After failing to meet the expectations in last year’s College World Series, the 2013 Florida Gators’ baseball team is looking to turn a new chapter as the baseball season nears.
With several impact players from last year’s team now out of college, the team will lean on top pitchers Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson, but also on a young group of sophomores and freshmen.
Last season, players such as Josh Tobias, Justin Shafer, Casey Turgeon and Taylor Gushue impressed as the freshmen saw playing time in important innings throughout the season. Moving forward Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan believes their experiences in 2012 after reaching Omaha and playing under an established core group of leaders will pay dividends in 2013.
“I don’t think there is anything that can replace that [experience],” O’Sullivan said. “I think their experience, not only playing the SEC, but having a chance to advance, I think that does nothing but help with their development and helping the younger players as well. Those guys have definitely played in some big games.”
Not only did last year’s freshmen class have an impactful season, but their hard work in the offseason is paying off. In O’Sullivan’s eyes, outfielder Justin Shafer has made significant strides in improving all the facets of his game. And O’Sullivan plans on utilizing the Lake Wales, Fla. native in any way he can.
“I think he is a much better defender,” O’Sullivan said about Shafer’s development over the offseason. “You have to remember he was an infielder coming out of high school and hadn’t played a whole lot of outfield. I think he got better as the season went on, but this year’s he’s totally different.”
“Other than his defense, we expect to bump him up a few spots in the lineup and hit right in the middle. But one thing you can expect to see is him pitching a lot more. I don’t know what his role will be, but he’s a guy we’re looking at for the end of the game,” O’Sullivan added.
As impressive as last year’s freshmen class was, the incoming freshmen have already caught the attention of junior pitcher Keenan Kish. Only two years removed from his freshman year, Kish is taking this opportunity to help the young arms out in any way he can.
“A lot of new faces [this season]. I’m really just trying to get these guys ready as much as possible by showing them the ropes and how to go about their business each day,” Kish said. “I’m just making sure they’re doing their stuff in the classrooms so they don’t have to worry about that when they get to the field.”
“[The freshman pitchers] are a really talented group of guys. Tucker Simpson has really been throwing the ball well,” Kish added about the freshmen class. “Eric Handhold, Jason Carmichael, Mike Vinson, along with Derek Young who has a great left-handed arm. We’re going to be pretty deep for years to come. Those guys are going to be a really solid group of pitchers.”
Florida kicks off their 2013 season with a three-game series against Duke on Feb. 15.