Most Of UF's Big 5 Should Stick Around

Returning juniors Matt LaPorta, Adam Davis, Brian Leclerc, Brian Jeroloman, and Gavin Dickey were supposed to provide a formidable nucleus on a Florida baseball team that finished second in the nation a year ago.

Heck, these guys often represented the top five in the order. Unfortunately, Dickey was the only player who demonstrated improvement in 2006. As the June draft approaches, what should these guys be considering?

Well, it depends on who you talk to. And nobody has more excuses than baseball folk. Looking purely at the numbers, it should come as no surprise that the majority of the big five would be best served staying at Florida.

There is no question that numbers are a huge part of baseball but so are about a hundred other intangibles according to scouts. The direction an organization takes in the draft might change a half dozen times between January and June. Injuries, trades, and poor or inconclusive reviews with minor league affiliates, etc, etc all will play a role. As one scout put it, "racing has their spotters, but there is a guy in a big chair and the driver who make decisions. I don't make decisions. Me, I'm just a spotter."

Basically, anything can happen.

Slugger Matt LaPorta is probably the one Florida player who has nothing left to prove. He never really had a chance to get started after straining an oblique muscle and missing 13 games just after the campaign began. Furthermore, upon his return, LaPorta faced pitchers who rarely gave him anything that wasn't outside, really outside.

Overall, his long ball game, defensive skills, and coachability will keep him pretty high on most boards. Coachability? The scout, who asked to remain anonymous, said that some organizations put more emphasis on attitude than others. He understood LaPorta to be a guy that is considered "a good clubhouse guy" with both instructional staff and teammates. As interesting as that might sound, it's hard for me to believe that baseball would even consider that to be a high priority.

Adam Davis was not supposed to be the Gators shortstop. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the start of fall classes. Who would have imagined the Cincinnati Reds would so significantly up the ante for Justin Tordi?

Davis, who earned third team All-American honors at second base teaming with Tordi to shore up the middle of the Gators infield, took up residence at the six spot. The move was a costly one as he committed 21 errors. Offensively, Davis struggled through much of the year. He finished strong in the final six games against Alabama and LSU. While doubtful, it appears that Davis would be best served to come back for one more year, provided he could return to second base.

Brian Leclerc was perhaps the most consistent at the plate through much of the season, hitting at .300 or above. However, he suffered through an offensive collapse through the latter stages of the season to finish at .262. Leclerc seemingly has an occasional strong defensive effort, but lacks consistency in right field. Leclerc seemingly needs to develop a consistently good mental approach everyday that he arrives to the ballpark. There is no question that he would benefit with a return to the Florida campus.

Dickey's greatest attribute is his athleticism. While he certainly improved this year, it was the first season in which he had truly earned a position when first practice opened. Defensively, he was much improved over 2005 and he will only get better. Offensively, Dickey struck out 42 times in 181 at bats He simply hasn't had enough work at the plate to see just how good he could become. He'll get plenty next season. This would appear to be a critical time in his development.

Defensively, Brian Jeroloman does a good job of working with his pitchers, has a quick release, and usually puts the ball on target when throwing out runners. He has thrown out 55 runners over the past two years. Offensively, the Wellington native has seen his average drop in each of his three seasons at Florida. He hit only .242 and struck out 37 times as opposed to .298 with 42 strikeouts a year ago. Most disturbing is that he amassed 58 more trips to the plate last season, yet struck out only five times more. Jeroloman is one of the most outspoken players on the team. He'll be the first to admit his faults and one of the last to thump his chest regarding his triumphs. While certainly money and opportunity remain the key factors with each of these guys, Jeroloman will be one player who is certain to at least somewhat balance his self-assessment with what he hears from advisors.

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The Miami Hurricanes? No. The Miami Marlins? Please. The Gators? Hardly. It's hard to believe but the most exciting baseball team in Florida (over 18 years of age) appears to be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The D-Rays are a young squad who appear to be taking the proper steps toward adulthood.

Gator fans who are uncertain of what to do with themselves as a promising baseball season ended so abruptly, should consider trekking to the Florida Suncoast for a game.

Major League Baseball mandates that each team be represented in its' All-Star showcase, which will be held in Pittsburgh this year. In years past, that has usually been rather easy for American League managers when looking at the D-Rays. Their big league talent pool has been the equivalent of a bird bath. This year is a little different though.

Jonny Gomes is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of baseball. He hustles --- something seldom found in the game these days --- yet hits for power. Gomes is currently tied for second in the AL home run chase and ranks among league leaders in RBI's. However, it is extremely doubtful that a DH would be among the most highly regarded alternates.

Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir (7-3) will be on American League manager Ozzie Guillens' roster. Despite getting rocked by a swing of Big Papi's bat in the fifth inning last night, the southpaw still commands a very respectable 2.86 ERA. The classic needs all of the excitement it can get and Kazmir ranks second in the AL in strikeouts with 73. The fact that he is a relative unknown outside of AL circles- the Mets certainly didn't know anything about him- might add a little intrigue to the game. Kazmir was named the American League Player of the Week.

He might not be the D-Rays lone representative either.

Over the past seven days, left fielder Carl Crawford has hit 13 of 22 (.591) with three home runs, two doubles, and seven stolen bases. He raised his overall season average by .042 and is now hitting a very respectable .301. Don't be surprised if Crawford is named the American League Player of the Week in a few days.

Last Wednesday, Crawford went five for five against the Toronto Blue Jays. He scored five runs and stole four bases, which according to reports, is a feat that hasn't been accomplished in more than 50 years.

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