UF baseball reloads with talent
Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
A year ago, the Major League Baseball draft gutted the Florida program. The Gators had seven juniors taken in the draft and only two of 10 incoming freshmen played for Florida in 2013.
The results were predictable — UF snuck into a regional and finished under .500 for the season.
A year later, it's a different story for Kevin O'Sullivan.
“You gotta feel good about it,” the Florida coach said. “I feel really good about this class. It's a total 180 degrees from last year.”
Florida had 11 players taken in the draft, but only three of them signed by the July 12 deadline. The rest of them are on campus working out with the returning players from last year's team.
The eight drafted players are the most Florida has kept after the draft. By contrast, the 2009 and '10 teams that made up the nucleus of Florida's three straight runs to the College World Series kept five and six drafted players, respectively.
Needless to say, O'Sullivan is excited about the prospects for the 2014 team after enduring a difficult 2013 that included the loss of three of his top pitchers to injuries.
“Our pitching has a chance to be good. We've added power and we've added depth,” he said. “We'll have balance from the right and left side pitching.”
Florida has had 33 players taken in the draft since 2010, the most of any SEC school and the third most in the nation. While that means the Gator coaching staff is signing some of the nation's best talent, it doesn't always make it to school.
“You try to avoid that one year where you get slammed by the draft from both directions,” O'Sullivan said. “Last year, we lost so many great players who were juniors and then we lost a special group of guys that didn't show up. You try to avoid exactly what happened to us.
“It's not that I recruited differently last year. Most of this class was committed a year ago. They just had made their minds up they wanted to go to school. It's really an inexact science.”
Florida will be adding three junior college players and seven other freshman players, several who weren't drafted because they had made it clear they would not sign.
Of the eight drafted freshmen who will be attending Florida, three are from out of state.
Logan Shore is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher from Coon Rapids, Minn., who should challenge for a spot in the rotation. A.J. Puk, a 6-7 freshman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a two-way player who can pitch and play first base and was considered one of the top 20 high school prospects in the nation. Buddy Reed is a 6-4 outfielder from Finksburg, Md.
If you're noticing a theme there, this is a class with some verticality.
“The thing that separates this class,” O'Sullivan said, “is that it has some size to it.”
Among the in-state players are 6-3 infielder John Sternagel from Rockledge, 6-6 pitcher Scott Moss from Deland, 6-2 pitcher Brett Morales from Tampa and 6-4 pitcher Dane Dunning from Fleming Island.
The Gators will face another tough schedule in 2014 that includes an opening series with Maryland, a trip to Miami and a three-team tournament that will include Illinois and Florida Gulf Coast in the first three weekends of the season. The Gators will face 31 teams who were in the NCAA tournament last season.
This time around they feel better equipped to handle a tough schedule.
“The young guys are going to have to figure things out quickly,” O'Sullivan said. “But we'll be a much more talented team.”