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    Kevin O'Sullivan and the Gators will start the 2015 campaign off as the sixth ranked team in the country. / Gator Country photo by David Bowie

Previewing the Kings and
Queens of the Diamond: Podcast

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Written by Andrew Spivey, February 12, 2016, 0 Comments,
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This GatorCountry podcast focuses on previewing the Florida Gators baseball and softball team for 2016, as the softball team starts its season on Friday night in Tampa, Florida.

Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre bring you the best coverage on the kind and queens of the diamond and they give you an in-depth preview of these two teams.

Andrew and Nick also preview the rest of the Florida Gators basketball season as the Gators still have a shot at the SEC championship, despite some tough losses.

TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:                 What’s up, Gator Country? This is your man, Andrew Spivey, back with my man, Nicholas de la Torre. What’s up, Nicholas?

Nick:                         What’s going on? We got the stick sports getting ready to go. Softball will open up their three-peat quest on Friday. Baseball is just over a week away, and don’t sleep on the boys out there on the hardwood, because the way things are shaking out Florida kind of has a chance to win the SEC if they take care of business with the rest of their SEC schedule.

Andrew:                 That’s shocking. You look on the message boards. You look on Twitter.

Nick:                         Twitter fired Mike White two months ago.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Mike White’s already back in LA Tech, I mean it’s just it is what it is there. You look at this team, and you and I have talked about this a couple times is effort on this team. It’s inconsistent play for this team, and when this team plays in high effort and plays good ball they look like a team that could be ranked in the top 25, and then they go through spurts. It’s like this team doesn’t even deserve to be playing in the SEC. If they can find a common ground to play on. Of course, you’re not going to play at the high ground they played on against West Virginia, but they should play on the low ground they played on against Tennessee and Kentucky. If they can just find a middle ground that they can play on this is a basketball team that’s decent enough to compete.

Nick:                         Yeah. This isn’t one of Cal’s strongest Kentucky teams, but I think in basketball you’re always going to have days where your shots just aren’t falling, the guy you’re playing against couldn’t miss, but the one thing you can always control is your effort, and I think the effort against Kentucky is what really did them in. Kentucky is not that much better than Florida is. I think they were up 25-5 at one point. They’re not that, 20 points, better than Florida. It’s just the effort, and maybe it has something to do with being on the road. Kentucky plays very good at Rupp. Florida’s 12-1 in the O Dome, just 2-6 away from the O Dome.

Andrew:                 The quote is, I’m having a brain fart here. It’s something about the common quote always is talent can take a day off, but effort should never take a day off. Something along that way. That’s kind of where this team is. You would think that this team is very athletic, but doesn’t have that one I guess superstar on this team. So they need to bring the effort, and when they are bringing the effort this team sees a lot of defensive plays turning into good offense. Sees a lot of turnovers in the back court I guess you could say as well. You just see a different team when this team is playing hard. Then you just see those couple games, really the two games that I look to is that Tennessee game at Knoxville and then the Kentucky game, and both of those games were just straight up disappointing games for effort purposes.

Nick:                         You go up to Knoxville. You lose 83-69. Really the big knock there is effort. You go up to Rupp. You lose 61-80. It’s this team, and some of the guys are young. I think the coaching staff is young, and there’s still kind of a feeling out process, but what you look at, when I look at the team it’s a bunch of guys that aren’t really Mike White’s guys. I think you’d say KeVaughn Allen and Justin Leon are, and those two guys are probably the ones that are impressing me the most.

Leon’s earned a starting spot before a concussion, and KeVaughn Allen in my opinion is the best player on this team right now. No disrespect. Dorian Finney-Smith is having the year of his career. Kind of reminds me of Chandler Parsons, maybe in the sense of SEC play starts senior year, and maybe it finally clicks. Kind of like, this is it. My time here is done. Maybe I thought I was going to be a one and done, or a two and done, but I’ve been here four years now, and this is the last semester. So it’s time to kick it up into high gear.

Andrew:                 There is no more years to get better. So it’s that way. That’s a good comparison, because when you think about Chandler Parson’s career at Florida you don’t think it, in my opinion I don’t look at it and say he had this incredible career. He had a great senior year that ended up being SEC Player of the Year, and then he doesn’t have a great career as far as numbers go, but then you look at his NBA career, and he’s on his second contract right now. Playing good basketball. So that’s kind of like Dorian Finney-Smith is. John Egbunu is a guy that is getting better. I think that year off last year helped him get bigger and stronger, and then KeVaughn Allen’s there. So I think it’s a team that’s got some talent there.

Just you see lulls in the offensive side of the ball when it’s Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza playing at the same time at the guard position. Kasey Hill, he’s come a tremendous way, but you still at times, you tweeted about it. I tweeted about it. At times you just sit here and think, Kasey, you’re wide open for a reason. Kasey, you’re throwing bounce passes for a reason. Think about it. Think about why you’re getting these open plays. It’s because they want you to do that.

Nick:                         I think the thing with Egbunu was last year, almost the opposite of what you said. I think he got a little bit smaller.

Andrew:                 I think he got smaller, but stronger.

Nick:                         Yeah. Not saying, you can lose some weight and get stronger. Nick Buchanan over on the football field, and my boy Heavy Chocolate, Brandon Sandifer over on the football field, are both getting smaller, but as offensive linemen it doesn’t mean they’re getting weaker. So I think Egbunu it was just getting in the condition that he can go up and down the court. He’s been good. He’s like a sink hole though. It’s like the ball gets passed into him, and then the play is over. The other four guys can kind of run down the court, because he’s not dishing it back out. I’d like to see him become a little bit better passer, get some vision and some more awareness there. But with Kasey I think it’s some time when you’re a basketball player you have to be confident. I’ve talked about Brandon Francis needing to shoot through his struggles. At some point you need to realize, I’m not a three point shooter. That’s why every time I catch the ball on the outside of the three point line I’m by myself, and I need to stop thinking this is a good look.

Andrew:                 Exactly. They’re not giving you the open shot if you’re that.

Nick:                         KeVaughn Allen’s not getting open threes on purpose.

Andrew:                 Ray Allen didn’t get open threes on purpose. Yeah, you’re right on Egbunu. What I’m saying is I think he got stronger as far as his post presence. I think he is a stronger player inside, and he’s able to kind of go through contact a little bit more, that kind of stuff, and that’s kind of what I was meaning is I thought he got stronger. I definitely agree. I think he dropped some weight and put on some good muscle mass, more so than bad weight.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think you look at the rest of this schedule, Alabama on Saturday. Then you hit the road twice next week at Georgia, at South Carolina. Vanderbilt comes in after that. That’s a tough game. LSU, Kentucky on March 1st, and then you end it with Missouri. That’s going to be in Missouri. So Florida not a good road team. There’s four road games left of the last seven. It’s not saying that they will win the SEC, but I’m thinking at the beginning of the year you thought would even be a conversation point at this point of the season.

