The record breaking 2002 squad opened the season with a school-record 11 consecutive wins and finished 46-19 overall and 20-10 in the Southeastern Conference. That team shattered a total of 45 school records to become one of the most prolific teams in school history. The records included 21 individual offensive records, two individual pitching marks and 22 team records. Florida advanced to both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regionals for the program's 25th and 20th times respectively. The Gators also hosted a regional for the sixth time in school history and first time since 1998. Gone from this group are a school-record eight Major League draft picks.
The entire infield and two spots in the outfield will need to be replaced. The departure of two .400 hitters in Mark Kiger and Pat Osborn along with power hitter Ryan Shealy (23 homers) to the Major League Draft has left positions to fill. The Gators also must replace position starters Aaron Davidson (2B), Matt Goss (OF) and Aaron Sobieraj (OF) who have moved on to professional baseball. Those six players combined to hit .366 with 75 homers.
"Our program stresses the importance of doing things in a first-class manner with high principles," says head coach Pat McMahon. "Attention to detail is critical to be successful. The players have worked extremely hard on and off the field and that work is so important to the success equation."
McMahon has continued that spirit and energy into all areas of the program and community. The Gators once again held a "Home Run Derby" in the fall that raised nearly $4,000 to benefit the Children's Miracle Network at Shands Children's Hospital. McMahon also held two fall events for the second straight year - a first-ever Parent's Weekend and a Dugout Club "Meet the Players" evening for fans. This past season he implemented a coaches clinic for area youth coaches. He also again held several new summer and winter baseball camps for youngsters. Highlights of the camp included a showcase camp for high school players. And most importantly, he has used his in-state contacts to shift the program's recruiting focus back to the state of Florida - inking 14 of his 17 fall signees from within the state.
"Committing to do the very best in everything you do is very important," stresses McMahon. "We emphasize this in everything we do in our program. We want our players to understand this and be able to give back to the community and our great fan base."
The three regular position starters that do return will have to be leaders on and off field. Their presence on the field will pay dividends for the entire team. Those position starters include seniors Brian Rose and Mario Garza and junior Ben Harrison. Rose has started behind the plate in 127 consecutive games and will be relied upon to handle an inexperienced staff on the mound. Last season he batted .281 with 13 doubles, seven homers and 45 RBI. He also fielded .989 and is set to break the career putouts record. In his first season in the Orange and Blue, Garza batted .308 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 41 RBI in 182 at bats. Look for Garza to be used in the outfield in 2003. Harrison will also man the outfield after a stellar sophomore campaign and summer in the Cape Cod League. He will be relied upon to hit in the middle of the order. In 2002 with the Gators, he hit .342 with 10 doubles, five triples, eight homers and 38 RBI. Last season, he was an SEC All-Tournament selection and is a 2003 Preseason Baseball America All-American.
"Experience is so important to a ball club," says McMahon. "Returning players who contributed last season understand what it takes to be successful during the year. They understand the fact that every game from day one is important. We want to improve as the season progresses in all facets of the game. "
In the field the Gators also will rely on three part-time starters from a year ago in senior Jake Riordan and sophomores Jeff Corsaletti and Jonathan Tucker. All three gained valuable experience last season and are expected to build upon their success from 2002. The three combined for 47 starts and 140 appearances.
The Gators lose all three-weekend SEC starters in Alex Hart, Keith Ramsey and Jimmy Ramshaw that combined to go 29-10 and chewed up 310.0 of the 579.0 total innings thrown in 2002. Hart went 13-3 with a 3.24 ERA and Ramsey was 10-3 with a 3.98 ERA on the hill. The two became the first Florida duo to both accumulate double-digit victories since the feat was accomplished in 1991 by future MLB pitchers John Burke and Marc Valdes. Ramshaw was the third weekend starter last season and went 6-4 with a 4.80 ERA. As an entire staff, UF returns just 11 wins and 29 percent of the innings thrown in 2002.
Seniors Jamie Goldfarb and Ben Hedgecock will be leaders on a staff coached for the second straight year by Ross Jones. Both have experience, but have not been starters in the rotation. Goldfarb was second on the team with 27 appearances last year and finished the season 2-4 with four saves and a 4.00 ERA. Hedgecock made nine appearances but did not record a decision in 15.2 innings of work.
The sophomore trio of Tommy Boss, Connor Falkenbach and Mike Pete all could figure into a rotation that has numerous openings. All three were key elements in the bullpen last season. Boss made 18 appearances and threw 24.1 innings, Falkenbach was on the mound 12 times and had a minute 1.20 ERA in 19.1 innings, while Pete made 21 appearances and nine starts and went 4-0 in 48.1 innings.
