and Garrett Milchin). When you get Andrew Baker back, we can put him back at center when he’s able to swing the bat. Austin Langworthy is capable of playing center field. Ryan Larson can play center. He’s fine. I would have no problem in a pinch putting him out there. So I think we’ve got things covered.

“We’ve moved some guys around. Mike Rivera can play third base. You know, obviously, we don’t want to move him from back behind the plate, but in a midweek game if we needed to play Mikey at third, I would have no issues with that. Obviously J.J. Schwarz can play some first base. We’ve got some versatility. We may not have as much depth as we did in years past, but we certainly are deep enough that if we did have an injury or two, we would be fine.”

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