Andrew:                 The South Carolina game, that’s going to be a tough game on the road. LSU, any time you got to go against Ben Simmons is going to be tough. Got Kentucky at home. That’ll be Senior Night, so that’ll be good for them. Like you said, Kentucky’s not that much better than Florida, and at home Florida should be able to contend in that game and see where it goes. The Alabama game, they just knocked off A&M after A&M’s 92% free throw shooter missed two free throws with 2 seconds left on the clock. So that’s why he’s not 100% free throw shooter.

Nick:                         Sounds like a little choke job to me.

Andrew:                 Exactly. It was kind of crazy, but yeah. Big thing is you got that on Saturday, but before that, Friday, softball kicks off. The march to the three-peat starts on Friday in south Florida at the Wilson DeMarini Tournament down in Tampa. Florida’s going to go down there for the sixth time in the last seven years. Tim Walton likes that approach, and, Nick, I think you’ll agree with me here. You’ve played the game as well. Both been around the game all of our lives. That going on the road to start the year is something that a lot of people like, because you’re around your teammates 24/7, and it is that building of a bond for the team. That’s something Tim Walton even spoke about at Media Days is he likes that getting on the bus, being around your teammates 24 hours for three days, and starting the season off with a good team chemistry.

Nick:                         Yeah. To me any time you go on the road you get to stay in a hotel, and you’re around your teammates. That’s fun, especially to start a season. You’ve been going up against the pitchers, the hitters. There’s been competition, and it’s kind of you’re looking forward to something different and something new, because the entire fall for baseball and for softball it’s just the same, and it’s just repetitive. You can’t wait for the season to start, because it gets you on a different schedule. I think Walton does a good job of starting that and really emphasizing it by saying, not only are we starting something new, but we’re picking up shop, moving camp down to Tampa, and that’s where we’re going to start. So it really just kind of, it’s almost like a reward for making it through all of the off season stuff.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Good thing for Florida in practice. They’re going up against the best of the best. No surprise when you go on the road, when you’re facing Kelly Barnhill, Ocasio, or Gourley in the circle. You’re going against the best of the best, and then Florida pitching wise they’re going up against the best of the best hitting wise. So it should be good. I kind of wrote about this a little bit, and, Nick, you were there at Media Days. This team is stacked. This team is incredibly stacked. They got a little dynasty going, whether Tim Walton and his girls want to talk about it or not. This is a team that they don’t just, they’re reloading. They’re not rebuilding. They’re reloading.

Nick:                         You talk about losing Lauren Hager, but you returned two starters, and you get the #1 player in the country in Kelly Barnhill. She set a Georgia state record last year. In a single season she struck out 534 batters.

Andrew:                 Not too bad. Nolan Ryan, he has the all-time record in Major League Baseball at 3,000 and something strike outs in a career.

Nick:                         I have another one for you.

Andrew:                 She got a sixth of those in one year, boss.

Nick:                         I have another one for you.

Andrew:                 Okay.

Nick:                         She threw 22 no-hitters during her high school career. One of those was a seven inning perfect game where she struck out all 21 batters.

Andrew:                 Damn.

Nick:                         That is, I guess like the, that’s the perfect perfect game. No shame in any kind of perfect game. I don’t care if you’ve got to throw 600 pitches to get your perfect game. No shame in that, but it doesn’t get better than striking out every single batter you face in a perfect game.

Andrew:                 The only thing that could have made that better was did she only throw 66 pitches?

Nick:                         63.

Andrew:                 63 pitches, sorry. Did she only throw 63 pitches in the game?

Nick:                         I don’t have that stat handy, but I’m going to hope she threw at least more than 63.

Andrew:                 She threw 64. That was it. That’s the ultimate. It’s something that’s kind of funny in a way, because Hager was that overpowering dynamite like rise ball pitcher for Florida. Ocasio and Gourley are more about hitting their spots. A little more Tom Glavine-ish, and I say that, Nick, you know what I mean with that. It’s more of a spot pitcher. Maybe not overpowering speed. Throws the good braking ball. Throws the drop ball, that kind of stuff. Then Barnhill is the rise ball pitcher like Hager. So it’s almost you replace Hager with Barnhill.

The only difference here though is Barnhill doesn’t hit like Hager does, and that’s the big question mark heading into this season is where does Florida find that power that not only Hager, but Castro and Brianna Little leave out. It’s a stat that I’m going to throw at you. It’s kind of incredible to think about, but Florida hit 80 home runs last year. 40 of them were from that trio of Hager, Little, and Castro. So Florida has to replace half of their home runs. Going to be tough.

Nick:                         Then you keep looking at these stats. RBI leaders, Lauren Hager had 71. You look at slugging percentage, it’s Hager and Bailey. Bailey at top, and then Hager. When I look at it, and when I look at RBIs, I think it starts to fall on Taylore Fuller, Kirsti Merritt going into her senior year. Kelsey Stewart going into her senior year. I think you’re going to need to lean on this senior class, who’s been through so much, and in talking to a couple of them it really seemed like they had an attitude of we’ve sent two senior classes off with a championship. Now we need to do it for ourselves, and I think that’s really kind of driving them is kind of a sense of we sent them off the right way. We want our storybook ending too.

Andrew:                 You look at it. Kayli Kvistad is probably going to be that cleanup hitter that Florida’s looking for. The biggest question for her is being consistent. Last year she had a so-so consistent year. Had a home run in the College World Series. Had a big double, RBI double, in the Kentucky game in the Super Regionals, and she’s a very strong hitter, a power hitter there. This Florida is so balanced that, home runs might not be there as much this year, but you have the triple hitter in Stewart, the double hitter in Merritt. This team is very good at getting on base with walks, hit by pitches. Kirsti Merritt now has the NCAA record for most hit by pitches in a career.

You know, you have a team that’s kind of all-around good. We talked about this on Gator Country on Thursday. Kelsey Stewart and Kirsti Merritt are the best one-two punch as far as leadoff hitter and two-hole hitter there is in getting on base and driving them in. Merritt and Stewart both combine for 40 some stolen bases last year, plus they get on base with walks, with hit by pitches, and Stewart is a good doubles hitter, has the record at Florida already for most triples in a career. So they’re good at getting on base for the Taylore Fullers, the Kayli Kvistads, the Taylor Schwarz, then the freshman, Amanda Lorenz.

Nick:                         We’ve mentioned this before. I think it’s Walton has built a program that kind of starts to run itself, and by that I mean you look at Gino up at Yukon with women’s basketball, and now you’ve got such a history. I know that recently they’ve won two, but Florida softball has been good since Walton has been here, and you start to build a program where girls are growing up and seeing this, and now they’re saying I want to play for him. I want to play for that program. Recruiting’s never easy. You have to go out, and you have to watch games, and you have to find people, and you have to, especially in softball, find them early, but I think Walton’s almost created this beast that’s kind of recruiting itself.

