Gator baseball opens practice

Outfielder Preston Tucker throws the ball to home from right field during the first baseball practice of the season at McKethan Stadium on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. The Gators are ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America preseason poll.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.

There aren't a lot of question marks surrounding the team Baseball America ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, the Gators do have a couple of position changes.

Former first baseman Preston Tucker is moving to right field. The junior was second-team All-SEC in 2010 and a member of the league's All-Defensive Team, after starting 50 games at first base and seven in right field.

The last time he was a full-time outfielder? Seven years ago.

"I think I'm doing as well as I can out there," Tucker said. "I'm putting in the work of taking a ton of reps out there, so I feel just as comfortable as I would at first base."

Tucker said he spent all of fall practice in right and hasn't seen a day at first. The main thing he's working on is fielding fly balls. Playing in the corner, he's adjusting to more spin on the ball. To help, he worked through Christmas break and fields flies for an hour or two before each practice.

"So far so good," coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We've had a whole fall to work on it. He did a really nice job in the fall. You never know until the games start, but he's looked sharp out there."

One thing Tucker has also had to improve is his arm strength. Tucker said he's gotten out of the habit of throwing like he's in the infield by putting more carry on his throws with hours of long toss. He's also practiced throwing to a cutoff man.

"My arm strength has gotten a lot better, arm accuracy has gotten a lot better, too," he said. "Hopefully that will carry over."

With Tucker gone at first, O'Sullivan is working Brian Johnson, catcher Ben McMahan and transfer Vickash Ramjit at first. Johnson, who was also a pitcher and designated hitter last year, figures to be the leading candidate to start at first.

Then there's third base.

Last year, freshman Austin Maddox took over third after JuCo transfer Bryson Smith suffered a finger injury. O'Sullivan said Smith has been moved to center, where he'll compete with sophomore Kamm Washington, leaving Maddox to compete with freshman Zack Powers.

Maddox, who hit 17 home runs and posted a .941 fielding percentage last year, has dropped 15 pounds and is more agile, O'Sullivan said. He's also gotten stronger, while getting more flexible and developing a quicker first step.

"He's dedicated himself in the offseason to get better defensively and he's looked great so far," O'Sullivan said.

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