New faces, same expectations for UF
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 7:58 p.m.
With its constellation of stars now gone, the Florida baseball team has gone from talented and tested to talented and untested. Unknowns abound as the Gators head into the 2013 season.
Who: Duke at Florida
When: Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
Where: McKethan Stadium
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850
But despite massive lineup changes and all kinds of new faces filling the roster, UF's expectations pretty much remain what they usually are under coach Kevin O'Sullivan.
The Gators expect to compete at a high level and win a whole bunch of games. Whether or not they are championship material — SEC and national — will be determined in the coming months.
“We have a lot of new faces,” O'Sullivan said Friday, before the Gators held their first preseason practice. “I like our pitching. I like our defense. Obviously, our offense is going to be a work in progress. We certainly have enough (offense) to be successful.
“I do feel good about our offense. There are going to be some ups and downs. There is going to be a learning curve. But we certainly have the personnel to be OK.
“We've had some great players come through here who have moved on. Now it's time for these players to make a name for themselves. They've worked extremely hard. We're just anxious to get started.”
In the field, the Gators must replace their five best players from a year ago — catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Preston Tucker, pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson, shortstop Nolan Fontana and outfielder Daniel Pigott.
The biggest difference this year is no Zunino. He was the leader of last year's team and the national player of the year in college baseball. Taking his spot behind the plate is true sophomore Taylor Gushue, an early enrollee last season who saw considerable playing time.
“Obviously, losing a player like Mike, you're not going to replace him,” O'Sullivan said. “But with respect to Taylor, I'm really pleased where he's at. Defensively, he's come light years. He's going to have to hit. He's certainly capable.
“We recruited him to Florida for a reason. He came here early and made a huge commitment to us. It's his time to go. We're certainly comfortable with him.”
O'Sullivan also seems very comfortable with his new shortstop — true freshman Richie Martin, who replaces Fontana, one of college baseball's best shortstops in 2012.
“(Martin) is a very, very good player,” O'Sullivan said. “He's very mature. He's an engineering student. I think he made one B (in the fall). He's very focused.
“He's our hardest worker. He's very talented. He's got some big shoes to fill with Nolan departing. We're going to throw him in the fire, and he's probably going to be leading off.”
O'Sullivan said with Martin at short and sophomore Casey Turgeon at second, the Gators will be strong defensively up the middle.
“It's as good a middle as you're going to see at this level,” O'Sullivan said. “They have a chance to be one of the best, if not the best, middle infield combinations in the country.”
Pitching also figures to be a team strength, something it traditionally has been under O'Sullivan.
The Gators have proven starters in the top two spots — Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson.
“The third spot is still up in the air a little bit,” O'Sullivan said. “We need to find someone we trust at the end of the ball game (as a closer). If we can find that, we'll figure out the Sunday starter.”
In terms of pitching and defense, this is expected to be a typical O'Sullivan team. Offensively, it's going to be much different than a year ago, with speed expected to replace the considerable power the Gators had in the lineup last season.
“Last year we came up to the plate and everyone in the lineup could hit it out,” Turgeon said. “This year, it's going to be different. We are really fast. I'd say this year is going to be a lot more fun.
“It's going to be small ball, a lot of moving the runner. We're not going to hit the ball out a lot, we're still going to get our fair share. There are going to be a lot of guys running and bunting. We're going to do it all.
“The speed is just unbelievable. From what I've seen, it's going to be a fun year.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.