Taking a quick look at the Gators 2014 baseball roster and the first thing that sticks out is not what they have but what they don’t have — seniors.
Much like 2013, Kevin O’Sullivan will lead a youth movement in Gainesville. However, powered by the No. 1 rated recruiting class in the country, the Gators look poised to return to as a SEC powerhouse rather than the sub-.500 ball club from a year ago.
“Well, we got a lot of new faces,” O’Sullivan told Steve Russell on 850 AM WRUF. “And it’s just a matter of just trying to, obviously teaching is a big proponent, getting the fundamentals in.”
“We’re looking forward to getting a lot of these new players out there, see what they can do when the season starts and I feel good about our returners. The core of our returners, I think a lot of those guys have improved since last year and this fall and we’re looking forward to getting a lot of those guys going.”
That is what fall ball was for — a chance for the seventh year head coach to see just what he had in the freshman class as well as seeing which returning players had progressed and would step up into new leadership roles.
Finding players to fill those leadership roles is paramount for Sully. The 2013 club struggled throughout the season, yo-yoing around .500 and much of that can be attributed to lack of leadership, something the teams who wind up in Omaha year after year never seem to lack.
“It’s extremely important. I think anytime you look at any team in any sport, when the final team is standing it’s one of those things that everyone talks about,” he said in his radio interview. “Leadership comes at a lot of different times in the season. It’s one thing to have leadership in the fall, which I thought we had some really good leadership. But it’s another when the season starts.”
Looking to fill one of those leadership roles is junior catcher Taylor Gushue. Gushue hit .269 last season while serving as the primary option behind the plate. While he is technically a junior, Gushue is still young. He graduated high school early and enrolled at Florida just before the 2012 season. He’s made great strides on the field but his biggest strides have come in being able to take on a bigger role as a leader.
“Most importantly, his leadership has been good,” O’Sullivan said of Gushue. “He’s been very outspoken with his teammates, he’s done a real good job in individual work and he’s taken charge. I’ve been real pleased with how he’s done.”
The road won’t be easy, it never is the way that O’Sullivan likes to schedule games. Florida played the toughest schedule in 2013 and this season won’t be too far from that. Playing a tough regular season schedule prepares the team for the competition they’ll see in the NCAA tournament but it creates a steep learning curve for a freshmen and sophomore-laden team.
However, O’Sullivan likes the way his ball club is assembled this season and there’s a big difference between the 2013 and 2014 clubs. This team is more talented and they will be ready.
“We are going to be talented enough,” he said. “I do think early in the year there are going to be some learning that comes along with some of our game but I think as the season progresses we have a chance to be pretty darn good.”