Florida baseball: 3 bold predictions amid higher hopes for the Gators in 2023 season

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan in the dugout during the final game of the Gainesville Regionals in the 2022 Division 1 Baseball Championship against the Oklahoma Sooners held at Condron Stadium on the UF campus in Gainesville Fla. June 6, 2022.

Florida baseball rallied late in the 2022 season to host an NCAA Tournament Regional before falling to eventual national runner-up Oklahoma.

There are even higher hopes for the Gators when they open the 2023 season on Friday against Charleston Southern (7 p.m.) at Condron Ballpark in the first of a three-game series.

Florida returns several key players, including All-SEC catcher B.T. Riopelle, All-SEC outfielder Wyatt Langford and right-handed pitcher Brandon Sproat, who opted to return to school after being drafted in the third round by the New York Mets.

"Getting back Brandon totally changes the look of our rotation," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He’s looked really good in the fall, he’s looked really good in the spring, so obviously we’re looking forward to him leading our staff. And we’re looking for some other guys that have made a lot of improvements."

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Here’s a look at the basics as well as three bold predictions for the Gators heading into 2023:

 2022 record: 42-24, 15-15 SEC

2022 SEC East/West finish: Tied for second

Top returning hitters: Wyatt Langford, OF, Jr. (.355, 26 HR, 63 RBIs); BT Riopelle, C, Jr. (.304, 15 HR, 55 RBI); Josh Rivera, 2B-SS, Jr. (.254, 9 HR, 32 RBIs)

Top returning pitchers: Brandon Sproat, RHP, Jr. (9-4, 3.41 ERA, 82 SO); Brandon Neely, RHP, So. (3-3 3.76 ERA, 74 SO); Blake Purnell, RHP. RSo. (3-3. 2.86 ERA, 4 SV, 39 SO).

Top newcomer: Hursten Waldrep, RHP, Jr. (transfer from Southern Mississippi, 6-2, 3.20 ERA, 140 SO).

Bold predictions

Wyatt Langford will lead the SEC in home runs again

Langford’s 26 home runs last season topped the league and matched Matt LaPorta’s school record for homer in a season. The All-SEC outfielder is poised for a big junior season.

Hursten Waldrep will be SEC newcomer of the year

Waldrep, a transfer from Southern Mississippi, struck out 140 batters in 90 innings last season. With a 97 mph fastball and nasty split-change, he has the stuff to thrive at the SEC level.

Florida will return to Omaha for the first time since 2018

The Gators may not win the SEC. But Florida has two front-line starters in Waldrep and Brandon Sproat capable of carrying the Gators through two postseason series into the College World Series.