Fear gone, Gators' J.J. Schwarz ready for first base

It was totally new to him when J.J. Schwarz was inserted into the lineup at first base around SEC Tournament time a year ago. Regular first baseman Pete Alonso went down with a hand injury and Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan decided his best option was Schwarz who had never played the position before. Now, he will be a regular at the spot and is feeling much better about it.

Getting Schwarz bat in the lineup has always been a big deal for O’Sullivan. When he wasn’t catching he would be the designated hitter or the squad. He has power and hits for average as well. He’s as consistent as any at the plate.

Junior Mike Rivera has gotten the bulk of the catching duties this spring and did so last year as well, but O’Sullivan has zero issues with sliding Schwarz in at that spot as well. The junior is equally adept at handling catching duties as well.

But, there is an opening at first base with the graduation of Alonso. And if Schwarz can handle the position, it will allow for another big bat in the lineup. After a timid start, he has gotten much more used to it.

“At the beginning of fall I didn’t feel very comfortable, but as I started to take more ground balls and got more reps in the scrimmage I feel way better than I did earlier,” Schwarz told the Florida media earlier this week. “If I do play there during the year I’ll feel comfortable doing it and whatever it takes to help the team win and get an extra bat in the lineup at the DH spot.”

Schwarz went in cold last year in the SEC Tournament. He had never played first base before. That was a trying time for the young man.

“From one to 10, probably like a two or three,” he said about his comfort factor when he first got the chance. “Now it’s probably like a 7 or 8.”

You see, Schwarz has grown accustomed to all the gear that a catcher wears and isn’t afraid to use that protection to stop balls that are coming at him at close to 100 m.p.h. He can’t do the same at first base when a left handed batter drills one down the first base line.

“All the lefties smoking it at me… it’s way different when you don’t have the gear on, your face is exposed,” he said about what was worrying him. “I was thinking about putting my chest protector on under my jersey to protect from body balls, but that was a no-go.”

He hasn’t been afraid to ask questions of guys that are more familiar with playing the position.

“Probably the other first basemen (have helped me the most),” he said. “I’ve been taking reps with Christian (Hicks), Kennan (Bell), and Garrett (Milchin) a lot and they’ve helped me out. I learned from Pete a little bit last year when he had the broken hand. He helped me out during the practices. Brad’s been helping me out. I do a lot of work with him now and started doing the catching stuff. It’s a combination of everybody, you know all the infield guys.”

O’Sullivan trusts Schwarz completely. It’s more likely than not that he will be a fixture at first when not behind the plate catching.

“I’ve never lacked confidence in JJ’s defense, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, I think he’s been fine,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s never, ever looked better behind the plate. He’s catching great. He’s throwing well. He’s accurate. His exchange has been outstanding. He’s been receiving really well. I’ve always had confidence in him, but he looks good at first base, too. He looks good over there. I’ve never lacked confidence in his defense. Maybe he did on himself.”

“He’s always been fine. He’s a baseball player. I’ve never really thought much about it. I’ve always had confidence, but that’s good to hear that he’s confident, but I’ve always had confidence in him.”

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