So you talk about losing a Lauren Hager, and a Bailey Castro, but you’ve got these freshmen, and you’ve got sophomores that are ready to fill roles. It’s almost like in Alabama football where you remember they’re going to lose Derrick Henry, oh they have Bo Scarbrough waiting. He hasn’t done anything yet, but he’s waiting. That’s the kind of sense I get with this softball team that you lose someone big, and then you remember there’s that five star that would probably have started somewhere else as a freshman that’s just been sitting here.

Andrew:                 When you look at it, Florida goes out and signs the #1 player in the country in Kelly Barnhill. The #2 player in Amanda Lorenz is an outfielder. Let me just throw you her career stats, okay? At the plate. A 592 career hitter. 592, Nick. Pretty good. Had 126 RBIs in her career, 50 doubles, and 39 home runs through four years of high school softball, in just 107 games. 50 doubles in 107 games. That means she’s doubling every other game.

Nick:                         She’s almost getting a hit six out of every 10 at bats.

Andrew:                 Exactly. Then you put that with Kelsey Stewart, who she’s challenging the all-time hits record in the NCAA. She’s 113 hits shy. Now it’s very tough she’ll get that. Last year she only had 101 in her career, but still. You never know. This team is going to make a deep run. They’re going to go that way. When you look at Kelsey Stewart as well, she has the career stolen base record at Florida, the career triple record at Florida, the career hits record at Florida, and is closing in on the career double record at Florida already. This senior class for Florida is really good, and the thing that I got from listening to these girls is they think this freshman class may end up being better than the senior class, because they say they all love and want to be around the game so much.

Nick:                         That’s something they’ve all talked about. It’s one of those things where softball’s important to them. So it’ll be interesting to see how they react. It’s one thing to dominate when you’re in high school, and it’s another thing to come to Florida and right off the bat play a game Friday that’ll probably be a 20-0 snoozer, and then you’ve got #2 Michigan right after that. So it’ll be a quick taste for this freshman class of what playing at Florida is like, but that’s why they come to Florida, because they know they’re going to have great coaches, and they know they’re going to play some of the best competition that they can at the Division I level.

Andrew:                 SEC has nine teams ranked in the top 25 of softball heading into the pre-season. It’s going to be a tough season. Walton doesn’t play any games when he comes to scheduling his out of conference. They go to California during Spring Break. UCLA is on the map. Washington’s on the map, and Nebraska’s on the map. All three teams that made the NCAA tournament last year, and North Carolina State as well. So nothing to snooze about, and then of course you have the SEC schedule that is dynamite as always.

Nick:                         It will be definitely a fun season. I’m looking forward to something a little quirky. I’m looking forward to see what do these girls do? What’s going to be their new thing? Is it the Twizzlers? Is it the lunch pail, clocking in for work? What’s going to be their thing this year?

Andrew:                 Of course you would want to know something dumb like that, Nick. Come on.

Nick:                         It’s fun. That’s fun.

Andrew:                 Come one, man. Don’t forget the sunflowers on the head honoring former Gator bat girl/just kind of been around the team a little bit. That’s something that Florida takes dear to heart, Heather Brazwell. So that’s something you can guarantee to see. The one thing about this is Tim Walton has fun with it, and his team enjoys playing. Now, always enjoy playing when you win, but this team seems to really just enjoy playing the game. Quite frankly, I enjoy watching it. It’s going to be a fun year, and, Nick, I think there’s only one place that’s going to have the best softball coverage.

Nick:                         Probably the place, the only place that has softball coverage, and that’s you. You really are starting off with previews, and really the only person out there covering the softball team.

Andrew:                 It’s easy to cover the winners, but you’re going to do good on baseball. Let’s go to baseball a little bit. Softball is going to do their thing this week. Baseball still has another week, and potential #1 draft pick in the country next year, A.J. Puk. You got to kind of talk with him on Thursday a little bit. This is a question I have for you. Do you kind of sense a pressure on him? What do you kind of get from him? That’s kind of tough knowing that you can either do really good and be #1, or you could F things up and drop.

Nick:                         I think it is something that he’s going to have to deal with all season long, but to me, you kind of have to, it’s going to be hard to do it, but you have to push it out of your mind, because it’s so true. If A.J. Puk shows up and pitches like he did the last month of the season, he’s going to be the #1 overall pick, but if he allows that thought to creep into his head it puts unnecessary pressure on him, and maybe he doesn’t end up pitching that way. Then that’s a million dollar, we’re talking about multimillion dollars between the #1 pick and a later draft pick. So to me, it’s something that he talks with Sully a lot, other players. We asked JJ Schwarz, because JJ will be in the same boat next year. We asked JJ about it, and he said, “Puk doesn’t really talk about it with the players, but it’s something he talks to Sully about a lot,” and I really think it’s something you just kind of need to shut out of your head, because it’s not going to do you any good to think about.

Andrew:                 The main thing for me, and I told you this the other day, I said, “If A.J. Puk is consistent and can show some consistency this year, I don’t mind my Braves taking him at 3.” I doubt he gets there, but I wouldn’t mind him. If the A.J. Puk that scares the crap out of me and has one good inning, two bad innings, that kind of guy, I don’t want him nowhere near Atlanta. That’s going to be the biggest thing for me is how well does he do this year? Is it consistent pitching from him? He has all the tools to do it. I think the biggest thing, and this is one of the reasons he even talked about why he didn’t go to the League right of high school was because he hasn’t had to be consistent really in Iowa. He was able to just overpower everybody. I’m thinking maybe his third year he starts to learn that he has to be, and things get better.

Nick:                         When you think about A.J., or when I think about A.J. Puk this is what I think about, led the team in strike outs with 104 in 78 innings pitched. Also led the team with 35 walks, and was second on the team in wild pitches with 8, only one shy of Dane Dunning’s 9 wild pitches.

Andrew:                 So you just made my point.

Nick:                         Yeah. Part of, and I asked Christian Hicks, who’s a lefty, whenever you ask somebody what makes A.J. Puk difficult, well, he’s 6’8”. He’s 6’9”. Throws 97 miles an hour. He’s got a great changeup. He has a great slider. Then I asked Christian, I said, “What about Puk’s effective wildness we’ll call it?” He said, “Yeah. It doesn’t hurt that in the back of your mind you go up to the plate, and you’re thinking does he know where this 97 mile an hour fastball is going when it leaves his hand? Because I’m not sure he does.” A part of that is being 6’8” and 6’9”. What really helps pitchers be accurate and to be able to paint the corners is having a consistent deliver and a consistent plant. What I mean by that is when your foot comes down it’s coming down in that same spot, and if you put paint on the bottom of his cleat you wouldn’t see eight different cleat marks where his right foot’s landing. You’d see one mark where he’s landing, and it’s a repeatable motion that’s consistent. When you’re 6’8”, and you’ve got these long limbs, it’s hard to do. I think that’s really what has been the biggest thing that he and O’Sullivan have worked on is creating that repeatable delivery.