"Players must understand that this is an opportunity to become contributing players immediately," says McMahon. "We will see which players want to step up to the challenge of competition. We have been extremely pleased with the work ethic of our team. We are excited about the challenges that the 2003 season will bring. Our goal is to improve on a day-by-day basis."
The coaching staff of McMahon, John Cohen and Jones is joined this season by Brian Fleetwood who comes to the staff after serving as an assistant coach at the University of North Florida.
2003 POSITION BY POSITION ANALYSIS
Senior Brian Rose returns for his final season as a Gator after starting every game for the second straight year last season. Rose has the leadership qualities to handle a pitching staff full of new faces. He will be relied upon heavily as the most experienced player on the team. He is outstanding defensively shown by his career .986 fielding percentage.
"Brian is one of the most experienced players in the SEC," says assistant coach John Cohen "He will assume a major leadership role on this team."
Also contributing behind the plate will be local product Joe Mercadante and Matt Cresap who redshirted last season. Mercadante played in 21 games last year and batted .471 with two doubles and two homers in 17 at bats. Both have worked hard to understand the system and have shown that. Junior transfer Bo Dring and true freshman Greg Quatrino also will play their first season in a Gator uniform.
With the loss of Ryan Shealy who had a tremendous year in 2002, the coaching staff will look for someone to be steady and consistent at first base. Redshirt sophomore C.J. Smith had a tremendous fall after making 11 appearances off the bench and scoring four times last season.
"C.J. has worked extremely hard in all areas of his game," says Cohen. Two-way player Lee Roberson transferred from Tallahassee Community. The left-hander hit .340 with a 3.30 ERA at Tallahassee last season and is outstanding defensively.
Several other players could see action at first base, including junior Matt Maley and true freshman Seth Steinhauer. Maley has some experience with 39 career at bats but could also play numerous other infield positions.
Florida must replace departed 2002 starter Aaron Davidson who started all but nine games. Four players are vying for playing time in a versatile middle infield that only returns one player with experience.
Sophomore Jonathan Tucker saw most of his time last season at second base but also could end up at shortstop. Tucker is very solid defensively on the infield. Last season he made 44 appearances and 20 starts, batting .348 with 28 runs scored.
Redshirt freshman Stephen Barton could also end up at second base, but the versatile left-hander hitter is also vying for time in numerous other positions. An all-state pick as a senior at Killian High School in Miami, Barton batted .407 with 14 doubles, four homers and 32 RBI.
Junior college transfer Brett Dowdy could also be the favorite to replace Davidson as an every day player. Dowdy is a great athlete with speed. At Manatee Community College in 2002 he was named a JUCO All-American after batting .355 with 18 doubles, nine triples and 38 RBI. "We have some new players who are polished," says Cohen.
"We just need to establish who can play every day. It could be a situation where many players could fit into that role."
Mark Kiger had a phenomenal MVP type season after starting all but five games at shortstop and fielding .958 while batting .403 with 60 walks. His numbers will be tough to top by anyone, but Tucker could land at shortstop after working most of the fall at the position.
"Jonathan has the most experience of all our infielders so he will be a key ingredient to our team," says Cohen.
Transfer Matt Graziano from Delgado Community College is a natural shortstop, but also has the ability to play second. Graziano starred at local P.K. Yonge and hit .380 with 10 doubles and 22 RBI last season at Delgado.
Talented freshman Justin Tordi gained valuable experience last summer as part of the USA Junior National Team where he batted .371. Tordi was also a first-team all-state selection at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. He was a 46th round pick out of high school and figures to be a factor in the lineup.
Pat Osborn made 61 starts on the hot corner last season and was another Gator player who had a big year offensively. He batted .414 with 17 doubles, 17 homers and 76 RBI last season.
Tordi could be a major factor along with Graziano, Maley and Smith. Preseason practice will have a big impact and how they perform in game situations will determine who will play.
"Our versatility allows us to play numerous individuals at different positions which will only help our ballclub," says Cohen.
The outfield will be the one position on the field where there are experienced players. Harrison has the most experience and is ready to have an all-SEC type season. Last season as a sophomore he started in all three-outfield spots with 41 starts total. As a Gator in 2002 he hit .342 with 10 doubles, eight homers and 38 RBI and he also batted a solid .296 in the Cape Cod League last summer.
