BASEBALL: The young guns are improving

Finding a few dependable young guns was one of the primary objectives for the Florida baseball team when they took to the field last February. The Gators had lost veterans Tommy Boss, Alan Horne, Connor Falkenbach, and Mike Pete, who pitched well when the Gators needed him down the stretch. Things didn't get any easier for Coach Pat McMahon when lefthander Stephen Locke was lost before the season.

The Gators brought in several top prospects who were hoping to establish a role for themselves in the Florida rotation. It appears those roles are now being somewhat defined by a pair of talented freshman pitchers who are beginning to flash a glimpse of their potential.

Chas Spottswood and J.K. LaCoste have gained some valuable experience that could possibly help a team that desperately needs a little attitude to change its' present course.

Nobody on the Florida baseball team should be able to provide a more honest assessment than catcher Brian Jeroloman, who does an outstanding job working with pitchers.

"The first thing a freshman pitcher does is too much," Jeroloman said. "They just try to do more than they're capable of at this stage. They overthrow the fastball. They'll put too much on their curveball. It's a learning curve. They have to learn to pitch at this level."

"In high school, they blew the ball by hitters or had a good curveball that they could throw for a strikeout," he added. "They were the best of the best, which is why they're at Florida. But, once you're up here- everyone else is that much better too. The days of throwing a 90-92 miles per hour fastball by batters are over. You're not going to blow the ball by people at this level. Sometimes they think that they can still get away with that, but they learn pretty fast that's a mistake."

Most young pitchers make a plethora of mistakes. That too has been the case with the Florida young guns. Throwing the ball might have gotten them out of innings at the high school level- in the SEC, it gets you pounded.

The relationship between Jeroloman and the young pitchers is seemingly coming full circle.

For instance against Auburn, Spottswood kept the ball down early and had the Auburn batters hitting ground balls. However, he didn't get the support of his defense, who gave up two costly errors. That usually rattles a pitcher at any level, but to his credit, the Key West native initially continued to make good pitches. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before he got a few balls up in the zone, possibly because he was overthrowing in hopes of squelching the Tigers bats. Still, it was a brief demonstration that Spottswood is indeed growing up in the game.

"Chas (Spottswood) doesn't realize how much that he has improved since the season began," Jeroloman stated. "He just has no idea. He is our Sunday starter. He is developing his pitches and is starting to throw them with confidence. That's the difference. You can't just hope for the best. You have to have that Bulldog mentality, knowing that this pitch will do exactly what we're looking for it to do and throw it that way. That's the only approach that is acceptable."

Spottswood has made the most starts and pitched the most innings of any Florida freshman this season. Like most freshmen, he has taken his lumps, as opponents are hitting .325 against him. However, those numbers should come down as he continues to trust in Jeroloman and keep the ball down.

"He (Spottswood) has a great change, curveball, and a cutter that he has only been throwing for two weeks that has gotten so much better," he said. "Those things are definitely making him better. He needs to step up there take command."

LaCoste has pitched 20.2 innings with six starts. The Jacksonville resident has allowed opponents to hit just .253 against him and sports a 2.61 ERA.

"He (LaCoste) throws as hard as any lefty you'll see," J-Ro said. "He does have that Bulldog mentality. I love catching those guys. They really challenge the hitters. They have no fear. Whatever they're asked to do, they'll put it in there."

"J.K. has a good fastball, curve, and change," he said. "He can really throw it. He is a guy that was pretty impressive early in the year. He has the attitude. Like a lot of freshmen, he's learning how to pitch. That's just part of the game. I think that he'll be a guy they can count on for a long time."

The numbers may not lay claim to any noted improvement, but for those who have watched the game there is no question that Spottswood is beginning to grasp a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in the Southeastern Conference.

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