Freshmen make impact on debut weekend

Two freshmen who hail from different regions of the state put their fingerprints on Florida baseball this weekend. Center fielder Josh Adams hit a grand slam and a solo home run Sunday to cap an outstanding first weekend in orange and blue and righthanded pitcher Tommy Toledo pitched five solid innings, giving up five hits and just two runs while striking out five.

Their orange and blue debut weekend helped to energize the Gators, who took all three games from Siena Sunday’s 13-6 series finale.

Adams showed the kind of patience and understanding at the plate that you don’t normally associate with a freshman. Both his home runs came on curve balls and that’s exactly what he was looking for when he stepped to the plate.

“I was looking off speed the whole time,” Adams said. “As I said I wasn’t getting a lot of fastballs or anything like that. I was just looking off-speed, trying to hit the ball the other way and fortunately put a good swing on it.”

The 5-10, 190-pounder from two-time state champion Eagle’s View Academy in Jacksonville has already proven to be an integral role in the Gators plans which is hardly a surprise. Adams was chosen by the Minnesota Twins in the 30th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel was the area scout for the Twins organization last summer.

Adams was a stellar performer at shortstop for the Warriors. He signed with the University of Florida with eyes on either the shortstop or second base position. He debuted center because sophomore Matt den Dekker was suspended from the squad for the Siena series. Adams had a superb weekend, especially for a freshman who has never played outfield in his life. After his first weekend in college baseball, he leads the Gators in home runs (2) and runs batted in (7) to go with a .300 average. Adams did a terrific job chasing down balls in the alley and he demonstrated a live arm. Sunday’s numbers were as good as you’d expect from any player on the roster, regardless of their experience.

“I’ve been working out [in the outfield] the for the past month and a half, so everything’s just coming naturally to me and that’s definitely a good thing, because there’s a lot of ground to cover,” Adams said. ”I’ve got two guys helping me in right and left. It makes things easier when they’re a lot faster than you are.”

Is he better suited for center field than den Dekker? Certainly not, but Adams’ importance to this club cannot be simply ignored either. It appears that he is capable of playing each of the outfield positions, second, short, and perhaps third too. Having two super utility players as Florida does with Adams and Avery Barnes will pay off this season.

“Den Dekker’s our centerfielder,” O’Sullivan said. “But, Josh did a great job out there this weekend. I think what Josh has done is that he has put himself in a position where he’s going to play somewhere. It’s a good problem to have. I’d rather have a couple more players than you need, than having a couple less. He did a really nice job. He’s got a way about him as well. He’s mature. He doesn’t act like a freshman.”

“And that was one of the questions to be honest with you. He had never played outfield before and we’re like, should we move (Jonathan) Pigott over to center and put Josh in right. But, Josh, playing shortstop his whole life, he sees the ball coming off the bat a certain way. If you put Pigott into center, you’re making two moves for one move. So, we just made one move and kept everybody else the same.”

Toledo (1-0) played in Tampa, one of most competitive areas of the country for high school baseball. The first player at Alonso High School to ever sign a Division I baseball scholarship, Toledo wanted to pitch for the University of Florida where his brother, Daniel, is a senior.

Getting into his first game and doing well certainly took the pressure off him.

“It was definitely a weight lifted off my back,” Toledo said. “It was much anticipated, but it was lot of fun too. It was fun pitching in that first series.

“He [Coach O’Sullivan] told me that it was a good outing for the first time out. I was nervous and he knew that. But, I just kept the ball down and only made a couple of mistakes. I’m just going to work on my mistakes and go next week.”

Toledo was so dominant in high school and at the club baseball level that he was the third round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, who strangely failed to come up with a fair offer before the Toledo family deadline. That didn’t hurt the feelings of Gators fans or members of the Toledo family. He will be a long way toward earning his degree and have three years in the books for Florida before Major League Baseball can come calling again.

And if things get significantly improve from that first time on the mound, the W’s should follow.

“He threw strikes,” O’Sullivan said. “He was around the plate. He got one ball up in the zone and hopefully learned a lesson. I thought that his breaking ball got better as the game went along. His arm looked fresh. He took control of the game. He had a good pace of the game. He’s going to be good. He’s got a good live arm and he’s got a great demeanor about him too.”

“I think that everybody’s arm early on kind of goes through a dead period. Today it looked about as live as I can remember. I don’t know how hard that he was throwing, but I’m sure that he was throwing 90-92. It was good to see him out there. I was actually anxious to see him out there. You know, he came here for a reason. He had an opportunity to sign professionally and came here and it was good to see him get his first win.”

Toledo admitted that he was nervous and had some anxious moments on the hill, just as all freshmen experience, but his overall performance was very good. He left a few pitches up in the zone that he certainly wishes he’d have to throw over again. He threw 69 pitches and said that he still felt as though his arm had life, but as usual he too was held on a pitch count. One area where he’ll certainly look to improve is first pitch strikes. He threw first pitch strikes to 10 of the 20 batters that he faced.