Hall of Fame outfielder Ted Williams once said, “The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat squarely.” Williams would know, at the time of his retirement he ranked third all-time in home runs, seventh in RBIs and batting average. Williams is one of the best ball players to ever step into a batter’s box and what he says about hitting goes.
Great pitching beats great hitting every time and, simply put, you won’t find a better starting rotation in college baseball.
“Every single guy is incredible,” sophomore shortstop Dalton Guthrie said. “I haven’t had much fun going up against Brady (Singer) or Jackson (Kowar), I know that, but I wouldn’t say that Puk or Shore or Shaun or any of them give us pretty comfortable at-bats. So no one’s fun.”
Logan Shore has served as the Friday night starter for the past two seasons and he’ll assume that role again in 2016. The right-hander from Coon Rapids, Minnesota has a heavy fastball, devastating changeup and has really started to find and locate his slider with consistency.
Shore led the Gators with 112.1 innings pitched and his 2.72 ERA led all weekend starters. He’s been the table setter for Florida and he’ll continue to do just that as a junior.
After Shore, Kevin O’Sullivan will turn to a player that could very well be the first guy selected in the MLB Draft this year. A.J. Puk may be the first to have his name called when the Phillies make their selection this June but he isn’t even the first name called on the weekend.
Puk has been throws consistently in the mid 90s and has touched 98, 99 on the gun as well. His slider is his out pitch when he can locate it, which is part of the fun in watching Puk throw. Puk is just as capable of striking out the side on nine pitches as he is doing so with 28 pitches, a walk, a hit batter and a wild pitch. Nothing says Puk quite like saying; “he struck out the side, while stranding two runners in scoring position.
At 6-7 Puk has had to work hard on creating a consistent, repeatable delivery to the plate. It’s made him look more like Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn than Greg Maddux, leading the team in strikeouts (104) and walks (35).
“I’m not really a huge fan of facing A.J. He’s got good stuff. He’s an unreal pitcher,” junior first baseman Pete Alonso said. “It’s just really fun being able to compete against him everyday, especially living with him when we talk trash and stuff back at the house. It’s really exciting just being able to go against him.”
After making it through the first two games sophomore Alex Faedo will await teams for the Sunday finale. As a freshman he compiled a 6-1 record in 12 starts, and struck out 59 batters in just 61 innings or work. He was 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in the playoffs and gave Florida stability at the back end of the rotation. Similar to what Shore did after his freshman season, Faedo took the summer off to give his arm a rest and it has paid dividends. He’s picked up velocity, throwing consistently in the mid 90s now, still has a devastatingly sharp slider and is working on being able to locate a good changeup consistently.
“I think taking the summer off was good,” he said. “I think I got my legs stronger, try to get more of a long toss program in. I think that’s been key if anything has changed.”
These are Florida’s aces, their weekend starters, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pitching rotation. Florida has eight or nine guys who will come out of the bullpen throwing above 90 MPH and there are potential future first round draft picks in the next three years that will be lucky to earn spot starts on week days. That’s just how deep the Florida Gators pitching staff is and how good these three aces Florida has starting on the weekends are.
“Oh I don’t know. We’ve got some good arms,” O’Sullivan said with the smile of a proud father sitting in the stands at a little league game. “I think that we’ve got some good arms.”