Now that year one of the Kevin O’Sullivan era in Florida baseball has ended, it’s time to break down what happened in 2008 and what the future holds for Florida baseball. The 2008 season was certainly an improvement over the past two seasons but consider it a stepping stone for the future.
If you break down the 2008 Florida baseball season into four segments (non-conference pre-Southeastern Conference slate, SEC schedule, mid-week games, and post-season play), the Gators did a solid to outstanding job in three of those areas and a very disappointing job in one other. First of all, Florida got off to an impressive 11-3 start in the early non-conference portion of their schedule. Was the level of competition difficult? No. In fact, Siena (30-26), Eastern Michigan (25-34), Campbell (21-37), Brown (20-24), and Florida-Gulf Coast (38-15) amassed a winning percentage of just 49.6 percent.
Miami, which spent much of the season ranked in the top spot of the college baseball polls was easily the most difficult opponent Florida faced in the early non-conference schedule. The Gators lost two of three during a hard-fought series against Miami in Coral Gables. Truth be known, Florida gave the Hurricanes all they wanted and even extended the hosts the opportunity to capture the series as they gave away the Saturday game with five costly errors.
The Gators finished the Southeastern Conference slate with a 17-13 record — third best overall record in the conference and second best in the Eastern Division. That not bad for a team that was picked to finish 11th overall (tied with Alabama) in a pre-season poll conducted by the league’s coaches. Also, consider that Florida did not face the worst team in the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi State.
One area Florida needed to bear down and establish some dominance was in the mid-week games. It’s not always easy though. Many of those games are against in-state competition that loves to give the big, bad, state flagship university their best shot. This season the Gators faced top-five ranked Florida State (54-14) three times, North Florida (29-26) three times, Jacksonville University (27-29), Bethune-Cookman (36-22), and USF (31-27).
Mid-week games seemingly come back to haunt you when the NCAA Selection Committee is determining your immediate future. The Gators went 5-4 in those mid-week contests held during the conference season, losing twice to the Seminoles, and once each to North Florida and Jacksonville respectively.
And finally, the one area where Florida failed miserably to advance was in the post-season. The Gators lost their first two games in both the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Regional action, finishing with an 0-4 record. You can bet that is one area where Florida finds unacceptable and will look to improve.
O’Sullivan, Brad Weitzel, Craig Bell, and Don Norris have evaluated the talent and signed what is expected to be a terrific recruiting class to Florida. There were two critical elements in this class — pitching and the hope that they weren’t drafted too high. Only Kenny Wilson, who was a second round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, is gone.
Sometimes even what appears to be solid draft positioning can work against you as it did in the case of shortstop Justin Tordi, when the Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 41st round of the June 2005. Tordi hadn’t received much interest from the Reds until hours before he was scheduled to step foot into his first class of the fall semester. The Reds organization ponied up six figures and his career at Florida was abruptly over.
To date, the Gators 2008 class has lost only Wilson to professional baseball. The others in the class who were drafted are:
Ryan Weber, 12th round, Philadelphia Phillies
Anthony DeSclafani, 22nd round, Boston Red Sox
Jerico Weitzel, 27th round, Minnestoa Twins
Juan Carlos-Sulbaran, 30th round, Cincinnati Reds
Ben McMahan, 30th round, New York Yankees
Tyler Thompson, 42nd round, San Francisco Giants
Nick Maronde, 43rd round, Oakland A’s
The kids that Sully is trying to sign for 2009 will be more heavily sought after by Major League Baseball. And while that might put a scare in many of us concerned about their potential to sign the big league contract, let me remind you what Baseball America columnist Aaron Fitt told me during an interview I conducted on “The Gator Country Radio Show”: “We’ve been especially impressed with Kevin O’Sullivan’s ability to keep the guys that he recruits in-house. He did it at Clemson and there is no reason to believe that he won’t be able to do so at Florida. He really seems to get close to those recruits and their families and has a terrific feel for what they might do in the future.”
Here is the 2008 recruiting class:
LHP Nick Maronde, 6-3, 195, Lexington, Kentucky (Catholic)
LHP Alex Panteliodis, 6-2, 245, Tampa (Alonso)
LHP Zach Parks, 6-0, 190, Pinecrest (Miami Palmetto)
RHP Anthony DeSclafani, 6-2, 170, Colt’s Neck, NJ
RHP Greg Larson, 6-8, 210, Longwood (Lake Brantley)
RHP Will Jolin, 6-2, 190, Guilford, Connecticut
RHP Juan Carlos Sulbaran, 6-3, 200, Davie (American Heritage)
RHP Ryan Weber, 6-0, 175, Clearwater (Central Catholic)
C Ben McMahan, 6-0, 200, Windermere (Bishop Moore)
INF Mike Mooney, 5-8, 160, Loxahatchee (Royal Palm Beach/Palm Beach CC)
OF Daniel Pigott, 6-2, 185, Ormond Beach (Seabreeze)
OF Tyler Thompson, 6-1, 175, Tequesta (Jupiter)
1B Preston Tucker, 6-1, 200, Tampa (Plant)
INF Jerico Weitzel, 5-10, 190, Ridgway, Pennsylvania
When Kevin O’Sullivan first assessed his new squad it took a matter of seconds before he realized that the numbers were a huge deficit for the Florida program. There was some talent, although he recognized that too needed to be addressed. What O’Sullivan did with the Florida pitching staff is nothing short of outstanding. A staff that was at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference statistically one year ago found themselves atop the team pitching stats in conference games. The Gators finished with a league low 4.00 ERA and allowed a conference low 81 walks.
Next year they’ll have plenty of help.
Right hander Justin Poovey and left hander Kevin Chapman sat out last season with surgery and both are rumored to be either ahead or on schedule in their rehabilitation.
RHP- Patrick Keating
LHP- Stephen Locke
RHP- Billy Bullock
RHP- Tommy Toledo
LHP- Tony Davis
RHP- Clint Franklin
RHP- Travis Lawler
RHP- Kyle Mullaney
Among the Florida players there is only one who potentially will not return to the Gators in 2009. Cole Figueroa was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres. The organization and Figueroa are far apart in negotiations. However, that doesn’t mean things might not change. As it is with most of these things, it will be a wait and see as the clock ticks down on the August bell.
Buddy Munroe/Teddy Foster/Hampton Tignor — Three catchers who should benefit from the tutelage of the Florida staff. They’ll certainly be asked to help out in other areas as well.
Brandon McArthur — McArthur is a natural leader, went undrafted, and has one more year to play. It’s a no-brainer for him to return to lead the Gators once again.
Clayton Pisani/Chris Freshcorn — This could be a terrific battle for second base.
Cole Figueroa — The last I’d heard, Figueroa and the Padres were far apart from reaching a deal.
Josh Adams — Adams earned Freshman All-American honors and figures to be a key piece to the Gators improved play.
Avery Barnes — He’ll benefit by returning to Florida for another year as a starter. Selected late in the draft.
Matt den Dekker — His defense has always been stellar. He’s swinging a hot bat now too.
Riley Cooper — Coop got his feet wet in ‘08. He should be much better in ‘09
Jonathan Pigott — He’s much better than he demonstrated last season.
The numbers still don’t add up and were not talking about the Florida pitching. Starting in August, rosters must be capped at 35 with no more than 30 on scholarship. That means, some of these players won’t be on the roster for the Gators. O’Sullivan will have to make some difficult decisions to arrive at the magic number.
The future is very bright at Florida. How bright the immediate future is depends on the quality play of several returning veterans and a few hotshot freshmen.