Andrew:                 I was going to say, before you said what scares lefties. I would be that I couldn’t see the ball. I mean, he hides the ball really well. I’m going to say this comparison, and I don’t mean it as a comparison to who A.J. Puk is, but they used to say the biggest thing that Randy Johnson was was because you couldn’t see the ball. It was like a slingshot, and that’s kind of where it is with Puk right now. You don’t see that ball until it gets right on you, and then it’s 97, and you have no way to react. I think it was you that tweeted the other day, or maybe even told me, something like he is in the 97 range most of spring and fall ball. That’s insane for a 6’7” guy with a lefty delivery that you can’t even see. Give me a break.

Nick:                         He’s been sitting between 93, 94, 95, and he’s touched 98. So we’ll put a picture up for this podcast on the website of an angle of him from the first base side, and you can just see. It’s all arms and legs that are coming at you when you’re standing in the box against him. Definitely not fun for a righty. Certainly not fun for a lefty.

Andrew:                 Nick, I’m sure you had this thought growing up. Growing up you would always face these certain pitchers that were throwing the ball in speeds in excess of everybody else, but it always, this guy’s wild, and you’d get in the batter’s box, and it was like, just please let him throw it down the middle. Don’t let him hit me. That’s what I always picture of the guys that go in there is it’s almost like Little League. It’s like just don’t him me. Just give me a chance to hit the ball.

Nick:                         Then when you look at Puk the pitching mound is 60 foot 6 inches, but he’s so tall, by the time he’s releasing a ball his mounds like 50 feet away.

Andrew:                 They had that, I’ve seen different things about that with Atlanta with the Braves. Jason Grilli and a couple other guys, Jordan Walden is one of the biggest ones. He would kind of jump off the mound, and I remember seeing a graphic of it. Something like 52 inches when he released the ball from the plate, and he was throwing 98, 99. That’s insane.

Nick:                         It really is.

Andrew:                 But the thing for me though is this. What makes Puk so difficult in my opinion might not even be Puk. It might be that Florida surrounds him with guys that are totally different than him. A guy like Logan Shore, Logan Shore is throwing the ball hard, but he’s got that nasty breaking ball, and he’s from the right side.

Nick:                         Really I don’t think Florida has a guy that’s going to throw less than 91 this year, and if they have a guy that’s only throwing 90 it’s Kirby Snead, who’s throwing from a very low sidearm angle. They’ve dropped Rubio down to a very low, almost 90 degree angle. He’s throwing about 92 from that angle.

Andrew:                 Got the president pitching now?

Nick:                         No. This is Frank Rubio, esteemed St. Thomas Aquinas Raider, proud alum of my high school as well. So I always root for Frank.

Andrew:                 I didn’t know if the potential president of the United States was coming out to throw for us now. Who knew?

Nick:                         No. That’s not it. Another thing that helps Puk, it helps the entire pitching staff, is Florida had a .984 fielding percentage last year. That was top five in program history, and it’s something that they’re trying to replicate again. You’re losing Josh Tobias, who went 55 games at third base without an error. I’ll repeat that. A third baseman went 55 games without an error. He made an error the last weekend of the season, and O’Sullivan said it’s because the guys in the dugout started talking about it the last game of the season. So that’s nuts.

Andrew:                 You never talk about an error streak. You never talk about the no-no. You never talk about the perfect game. You see people talk about it all the time, and they’re like, why does it matter? Baseball’s a very superstitious game.

Nick:                         Yeah. Josh Tobias had 114 assists last year. So that’s 114. He was well past 100 consecutive plays made, attempts, without making an error before he finally made one. So Florida has him to replace. You have Richie Martin to replace. You have Harrison Bader to replace as far as defensive wise, but in the outfield Buddy Reed covers everything. Buddy Reed covers whatever water doesn’t cover. You’re going to look at some freshmen. At third base you’re looking at Jonathan India and Christian Hicks at third to replace Tobias. If I’m that third baseman, first ball that’s hit to me I’m booting it. I’m kicking it. I’m just saying, listen guys, this is going to happen. I’m going to do my best so that it doesn’t happen a lot, but I’m going to have the kind of season that Tobias had. We’re going to boot a play. Let me get it out of the way.

Andrew:                 Let’s run through this real quick. Let’s run through the starting lineup as far as position wise goes. Give me your opening day left to right.

Nick:                         Okay. Left to right. This is offensive line?

Andrew:                 I mean left field, center field, right field.

Nick:                         I’m going to run you through it. We’ll start with pitching. Friday night’s going to be Logan Shore. Your Friday night catcher is going to be Mike Rivera. Anytime Logan Shore is on the mound Rivera will be catching him. You go over to first base, there’s going to be Pete Alonzo. Second base I think there’s a real good possibility that Deacon Liput, who’s a freshman, will be the starter there at second, with Dalton Guthrie, who started every game but one last year at second base, sliding over to short to fill in for Richie. Guthris is nails. He is tough as nails. Didn’t miss a game until he got hit in the hand last year during the SEC championship game, or during the SEC tournament. I expect there to be no drop off at shortstop defensively with him there. He’ll lead off again as well. Then at third you got to look at Hicks. Hicks is a great defender, also another freshman in India.

The outfield to me, with Sharpie, not even penciling it in, Sharpie. Buddy Reed is there. To me, I think it’s going to be Ryan Larson in left field. Left field’s the way that the Mack is split. You’re in the sun. So the sun sets behind the press box, behind the first base line, and that means left field sun’s in your eyes. Ryan Larson, after Buddy Reed, is your best defensive outfielder. I think you put him in left, and then you put Jeremy Vasquez in right field. He needs to work on his defense, on his routes, but you can’t keep that bat out of the lineup.

Andrew:                 That’s a good point. That’s a good point for sure. Buddy Reed, a good centerfielder though makes Jeremy Vasquez and Ryan Larson’s game so much easier.

Nick:                         Yeah. Listen, Ryan Larson’s a great defensive outfielder. So what you do is we have two great defensive outfielders, one that’s not great, but we want his bat in the lineup. We’ll just shade over. We’re confident that Buddy shades over to right, that he can cover that left center gap, that he and Larson can cover it. No problems with Larson. You tell Larson, cover the line a little bit tighter. Don’t worry about anything to your right. That’s Buddy’s territory. Just focus on hitting the ball. Then when you look at this lineup, Dalton Guthrie led off the entire year as a freshman. You keep him there. Move Buddy Reed into that two spot, and that might be the easiest spot to hit in the country, because right behind you is JJ Schwarz. Talk about protection in a lineup when JJ Schwarz is hitting behind you, and then you put Pete Alonzo behind him. That’s a lot of power and a very solid one through four. Jeremy Vasquez probably slides in at five after that. That’s a very powerful lineup with great speed in Guthrie and Reed at the top.

