BASEBALL: Assessing the Infield

The 2005 Florida baseball team advanced deeper into the College World Series than any previous Gators team in school history. That is a tremendous achievement for a squad that the SEC Coaches voted to finish third in the Eastern Division in the league's preseason poll. Obviously, opposing coaches don't measure heart and this team had plenty.

Basketball legend Larry Bird was seemingly speaking directly about this bunch of scrappy Gators when he said, "A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals."

It would be difficult to look at this team and talk about explosive Major League potential. But, with more work that doesn't mean they won't perhaps get that opportunity next year, or possibly the year after that. Bird understood that and these Florida players do as well.

Brian Jeroloman is the best defensive catcher at this level. Justin Tordi has a phenomenal glove which would suit him well at third or second in the league if things don't work out at short. Adam Davis has the best pivot in college baseball and is a solid switch hitter. Brandon McArthur is one year removed from no career to…Wow!

Anybody who spent a little time with this group understood that these guys really love the game. They have demonstrated their willingness to improve and address areas of concern.

The leadership of Coach Pat McMahon has rubbed off on them in so many areas, which was evidenced by their speech in post game interviews and certainly in the Bracket One Championship game against Arizona State. They may not have always agreed with Coach Mac but they always knew that McMahon had the best interest of the team at heart. And you can bet they'll keep in touch after their college days as over.

The Gators didn't have an individual player who felt that he deserved additional prime time if you will. They were very team oriented and that chemistry carried them through the good and bad times.

Where this team fits when mentioned among the best ever in school history is a debate best settled on message boards and sports talk radio. But, for now, let's see how they improved over 2004 and reflect on a marvelous 2005 season.

BRIAN JEROLOMAN, Catcher: Jeroloman was born to be a catcher. He put a huge neon stop sign on opposing coaches' offensive game plans. Jeroloman is better than many catchers in the minors, and is probably more consistent than some in the big show. His technique is the best I've ever seen in college baseball: great leg drive, hip rotation, while squaring up perfectly to locate the ball on the bag. He has a good arm, too. You don't have to have a cannon if you master the technique.

Strengths: Defense, defense, defense. He handles pitchers well.

Address: I think that you'll see him use more of the field offensively and with more power in '06.

Best Series: Jeroloman went 8-19 in NCAA play prior to the CWS. He scored six runs, ripped five RBI's, and collected three walks.

MATT LAPORTA, First Base: The Charlotte County High School graduate went from a rising prospect to earn the 2005 Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player Award. He also led the nation with 26 home runs. LaPorta was a big game guy. He spoke openly with a large smile about beating the 'Canes in Gainesville.

Defensively, LaPorta did a tremendous job playing the first base position after the departure of C.J. Smith. He scooped several balls out of the dirt throughout the year. Personally, if I were a big league scout, I'd look at LaPorta as a third baseman for next year's draft. Strong arm, good glove, and power.

Strengths: Offensive power, leadership, defensive glove

Address: I don't think you'll see him strike out 65 times next season.

Best Series: Miami…LaPorta went 7-12, seven RBI's and scored six runs.

ADAM DAVIS, Second Base: Davis has the best pivot move in the country at this level. The 6-4-3 double play was rarely in question with Davis at second. He also is a very aggressive player who very much wants to be the go to guy.

Coach McMahon hit him in the two hole, which was perfect for a switch hitter following a high average Corsaletti with LaPorta to follow. Davis added more power this season, and should improve further on those numbers next year.

Strengths: Switch hitter with power, aggressive, great DP guy.

Address: Davis struggled a little at the beginning of the year. He committed several unexplainable errors that were nothing more than mental faux pas. He has a good glove and is willing to sell out for balls that are falling in the gap to make the play.

Best Series: Davis was sensational against the Vols on April 30th. He set a school record with 10 RBI's on 4-6 hitting with four runs scored. Of course, that was just one game. Davis was 6-13 against South Carolina.

Comparison of '04 versus '05 season

Player

GS

AB/H

AVG

2B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB/A

FLD%












Brian Jeroloman

71

248/74

.298

8

11

49

50

42

2/2

.989


48

151/41

.318

4

1

27

35

31

1/1

.973












Matt LaPorta

70

265/87

.328

16

26

79

44

65

3/7

.987


36

130/37

.285

5

14

37

13

39

1/3

.979












Adam Davis

71

294/90

.306

15

12

63

40

46

24/30

.954


63

253/81

.320

11

6

24

22

35

22/28

.954












Justin Tordi

70

260/62

.238

10

4

32

15

64

1/2

.973


65

235/71

.302

14

4

41

20

42

5/8

.959












Brandon McArthur

60

228/61

.268

6

2

30

14

40

1/2

.843


n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

JUSTIN TORDI, Shortstop: Defensively, Tordi was sensational. He is probably the best defensive shortstop to ever play at the University of Florida. He takes a slow chopper and makes a perfect throw on the run look like pitching pennies in a fountain. Tordi also has great range and rarely ever makes Matt LaPorta adjust for the throw as it speeds into first.

Offensively, he dropped significantly this season. Tordi admitted that he had a lot on his mind regarding his draft future. He has little too lose in '06. There will be no decisions to make regarding turning pro, he just has to swing the bat. He'll be surrounded by a lot of experience, which should help as well.

Strengths: Defense. Having Tordi back at short will cause a lot of hitters to think, maybe too much.

Address: Obviously, Tordi will work on his offensive game. He struck out 64 times. The coaches would love to see him relax and put the ball in play. They'll also address hitting into the double play.

Best Series: Tordi was 6-10 against Alabama, including going a perfect four for four in the opener.

BRANDON MCARTHUR, Third Base: McArthur's story is motivational to say the least. He had a phenomenal year for a guy who didn't appear to have a career left after the attack which left him near death in October of 2003.

Obviously, he started off slow, but his offensive game began coming around during the South Carolina series. McArthur shifted into high gear against Georgia in Athens. He had a stretch in late April, early May where he didn't hit the ball particularly well. However, he again picked it up and finished the season on solid ground. He left a terrific foundation to build upon in 2006.

He needs the most work defensively. Personally, I think most of McArthur's game will elevate by simply securing more repetitions.

Strengths: Heart. Desire.

Address: Playing baseball. Defense. Offense.

Best Series: He didn't like the Georgia Bulldogs much. Mac went 8-12 with three runs scored and two RBI's.


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