Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan followed the 2012 MLB Draft with delight and horror.
Any coach who has helped players reach their full potential is happy to see them reach a pinnacle of their dreams. However, the 2013 team took a major hit by the 2012 draft and making a fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series will be a challenge.
Nine current Gators were drafted in the top 20 rounds, including eight in the first nine rounds and seven in the first seven. None of those players are likely to return, although anything can happen when a player sits down at a negotiating table with a major league club.
O’Sullivan called the number of Gators selected so early “a testament” to the program’s strength.
“The draft is something that is going to be there every year – It is what it is,” O’Sullivan said. “If you have good players in your program, they’re going to get drafted. If you recruit good players, there’s a chance you could lose them. It’s as simple as that. It’s an inexact science.”
Florida signed what many considered the nation’s No. 1 signing class, but six of those prospects were drafted in the first three rounds, meaning they likely will never suit up in the orange and blue. That includes three outfielders, two right-handed pitchers and a shortstop.
“We’re never going to change our recruiting philosophy,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to recruit the best players and I feel like we’re at a place where we can do that.
“Sometimes you roll the dice on players, but at this place, we’re trying to win a national championship, so we’re going to recruit the best players and sometimes you’re going to lose them.”
With so many drafted so highly, the make-up of next year’s team will include mostly fresh faces.
Freshman infielders Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias and outfielder Justin Shafer will be the lone returning starters. Freshman Taylor Gushe likely will take over Zunino’s duties at catcher while junior Cody Dent, who started a few games at third when Tobias was out with a broken hamate bone, is another who returns experience.
The Gators’ ace-in-the-hole could be Tyler Thompson, a rangy centerfield who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Southeastern Conference season-opening series at Vanderbilt. He’ll has been granted a medical hardship, so he’ll return as a senior.
As far as pitchers, a few will be back led by sophomore Jonathon Crawford, who was a regular weekend starter and tossed a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman to open the Gainesville Regional. Another with weekend starting experience is Karsten Whitson, who was the No. 9 overall pick in 2010. Keenan Kish and Bobby Poyner also return with postseason experience.
The heart of the team the past three years will be gone. Change-the-game-in- one-swing hitters like Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker and dominating pitchers like Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez will not be back. The Gators also likely will lose defensive juggernauts in shortstop Nolan Fontana and centerfielder Daniel Pigott.
“Even though it’s painful at time to lose players, I think in the long run, it can only help your program,” O’Sullivan said. “You’ve just got to be careful you don’t get beat up too bad and be short the following year.
“But we’ve got a very good team coming back next year, so were excited about that team as well.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the July issue of Gator Country magazine. Since this was written, all of Florida’s current players who were drafted have inked deals with their respective clubs.