Andrew:                 Reed a potential top 10 pick as well in the draft. So good luck getting around this lineup. Nick, to put the Tobias thing in kind of in light a little bit. Nick Markakis set the record in the MLB last year. Guess how many games he went without making an error?

Nick:                         30.

Andrew:                 398.

Nick:                         398 games without an error.

Andrew:                 That is correct. It was ended on a ball that was hit, and he bobbled it up his arm in Atlanta against Colorado, I believe, last year.

Nick:                         He set a record.

Andrew:                 Yes.

Nick:                         I thought you just said he had the most last year.

Andrew:                 No. He set the record. 398, I believe it was over a three year period I believe is what it was. So kind of crazy.

Nick:                         Yeah. Well he’s a two time Gold Glove winner?

Andrew:                 Three time Gold Glove winner.

Nick:                         Three time Gold Glove winner. So maybe that’s part of the reason.

Andrew:                 Maybe it is. So we’ll see. Nick, real quick. I just want to run through the schedule real quick with you here. That Miami weekend, give the listeners real quick usual Miami team this year?

Nick:                         Very good Miami team this year. They will be, I think Miami was slightly down, not down, they were young last year. So you’re getting a very good Miami team. I think to me I would expect Florida to handle Florida Gulf Coast this weekend. Before that Miami game you’re going to get two against Eastern Michigan. Those guys are shoveling snow off the baseball field right now. So they’re behind.

Andrew:                 They should be strong.

Nick:                         They should be strong. I don’t know how many baseballs they’ve been hitting sitting indoors with snow.

Andrew:                 UCF, how are they this year?

Nick:                         UCF is very good, very strong again. To me it is right there is kind of the welcome for the freshman class. It’s kind of like, we’re going to down to Orlando, probably stop in Orlando on Monday when you’re driving back from Miami, and just stay the night, but that game against UCF, I was there last year, and it was a crazy environment. Almost kind of like a football environment at the game.

Andrew:                 You had to sit outside.

Nick:                         Yeah. They added new seats. They set an attendance record for a baseball game at UCF last year. UCF came away with a win. So I think right there there’s a five game stretch where you’re really looking and saying, this is what it’s going to be like. This is the kind of intensity that you should expect once SEC play starts. Then after that you get your three game set against Dartmouth where JJ might hit eight home runs like he did in a week last year. Two games against UNF and Harvard before Florida State and the SEC schedule. Then the SEC schedule is just stacked. Kentucky has a pitching staff that has a Sunday guy who was drafted in the second round and chose to come back for his senior year. So that’s the kind of depth that you’re talking about.

Missouri, that’s a very good team. Florida State twice. Texas A&M has one of the better teams in the SEC. Mississippi State. You have to go to Arkansas. That’s a tough trip to make. Georgia. At South Carolina. South Carolina just built a brand new baseball stadium. Tennessee should be alright. Vanderbilt’s one of the best teams in the league, and a College World Series team. LSU one of the best teams in the league, a College World Series team. I think Florida plays four of the eight teams that were in the College World Series, and they were also in it. So five of the eight teams, including them. It’s a tough schedule. It’s what Sully likes.

Andrew:                 Exactly. That’s what I was going to ask you. Who do you expect it to be? For me looking at it I think it’s Florida or LSU, maybe Kentucky in the mix for that SEC championship. Give us a quick prediction of how you think it’ll come out.

Nick:                         I think it’s Florida, LSU. I think when you look at the East, the East is tough, but I think it’s Florida and LSU, and really going to come down to that last weekend of the season. I said it to you. We were watching LSU practice in the fall when we were there for the football game, and I said, May 19th, 20, and 21st. I said the 21st might decide who wins the SEC regular season, and then right after that you’re going to Hoover for the SEC tournament.

Andrew:                 Quick for softball. It’s kind of going to be, I think Florida’s by far the best team in the SEC, and then after that I think it’s kind of a logjam there. LSU is returning a good team. Auburn has a really good team, coached by former Arizona State coach there. Then Alabama and Tennessee are both really good teams as well. Tennessee returns a good team that beat Florida in the SEC tournament last year. So it’s stacked up top for softball as well. We’ll see kind of where things go. Good news for Florida, they get Alabama in Gainesville this year. So that should be fun. I’m excited to see what the little new national championship deal is going to be out there.

Nick:                         That’ll be interesting to see what they do. I’m sure it’ll look great though. Just knowing that coaching staff and what they do, I’m sure they will put something nice out there for the girls.

Andrew:                 They should. Nick, let’s get out of here. We’ll see everybody on Tuesday when we recap this weekend of basketball, again at home against Alabama on Saturday, softball, gymnastics has Arkansas coming to town, and I think that’s about it. Am I leaving anything out?

Nick:                         No. Arkansas comes into town. Softball gets kicked off out in Tampa, and baseball in a week.

Andrew:                 Women’s basketball.

Nick:                         Women’s basketball, you’re listening to this on Friday. They will play as we tape on Thursday up at #1, South Carolina?

Andrew:                 #2, South Carolina. #16 in the country. Good team for Amanda Butler. They’re doing really well. That’s it. Quick shout out to everybody that’s listening to this and everything. We appreciate you guys. Seeing a lot of you guys jump on our membership at GatorCountry.com. If you’re interested in hopping on, shoot me a message, or shoot Nick a message. One of us will get you hooked up with the good deal to get on Gator Country. It’s a great time to join. Nick’s covering baseball. Football still going. Recruiting and softball are going really well, and baseball. So don’t be left behind. Join your friends on Gator County.

Nick:                         Tweet us #GCPodcast if you’re interested in joining, and maybe Andrew can work out a little discount for you. As always, there’s really nobody else that’s going to be covering softball and baseball. Kind of a shame seeing as how good those two teams will be, and they are certainly deserving of your support. So @NickdelaTorreGC, the gif game will be strong all baseball season long. We’re going to see if Andrew can start throwing some gifs out for softball as well.

Andrew:                 Do you have any ideas for me? I’m trying to find a home run one. If anybody’s got a good one that they come up with, I’m looking for it. I’ll give you a shout out if you can help me find a good one.

Nick:                         You’ll find those, and you can send your tips to @AndrewSpiveyGC on Twitter. Follow us on Instagram. It’s TheGatorCountry. Also follow us on Facebook where everything else goes. Thursday, or Friday night, Andrew is excited. His game gets underway. Florida’s 56 game baseball schedule in a week. That’s all I got.

Andrew:                 That’s all you got, for sure. Butch and Mark, your teams aren’t very good down there in softball, and the Gators are coming to get you in baseball Mr. Mark Richt. So as always, chomp, chomp, and go Braves. Spring training’s on the way.

Nick:                         You stay classy, Gator Country.

Andrew Spivey

About Andrew Spivey

Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.

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This GatorCountry podcast focuses on previewing the Florida Gators baseball and softball team for 2016, as the softball team starts its season on Friday night in Tampa, Florida.

Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre bring you the best coverage on the kind and queens of the diamond and they give you an in-depth preview of these two teams.

Andrew and Nick also preview the rest of the Florida Gators basketball season as the Gators still have a shot at the SEC championship, despite some tough losses.

TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:                 What’s up, Gator Country? This is your man, Andrew Spivey, back with my man, Nicholas de la Torre. What’s up, Nicholas?

Nick:                         What’s going on? We got the stick sports getting ready to go. Softball will open up their three-peat quest on Friday. Baseball is just over a week away, and don’t sleep on the boys out there on the hardwood, because the way things are shaking out Florida kind of has a chance to win the SEC if they take care of business with the rest of their SEC schedule.

Andrew:                 That’s shocking. You look on the message boards. You look on Twitter.

Nick:                         Twitter fired Mike White two months ago.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Mike White’s already back in LA Tech, I mean it’s just it is what it is there. You look at this team, and you and I have talked about this a couple times is effort on this team. It’s inconsistent play for this team, and when this team plays in high effort and plays good ball they look like a team that could be ranked in the top 25, and then they go through spurts. It’s like this team doesn’t even deserve to be playing in the SEC. If they can find a common ground to play on. Of course, you’re not going to play at the high ground they played on against West Virginia, but they should play on the low ground they played on against Tennessee and Kentucky. If they can just find a middle ground that they can play on this is a basketball team that’s decent enough to compete.

Nick:                         Yeah. This isn’t one of Cal’s strongest Kentucky teams, but I think in basketball you’re always going to have days where your shots just aren’t falling, the guy you’re playing against couldn’t miss, but the one thing you can always control is your effort, and I think the effort against Kentucky is what really did them in. Kentucky is not that much better than Florida is. I think they were up 25-5 at one point. They’re not that, 20 points, better than Florida. It’s just the effort, and maybe it has something to do with being on the road. Kentucky plays very good at Rupp. Florida’s 12-1 in the O Dome, just 2-6 away from the O Dome.

Andrew:                 The quote is, I’m having a brain fart here. It’s something about the common quote always is talent can take a day off, but effort should never take a day off. Something along that way. That’s kind of where this team is. You would think that this team is very athletic, but doesn’t have that one I guess superstar on this team. So they need to bring the effort, and when they are bringing the effort this team sees a lot of defensive plays turning into good offense. Sees a lot of turnovers in the back court I guess you could say as well. You just see a different team when this team is playing hard. Then you just see those couple games, really the two games that I look to is that Tennessee game at Knoxville and then the Kentucky game, and both of those games were just straight up disappointing games for effort purposes.

Nick:                         You go up to Knoxville. You lose 83-69. Really the big knock there is effort. You go up to Rupp. You lose 61-80. It’s this team, and some of the guys are young. I think the coaching staff is young, and there’s still kind of a feeling out process, but what you look at, when I look at the team it’s a bunch of guys that aren’t really Mike White’s guys. I think you’d say KeVaughn Allen and Justin Leon are, and those two guys are probably the ones that are impressing me the most.

Leon’s earned a starting spot before a concussion, and KeVaughn Allen in my opinion is the best player on this team right now. No disrespect. Dorian Finney-Smith is having the year of his career. Kind of reminds me of Chandler Parsons, maybe in the sense of SEC play starts senior year, and maybe it finally clicks. Kind of like, this is it. My time here is done. Maybe I thought I was going to be a one and done, or a two and done, but I’ve been here four years now, and this is the last semester. So it’s time to kick it up into high gear.

Andrew:                 There is no more years to get better. So it’s that way. That’s a good comparison, because when you think about Chandler Parson’s career at Florida you don’t think it, in my opinion I don’t look at it and say he had this incredible career. He had a great senior year that ended up being SEC Player of the Year, and then he doesn’t have a great career as far as numbers go, but then you look at his NBA career, and he’s on his second contract right now. Playing good basketball. So that’s kind of like Dorian Finney-Smith is. John Egbunu is a guy that is getting better. I think that year off last year helped him get bigger and stronger, and then KeVaughn Allen’s there. So I think it’s a team that’s got some talent there.

Just you see lulls in the offensive side of the ball when it’s Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza playing at the same time at the guard position. Kasey Hill, he’s come a tremendous way, but you still at times, you tweeted about it. I tweeted about it. At times you just sit here and think, Kasey, you’re wide open for a reason. Kasey, you’re throwing bounce passes for a reason. Think about it. Think about why you’re getting these open plays. It’s because they want you to do that.

Nick:                         I think the thing with Egbunu was last year, almost the opposite of what you said. I think he got a little bit smaller.

Andrew:                 I think he got smaller, but stronger.

Nick:                         Yeah. Not saying, you can lose some weight and get stronger. Nick Buchanan over on the football field, and my boy Heavy Chocolate, Brandon Sandifer over on the football field, are both getting smaller, but as offensive linemen it doesn’t mean they’re getting weaker. So I think Egbunu it was just getting in the condition that he can go up and down the court. He’s been good. He’s like a sink hole though. It’s like the ball gets passed into him, and then the play is over. The other four guys can kind of run down the court, because he’s not dishing it back out. I’d like to see him become a little bit better passer, get some vision and some more awareness there. But with Kasey I think it’s some time when you’re a basketball player you have to be confident. I’ve talked about Brandon Francis needing to shoot through his struggles. At some point you need to realize, I’m not a three point shooter. That’s why every time I catch the ball on the outside of the three point line I’m by myself, and I need to stop thinking this is a good look.

Andrew:                 Exactly. They’re not giving you the open shot if you’re that.

Nick:                         KeVaughn Allen’s not getting open threes on purpose.

Andrew:                 Ray Allen didn’t get open threes on purpose. Yeah, you’re right on Egbunu. What I’m saying is I think he got stronger as far as his post presence. I think he is a stronger player inside, and he’s able to kind of go through contact a little bit more, that kind of stuff, and that’s kind of what I was meaning is I thought he got stronger. I definitely agree. I think he dropped some weight and put on some good muscle mass, more so than bad weight.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think you look at the rest of this schedule, Alabama on Saturday. Then you hit the road twice next week at Georgia, at South Carolina. Vanderbilt comes in after that. That’s a tough game. LSU, Kentucky on March 1st, and then you end it with Missouri. That’s going to be in Missouri. So Florida not a good road team. There’s four road games left of the last seven. It’s not saying that they will win the SEC, but I’m thinking at the beginning of the year you thought would even be a conversation point at this point of the season.

Andrew:                 The South Carolina game, that’s going to be a tough game on the road. LSU, any time you got to go against Ben Simmons is going to be tough. Got Kentucky at home. That’ll be Senior Night, so that’ll be good for them. Like you said, Kentucky’s not that much better than Florida, and at home Florida should be able to contend in that game and see where it goes. The Alabama game, they just knocked off A&M after A&M’s 92% free throw shooter missed two free throws with 2 seconds left on the clock. So that’s why he’s not 100% free throw shooter.

