Gators to Field More Mature Squad Next Spring

It wasn't unusual to see the Gators pencil four freshmen into their 2010 lineup, but it took until their final two games of the season for the youth and inexperience to show. The experience gained in the College World Series will only help a young Florida offense as they mature mentally and physically.

The Gators will lose one consistent starter from the position players on the 2010 team. Center fielder Matt den Dekker led Florida with a .352 batting average and 23 stolen bases, while hitting 13 home runs and 49 RBI. As good as the offensive numbers were, den Dekker will be missed the most on defense. He was called the best defensive center fielder in the country by multiple sources, and he played as if there was no ball hit his way that he couldn't get to.

Center field seems to be the only position where the Gators have uncertainty of 2011.

Catcher- Mike Zunino took hold of the starting job weeks before the 2010 season started, and he never let go. He struggled with the bat during the first half of the season, watching his batting average drop as low as .210. He ended the season hitting .267 with nine home runs and 41 RBI.

But he wasn't in the lineup for his bat. His advanced defensive ability was the reason head coach Kevin O'Sullivan started him, and it's why he was constantly in the lineup. He threw out 14 of the 24 (63.2%) runners who tried to steal against him. The freshman made only two errors in 52 starts behind the plate, with one of those coming on catcher's interference during the first weekend of the season.

Zunino will start in 2011, but Ben McMahan will find a way into the lineup. He hit .325 with two home runs and eleven RBIs during his sophomore campaign.

First Base- Preston Tucker saw his stats drop off from his freshman to sophomore season, but it would have been tough to repeat what he did as a rookie. He hit .364 with 15 home runs and a school record 85 RBIs during his first year on campus, and followed that up by hitting .331 with eleven home runs and 49 RBIs as a sophomore.

His walks more than doubled in 2010, going from 21 to 43, because of the increased respect opposing teams have for him. Tucker's glove also improved, earning him SEC All-Defensive Team honors with a .989 fielding percentage.

Tucker will get plenty of work in the outfield during the offseason, and if he can play it, don't be surprised if Brian Johnson plays first base next season. O'Sullivan knows that the team needs Johnson's bat in the lineup every day, and he played first base enough in high school where he could relearn the position in the offseason.

Second Base- Josh Adams was a First Team All-SEC member during his first two seasons on campus, but his numbers dramatically declined in 2010. He hit a career-high nine home runs, but after hitting .330 and .342 in his first two seasons, his average plummeted to .224.

To his credit, Adams did step his game up at key moments. He had two key doubles when the Gators clinched the SEC Championship at South Carolina, as well as a three-run home run on April 11 at Tennessee to allow the Gators to clinch the series victory.

Despite offensive frustration, Adams did experience his best defensive season. He had a .984 fielding percentage, making only five errors on the year. He will return for the 2011 season and is locked into his starting position.

Jerico Weitzel served as the backup as second base in 2010, but he will transfer to a smaller school to play football and baseball.

Shortstop- Nolan Fontana's defensive reputation was well known before the 2010 season started. But no one knew the freshman was this good. He made only four errors on the season for a .986 fielding percentage, earning him a selection as the only freshman and one of two underclassmen on the Rawlings Gold Glove Team.

He became a mainstay as the leadoff hitter by midseason because of his advanced eye at the plate. He hit only three home runs but led the team with 53 walks and a .437 on-base percentage. Fontana has the shortstop position and leadoff spot in the lineup locked up for 2011.

Third Base- Austin Maddox was forced into playing third base on March 24 because of injuries. He led the team with 12 errors, but he wasn't in the lineup for his glove. He earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors for hitting .333 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Maddox could line up at a different position in 2011. He will work out in the outfield during the offseason, but his speed could hamper him from playing the position. He played at first base during 2010, which is another possibility for him in 2011. Designated hitter would be the final option.

It all could depend on incoming freshman Zack Powers. He is already on campus in Gainesville, and he has a chance to start. He played shortstop at Armwood High School, hitting .411 with eleven extra base hits and three home runs. He is 6-foot-3, but only weights 180 pounds. Once he gets into a college weight program, he is expected to fill out and see his power numbers increase.

Left Field- Sophomores Tyler Thompson (.301, six home runs, 28 RBIs) and Daniel Pigott (.268, one home run, 22 RBIs) split time in left field in a platoon. Neither was able to earn the full time starting job, which means the position is wide open this offseason.

Maddox will be used in left field during the offseason to see how it goes. JUCO transfer Jared Womack will also be given a shot. Florida will take their three best outfielders and find a way to get them all in the lineup.

Center Field- The loss of den Dekker will hurt offensively and defensively, but Kamm Washington will do his best to make up for it. He tore his hamstring halfway through the 2010 season after crashing into the wall, but the injury should be healed by 2011.

Before the injury, Washington hit .308 with one home run. He was also 8-9 in stolen bases. He was touted as a potential five-tool player out of his school, but his height, listed at 5-foot-10, hurt him with the draft. This should be Florida's gain, as they seem to have found their center fielder for at least the next two seasons.

Right Field- Washington and senior Jonathan Pigott served as a platoon in right field during 2010, leaving the position wide open for 2011. Tucker moving to the outfield seems like the most likely scenario, but Daniel Pigott could also move over to right field.

CODY'S WAY TOO EARLY 2011 LINEUP PREDICTIONS:

1. Nolan Fontana- SS
2. Josh Adams- 2B
3. Preston Tucker- RF
4. Austin Maddox- DH
5. Brian Johnson- 1B
6. Mike Zunino- C
7. Kamm Washington- CF
8. Zack Powers- 3B
9. Daniel Pigott- LF


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