The Florida Gators will begin the 2018 baseball season as the unanimous No. 1team in the country but with plenty of new faces on the field. Florida returns a lot from their 2017 National Championship team, most notably pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar who are both projected as first round picks, but half of the roster (16 players) will be wearing orange and blue for the first time.
If Kevin O’Sullivan’s track record holds true (spoiler alert, it will) those newcomers will play a pivotal role this season. Just look at freshmen like Austin Langworthy and Tyler Dyson that were called upon all season in 2017.
Here is a look at five newcomers that will soon become household names for Gator fans and be asked to contribute early and often for the Gators this season.
Brady McConnell – SS/INF
McConnell was a serious early round prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft but a reported high asking price kept teams away. He was eventually selected in the 33rd round by the Cincinnati Reds before choosing to attend Florida. McConnell will be draft eligible after his sophomore season, another factor that played into him actually making it to campus.
McConnell was rated the No. 29 overall prospect in the country last year by Perfect game, hit .372 with 24 RBI and 21 stolen bases during his senior season at Merrit Island. He’s a long, rangy middle infielder who, as long as he’s healthy, should start at shortstop for Florida this season.
Wil Dalton – OF
Dalton has an interesting route to Gainesville. The sophomore played high school baseball at Summit High School in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Dalton was drafted in the 29th round by the Baltimore Orioles out of high school but chose to attend junior college at Columbia State.
Dalton played just one year at the junior college level but tore it up. His 15 home runs tied for second-most in a season in Columbia State history and the most in the BBCOR era. Named First Team All-TJCAA at Columbia State in 2017, hitting .392 with 60 runs scored and 58 RBIs; had 21 doubles, 15 home runs and 16 stolen bases. That combination of speed and power is unique to the college ranks.
Dalton has shown that he can hit for power and will likely slide into a starting role in the outfield from day one. Langworthy returns to start in left field and Junior Nelson Maldonado will be limited to a role as designated hitter while he returns from offseason labrum surgery. That will give Dalton the chance to start and his bat should keep him in the lineup throughout the season.
Jonah Girand – C/INF
Another junior college transfer, Girand walked on to Florida after playing one year at Santa Fe College and one more at Seminole Community College.
Girand is an under the radar prospect for the Gators. Florida signed two catchers (Cal Greenfield and Brady Smith) who will both play this season but Girand is older and experienced. He’ll get an opportunity to play first base as another right handed bat Florida will get into the lineup against left-handed pitching. He’s had a good fall and continued that success into the spring thus far
Jordan Butler – LHP/1B/OF
A freshman from Alonso High School in Tampa, Butler has had a good start to his career at Florida. Butler played for the 18U Team USA twice, winning gold in 2015 and 2016. His senior season at Alonso he hit .451 with 35 RBI, 8 doubles, 8 HR. On the mound he compiled a 9-2 pitching record with 122 strikeouts, 0.85 ERA in 82 innings pitched.
On the mound Butler will throw in the high 80s to low 90s with a very deceptive delivery. He’s been able to throw strikes and get batters out in the fall and so far in the spring and will get a chance to come out of the bullpen early for Florida. Additionally he could give the Gators another left-handed bat in the lineup. As mentioned before, the Gators will be looking for an every day player in right field while Nelson Maldonado is limited to a designated hitter role at the start of the season.
Other names to know
Brady Smith – C
Cal Greenfield – C
Jack Leftwich – RHP
Tommy Mace – RHP