Nick:                         Sounds like a little choke job to me.

Andrew:                 Exactly. It was kind of crazy, but yeah. Big thing is you got that on Saturday, but before that, Friday, softball kicks off. The march to the three-peat starts on Friday in south Florida at the Wilson DeMarini Tournament down in Tampa. Florida’s going to go down there for the sixth time in the last seven years. Tim Walton likes that approach, and, Nick, I think you’ll agree with me here. You’ve played the game as well. Both been around the game all of our lives. That going on the road to start the year is something that a lot of people like, because you’re around your teammates 24/7, and it is that building of a bond for the team. That’s something Tim Walton even spoke about at Media Days is he likes that getting on the bus, being around your teammates 24 hours for three days, and starting the season off with a good team chemistry.

Nick:                         Yeah. To me any time you go on the road you get to stay in a hotel, and you’re around your teammates. That’s fun, especially to start a season. You’ve been going up against the pitchers, the hitters. There’s been competition, and it’s kind of you’re looking forward to something different and something new, because the entire fall for baseball and for softball it’s just the same, and it’s just repetitive. You can’t wait for the season to start, because it gets you on a different schedule. I think Walton does a good job of starting that and really emphasizing it by saying, not only are we starting something new, but we’re picking up shop, moving camp down to Tampa, and that’s where we’re going to start. So it really just kind of, it’s almost like a reward for making it through all of the off season stuff.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Good thing for Florida in practice. They’re going up against the best of the best. No surprise when you go on the road, when you’re facing Kelly Barnhill, Ocasio, or Gourley in the circle. You’re going against the best of the best, and then Florida pitching wise they’re going up against the best of the best hitting wise. So it should be good. I kind of wrote about this a little bit, and, Nick, you were there at Media Days. This team is stacked. This team is incredibly stacked. They got a little dynasty going, whether Tim Walton and his girls want to talk about it or not. This is a team that they don’t just, they’re reloading. They’re not rebuilding. They’re reloading.

Nick:                         You talk about losing Lauren Hager, but you returned two starters, and you get the #1 player in the country in Kelly Barnhill. She set a Georgia state record last year. In a single season she struck out 534 batters.

Andrew:                 Not too bad. Nolan Ryan, he has the all-time record in Major League Baseball at 3,000 and something strike outs in a career.

Nick:                         I have another one for you.

Andrew:                 She got a sixth of those in one year, boss.

Nick:                         I have another one for you.

Andrew:                 Okay.

Nick:                         She threw 22 no-hitters during her high school career. One of those was a seven inning perfect game where she struck out all 21 batters.

Andrew:                 Damn.

Nick:                         That is, I guess like the, that’s the perfect perfect game. No shame in any kind of perfect game. I don’t care if you’ve got to throw 600 pitches to get your perfect game. No shame in that, but it doesn’t get better than striking out every single batter you face in a perfect game.

Andrew:                 The only thing that could have made that better was did she only throw 66 pitches?

Nick:                         63.

Andrew:                 63 pitches, sorry. Did she only throw 63 pitches in the game?

Nick:                         I don’t have that stat handy, but I’m going to hope she threw at least more than 63.

Andrew:                 She threw 64. That was it. That’s the ultimate. It’s something that’s kind of funny in a way, because Hager was that overpowering dynamite like rise ball pitcher for Florida. Ocasio and Gourley are more about hitting their spots. A little more Tom Glavine-ish, and I say that, Nick, you know what I mean with that. It’s more of a spot pitcher. Maybe not overpowering speed. Throws the good braking ball. Throws the drop ball, that kind of stuff. Then Barnhill is the rise ball pitcher like Hager. So it’s almost you replace Hager with Barnhill.

The only difference here though is Barnhill doesn’t hit like Hager does, and that’s the big question mark heading into this season is where does Florida find that power that not only Hager, but Castro and Brianna Little leave out. It’s a stat that I’m going to throw at you. It’s kind of incredible to think about, but Florida hit 80 home runs last year. 40 of them were from that trio of Hager, Little, and Castro. So Florida has to replace half of their home runs. Going to be tough.

Nick:                         Then you keep looking at these stats. RBI leaders, Lauren Hager had 71. You look at slugging percentage, it’s Hager and Bailey. Bailey at top, and then Hager. When I look at it, and when I look at RBIs, I think it starts to fall on Taylore Fuller, Kirsti Merritt going into her senior year. Kelsey Stewart going into her senior year. I think you’re going to need to lean on this senior class, who’s been through so much, and in talking to a couple of them it really seemed like they had an attitude of we’ve sent two senior classes off with a championship. Now we need to do it for ourselves, and I think that’s really kind of driving them is kind of a sense of we sent them off the right way. We want our storybook ending too.

Andrew:                 You look at it. Kayli Kvistad is probably going to be that cleanup hitter that Florida’s looking for. The biggest question for her is being consistent. Last year she had a so-so consistent year. Had a home run in the College World Series. Had a big double, RBI double, in the Kentucky game in the Super Regionals, and she’s a very strong hitter, a power hitter there. This Florida is so balanced that, home runs might not be there as much this year, but you have the triple hitter in Stewart, the double hitter in Merritt. This team is very good at getting on base with walks, hit by pitches. Kirsti Merritt now has the NCAA record for most hit by pitches in a career.

You know, you have a team that’s kind of all-around good. We talked about this on Gator Country on Thursday. Kelsey Stewart and Kirsti Merritt are the best one-two punch as far as leadoff hitter and two-hole hitter there is in getting on base and driving them in. Merritt and Stewart both combine for 40 some stolen bases last year, plus they get on base with walks, with hit by pitches, and Stewart is a good doubles hitter, has the record at Florida already for most triples in a career. So they’re good at getting on base for the Taylore Fullers, the Kayli Kvistads, the Taylor Schwarz, then the freshman, Amanda Lorenz.

Nick:                         We’ve mentioned this before. I think it’s Walton has built a program that kind of starts to run itself, and by that I mean you look at Gino up at Yukon with women’s basketball, and now you’ve got such a history. I know that recently they’ve won two, but Florida softball has been good since Walton has been here, and you start to build a program where girls are growing up and seeing this, and now they’re saying I want to play for him. I want to play for that program. Recruiting’s never easy. You have to go out, and you have to watch games, and you have to find people, and you have to, especially in softball, find them early, but I think Walton’s almost created this beast that’s kind of recruiting itself.

So you talk about losing a Lauren Hager, and a Bailey Castro, but you’ve got these freshmen, and you’ve got sophomores that are ready to fill roles. It’s almost like in Alabama football where you remember they’re going to lose Derrick Henry, oh they have Bo Scarbrough waiting. He hasn’t done anything yet, but he’s waiting. That’s the kind of sense I get with this softball team that you lose someone big, and then you remember there’s that five star that would probably have started somewhere else as a freshman that’s just been sitting here.