"Ben had a great summer and we expect him to provide some power in the middle of our order," said Cohen. "He has the rare combination of power and speed and we expect him to provide that for our team."
Senior left-handed hitter Mario Garza was mostly used in the designated hitter role in 2002 but has worked hard in the fall to become an outfielder. Garza had an excellent summer after batting .308 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 41 RBI for the Gators last season.
"Mario has worked hard to become better defensively. He has a better understanding of his approach at the plate and that will allow him to be successful," said Cohen.
Senior Jake Riordan is known for his defensive ability and is a threat on the base paths. In 2002, Riordan made 48 appearances and hit .273 with 19 runs scored. Sophomore Jeff Corsaletti earned 83 at bats last season, and provides a strong offensive bat and is a great competitor. He hit .313 with a .406 on-base percentage in his 48 appearance last season. Both gained valuable experience last season and will be needed in the lineup.
Barton, senior transfer Fritz Reichardt and junior college transfer John Paul Castro also will vie for outfield playing time. Reichardt is a local Buchholz High School product who transferred from Sante Fe Community College and Central Florida. At Buchholz he batted .395 with 11 doubles and six homers as a senior, while at Sante Fe he hit .387 with 14 doubles, one triple and four homers. Castro is a transfer from Polk Community College after attending high school at Key West. He has two years of eligibility left after hitting .373 with 36 runs scored and 30 stolen bases his final season at Polk.
Florida returns nine pitchers from the 2002 staff, but only one has started an SEC game. The 2002 SEC staff consisted of Hart, Ramsey and Ramshaw who were all Major League draft picks at the conclusion of last season. Closer Kevin Coleman also is lost to the draft after picking up six saves in 28 appearances last season.
"The 2003 pitchers will all be competing for a role on the mound," assistant coach Ross Jones said. "This competition will only bring the best out of our players."
Goldfarb and Hedgecock have both been through the grinds of an entire season. Neither has logged significant innings though that may be expected of them this season. Goldfarb could be moved into the rotation after being used in mostly relief last season. In 14 SEC appearances last season he held a 2.61 ERA and earned four saves in 20.2 innings of work. Hedgecock came on at the end of the season and threw 6.1 innings of six strikeout ball in the NCAA Regional championship game.
Boss, Falkenbach and Pete all will vie for starts on weekends. The sophomores all bring something different to the mound, but know how to get batters out. The left-handed Pete is the lone returning pitcher who started an SEC game last season. The other sophomore is David Bartelt who will likely sit out the season due to injury.
Other returnees include Pat Rumble, Tom Potter, Matt Bomeisl and Ryan Sadowski. All four are vying for roles both in the bullpen and as starters. Rumble and Sadowski are both righthanders who have seen limited action. Rumble did not make any appearances last season after missing 2001 with an injury, while Sadowski made seven appearances and earned a win in 6.2 innings of work in 2002. Potter and Bomeisl are both junior lefthanders who have earned two letters. Bomeisl made four appearances out of bullpen last season while Potter started one game and earned a victory in 3.1 innings of action.
Sophomore junior college transfer Justin Hoyman had a solid fall and looks to be a favorite for one of the starting spots. Hoyman had tremendous success at Brevard Community College last season and in the fall showed he could establish himself as a weekend starter. At Brevard he went 10-3 with a 1.96 ERA.
Newcomers who could make an impact are junior college transfers Adam Sanabria and Roberson. Sanabria and Roberson are both left-handers from Tallahassee Community College who anchored a strong junior college pitching staff. Last season Sanabria was 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA, while Roberson went 5-3 with a 3.30 ERA.
Freshmen Bryan Ball, Derek Bell, Jimmy Kubek, Christian Madson, Darren O'Day, Andy Putnel and Justin Stiver are a talented group and all will play vital roles. Madson is the tallest player on the team at 6-8 and was a 14th round pick in the draft out of Bloomingdale High School. Kubek and O'Day will mostly be used in short relief and Ball and Madson are both competitive three-pitch pitchers who will compete for starts on the mound. Putnel was an all-state selection out of Auburndale Senior High School as a senior, while Stiver was 6-3 with 79 strikeouts in 60.2 innings at Charlotte High School his final season and Bell went 8-1 with 0.91 ERA with 109 strikeouts at Jupiter High School his final year as a prep.
"We need to answer the questions early on in the season in what roles each pitcher will play," says Jones. "We have a strong group of arms who will throw strikes. We will have to work the counts in our favor and let our defense make plays."