SEC Baseball Preview: Florida Gators

With five teams finishing last season ranked in the top 25, including three top 10 teams in Vanderbilt #6, Mississippi State #8 and USC #10 the league was as competitive as ever, and once again figures to make a major impact nationally during the 2008 season. went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams.

The SEC posted another tremendous season in 2007, sending five teams to NCAA postseason play with Mississippi State advancing to the College World Series. An SEC squad has now appeared in the College World Series 22 of the last 23 years. Vanderbilt won both the SEC regular-season title with a 22-8 conference record and the SEC Tournament on its way to a No. 1 national ranking before being upset in NCAA Tournament play.

The teams are presented in alphabetical order in each division. We will preview the SEC East first. Today: Florida

Kevin O'Sullivan begins his first year as a head coach after working as pitching coach (eventually associate head coach) and recruiting coordinator for Clemson University since 1999.

As a longtime pitching coach, O'Sullivan's first task was organizing his pitching staff for the coming season, beginning with returning senior Josh Edmondson.

Edmondson appeared in 31 games last year, collecting a 3.91 earned run average and a 2-1 record in 52 innings. O'Sullivan believes he can use the senior as a closer or a set-up man.

Patrick Keating, a junior righthander who notched two saves last year, will have a key bullpen role. He had a high ERA last year (5.79), but he threw 42 innings and fanned twice as many as he walked (27-to-13).

Sophomore Billy Bullock gives the Gators their most experienced returning starter. The towering righthander (he's 6-6) threw 61 innings last year, started 15 games and posted a 2-7 record. Freshmen Tommy Toledo and Travis Lawler are expected to step into key roles immediately. Toledo, from Tampa, Fla., turned down a third-round pro contract from the San Diego Padres to play for the Gators. Lawler, who played for A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas, was a 34th round selection by the Colorado Rockies.

The infield and outfield boast more experience than their classifications suggest. Among the top seven returning position players, four started at least 35 games a year ago.

Nobody has bigger shoes to fill than first baseman Brandon McArthur. McArthur missed the season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in the season opener against VMI. All he has to do is replace Gator home run king and first-round pick Matt LaPorta.

In 2006, McArthur hit .268 with two home runs and 30 RBI. He didn't play any games at first base but was a solid third baseman.

Cole Figueroa (.332 average with 50 RBI), a sophomore shortstop whose father played with the St. Louis Cardinals, anchors the middle, while redshirt sophomore Clayton Pisani (.254 average) and freshman John Adams could share time at second base.

Jon Townsend (.280, six home runs, 34 RBI) will be the starting third baseman.

In the outfield O'Sullivan has quickly become comfortable with Avery Barnes in left field, even though the junior only made one start at that position last year. He primarily played second base. He hit .293 with three home runs and 27 RBI. Sophomores Matt den Dekker (.234, 7 HR, 25 RBI) and Jonathan Pigott (.260, 14 RBI) will likely man the other outfield spots.

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