GATOR BASEBALL

Work starts for 2017 this week


In this file photo, Gator coach Kevin O'Sullivan is congratulated by Athletic Director Jeremy Foley after the Gators beat the Seminoles in Game 2 of the Super Regional last season.

Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

Kevin O'Sullivan recalled when Florida first contacted him to interview for its baseball coaching vacancy in 2007.

At first, O'Sullivan thought it was a prank call. It took a second call from Florida associate athletic director Chip Howard to convince him that he was in the running for the job.

Fast-forward nine years and O'Sullivan has led the Gators to five College World Series appearances, including back-to-back trips in 2015 and 2016. Two weeks ago, O'Sullivan was rewarded with a nine-year contract extension that will pay him $1.25 million annually through 2025. In addition, Florida has made a commitment to upgrading McKethan Stadium as part of its $100 million master plan, which includes expanded locker room space and canopy shade structures over sections of the stadium for fans.

“Obviously this is the place I wanted to start and end my career and I'm thankful to Jeremy (outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley),” O'Sullivan said. “As far as the facilities are concerned it's really going to enhance the experience for our players and the players coming in. I think it's going to be one of the best places in the country to play at. We've recruited at a very high level already, but obviously this will help us even more.”

As Florida began fall practices Tuesday, O'Sullivan said his next goal is to build a team that can win it all in Omaha. The Gators have gone two-and-out in three of O'Sullivan's five trips to the CWS, but also reached the final series in 2011 and were one of the last three teams remaining in 2015. His career record in CWS games is 6-10.

“We built something special here,” O'Sullivan said. “We've got to take that last step and I'm looking forward to winning that last game of the year at some point, and I think I really do believe once we get that one, we'll get multiple.”

To that end, O'Sullivan said he may shift his focus in recruiting to add more hitters to his lineup, balancing speed and contact hitters with power hitters to be less one-dimensional.

“We've got to be a little more dynamic offensively,” O'Sullivan said.

On the mound, Florida lost four pitchers who went within the first three rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft in June, including first-rounders A.J. Puk and Dane Dunning, second-rounder Logan Shore and third-rounder and closer Shaun Anderson. But junior righty Alex Faedo returns as the ace of the staff, and O'Sullivan is confident sophomore righties Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar can step in to create another dominant weekend rotation. Singer was named MVP of the Cape Cod League over the summer, while Kowar is back to full health after missing the second half of last season with a collapsed lung. Faedo, meanwhile, underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees during the offseason and will sit out fall practices, but is expected to be ready in time for opening day in February.

The key position battles of the fall will be at first base and center field. Williston native Austin Langworthy and Andrew Baker, both freshman, will both compete for the starting job in center, which was vacated when Buddy Reed left after being drafted in the second round by the San Diego Padres. O'Sullivan said junior JJ Schwarz could see some time at first base, but will be primarily a catcher and designated hitter again this season.

Florida sophomore third baseman Jonathan India said he's excited about O'Sullivan coming back and the commitment that's being made to facilities for the future.

“I've been looking online to what they are going to have and it's going to be amazing,” India said. “It's going to be really one of the top stadiums in the nation after that, probably. It's a great thing how we committed to Sully like this because he's a great coach for us, and he's done such a great job here.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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