Justin Shafer will be this season’s “jack of all trades” for the Florida Gators’ baseball team.
Shafer primarily played in the outfield as a true freshman last season, but expect the do-it-all sophomore to take the mound as a pitcher more often than the six innings he pitched last spring. The 2013 season kicks off Feb. 15 with a three-game home series against Duke.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander from Lake Wales, Fla., delivers pitches with decent velocity and accuracy. His two-seam fastball has nice movement, running in on right-handed hitters.
“I like Justin on the mound a lot,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He’s competitive. I don’t know if he is a starter per se. I would have zero problems starting him if we end up needing him to start for a tough midweek game or something like that, but his value to us is going to be a going to be on the backend as far as when he steps on the mound.”
Pitching depth actually should be better than a year ago, as GatorCountry.com wrote about last week in Part II of our two-part series previewing the 2013 Florida baseball team.
While two starters are set in stone in junior right-handers Jonathon Crawford — a preseason All-American — and Karsten Whitson, the roles of the rest of the staff will take time to develop. That said, Shafer is likely to mostly serve as a middle reliever, although O’Sullivan didn’t rule out using him as the closer as needed.
“I wouldn’t mind to throw him at the end of the game — he’s another option,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s extremely competitive and he throws strikes. We originally recruited him as a pitcher anyway and we had every intention of using him last year as a pitcher, too — we just didn’t need him.
“But this year, we will need him for a few innings here and there.”
Last season, Shafer made six relief appearances, posting a 4.50 ERA with seven strikeouts in six innings. He pitched the final third of an inning to help combine for a shutout in a 7-0 victory against LSU on April 6. It was one of the team’s four shutouts last season.
Because Shafer also plays outfield and is one of the team’s “best, purest hitters,” the logistics of getting him ready to take the mound may be tricky because he’s expected to be a full-time starter.
Don’t expect him to jog in from the outfield to take the mound in the middle of the inning unless he has warmed up ahead of time. His arm needs more than the eight wamr-up pitches allotted for a relief pitcher to get loose to throw strikes.
“If we can, we’ll start him in an inning and try to avoid bringing him in in the middle of an inning,” O’Sullivan said. “What we’ll probably do is if he’s in right, let’s say he hit in the seventh and he made the second out, so obviously you’ve got to pick an inning where he’s probably not going to hit to send him down to the bullpen while we’re hitting and just give him five or 10 minutes to warm up.”
Gators playing dual roles as a regular pitcher and position player is nothing new for O’Sullivan’s team. Last season, Austin Maddox appeared in 57 games, including 32 as a pitcher. He mostly was used as the team’s closer.