Andrew:                 When you look at it, Florida goes out and signs the #1 player in the country in Kelly Barnhill. The #2 player in Amanda Lorenz is an outfielder. Let me just throw you her career stats, okay? At the plate. A 592 career hitter. 592, Nick. Pretty good. Had 126 RBIs in her career, 50 doubles, and 39 home runs through four years of high school softball, in just 107 games. 50 doubles in 107 games. That means she’s doubling every other game.

Nick:                         She’s almost getting a hit six out of every 10 at bats.

Andrew:                 Exactly. Then you put that with Kelsey Stewart, who she’s challenging the all-time hits record in the NCAA. She’s 113 hits shy. Now it’s very tough she’ll get that. Last year she only had 101 in her career, but still. You never know. This team is going to make a deep run. They’re going to go that way. When you look at Kelsey Stewart as well, she has the career stolen base record at Florida, the career triple record at Florida, the career hits record at Florida, and is closing in on the career double record at Florida already. This senior class for Florida is really good, and the thing that I got from listening to these girls is they think this freshman class may end up being better than the senior class, because they say they all love and want to be around the game so much.

Nick:                         That’s something they’ve all talked about. It’s one of those things where softball’s important to them. So it’ll be interesting to see how they react. It’s one thing to dominate when you’re in high school, and it’s another thing to come to Florida and right off the bat play a game Friday that’ll probably be a 20-0 snoozer, and then you’ve got #2 Michigan right after that. So it’ll be a quick taste for this freshman class of what playing at Florida is like, but that’s why they come to Florida, because they know they’re going to have great coaches, and they know they’re going to play some of the best competition that they can at the Division I level.

Andrew:                 SEC has nine teams ranked in the top 25 of softball heading into the pre-season. It’s going to be a tough season. Walton doesn’t play any games when he comes to scheduling his out of conference. They go to California during Spring Break. UCLA is on the map. Washington’s on the map, and Nebraska’s on the map. All three teams that made the NCAA tournament last year, and North Carolina State as well. So nothing to snooze about, and then of course you have the SEC schedule that is dynamite as always.

Nick:                         It will be definitely a fun season. I’m looking forward to something a little quirky. I’m looking forward to see what do these girls do? What’s going to be their new thing? Is it the Twizzlers? Is it the lunch pail, clocking in for work? What’s going to be their thing this year?

Andrew:                 Of course you would want to know something dumb like that, Nick. Come on.

Nick:                         It’s fun. That’s fun.

Andrew:                 Come one, man. Don’t forget the sunflowers on the head honoring former Gator bat girl/just kind of been around the team a little bit. That’s something that Florida takes dear to heart, Heather Brazwell. So that’s something you can guarantee to see. The one thing about this is Tim Walton has fun with it, and his team enjoys playing. Now, always enjoy playing when you win, but this team seems to really just enjoy playing the game. Quite frankly, I enjoy watching it. It’s going to be a fun year, and, Nick, I think there’s only one place that’s going to have the best softball coverage.

Nick:                         Probably the place, the only place that has softball coverage, and that’s you. You really are starting off with previews, and really the only person out there covering the softball team.

Andrew:                 It’s easy to cover the winners, but you’re going to do good on baseball. Let’s go to baseball a little bit. Softball is going to do their thing this week. Baseball still has another week, and potential #1 draft pick in the country next year, A.J. Puk. You got to kind of talk with him on Thursday a little bit. This is a question I have for you. Do you kind of sense a pressure on him? What do you kind of get from him? That’s kind of tough knowing that you can either do really good and be #1, or you could F things up and drop.

Nick:                         I think it is something that he’s going to have to deal with all season long, but to me, you kind of have to, it’s going to be hard to do it, but you have to push it out of your mind, because it’s so true. If A.J. Puk shows up and pitches like he did the last month of the season, he’s going to be the #1 overall pick, but if he allows that thought to creep into his head it puts unnecessary pressure on him, and maybe he doesn’t end up pitching that way. Then that’s a million dollar, we’re talking about multimillion dollars between the #1 pick and a later draft pick. So to me, it’s something that he talks with Sully a lot, other players. We asked JJ Schwarz, because JJ will be in the same boat next year. We asked JJ about it, and he said, “Puk doesn’t really talk about it with the players, but it’s something he talks to Sully about a lot,” and I really think it’s something you just kind of need to shut out of your head, because it’s not going to do you any good to think about.

Andrew:                 The main thing for me, and I told you this the other day, I said, “If A.J. Puk is consistent and can show some consistency this year, I don’t mind my Braves taking him at 3.” I doubt he gets there, but I wouldn’t mind him. If the A.J. Puk that scares the crap out of me and has one good inning, two bad innings, that kind of guy, I don’t want him nowhere near Atlanta. That’s going to be the biggest thing for me is how well does he do this year? Is it consistent pitching from him? He has all the tools to do it. I think the biggest thing, and this is one of the reasons he even talked about why he didn’t go to the League right of high school was because he hasn’t had to be consistent really in Iowa. He was able to just overpower everybody. I’m thinking maybe his third year he starts to learn that he has to be, and things get better.

Nick:                         When you think about A.J., or when I think about A.J. Puk this is what I think about, led the team in strike outs with 104 in 78 innings pitched. Also led the team with 35 walks, and was second on the team in wild pitches with 8, only one shy of Dane Dunning’s 9 wild pitches.

Andrew:                 So you just made my point.

Nick:                         Yeah. Part of, and I asked Christian Hicks, who’s a lefty, whenever you ask somebody what makes A.J. Puk difficult, well, he’s 6’8”. He’s 6’9”. Throws 97 miles an hour. He’s got a great changeup. He has a great slider. Then I asked Christian, I said, “What about Puk’s effective wildness we’ll call it?” He said, “Yeah. It doesn’t hurt that in the back of your mind you go up to the plate, and you’re thinking does he know where this 97 mile an hour fastball is going when it leaves his hand? Because I’m not sure he does.” A part of that is being 6’8” and 6’9”. What really helps pitchers be accurate and to be able to paint the corners is having a consistent deliver and a consistent plant. What I mean by that is when your foot comes down it’s coming down in that same spot, and if you put paint on the bottom of his cleat you wouldn’t see eight different cleat marks where his right foot’s landing. You’d see one mark where he’s landing, and it’s a repeatable motion that’s consistent. When you’re 6’8”, and you’ve got these long limbs, it’s hard to do. I think that’s really what has been the biggest thing that he and O’Sullivan have worked on is creating that repeatable delivery.

Andrew:                 I was going to say, before you said what scares lefties. I would be that I couldn’t see the ball. I mean, he hides the ball really well. I’m going to say this comparison, and I don’t mean it as a comparison to who A.J. Puk is, but they used to say the biggest thing that Randy Johnson was was because you couldn’t see the ball. It was like a slingshot, and that’s kind of where it is with Puk right now. You don’t see that ball until it gets right on you, and then it’s 97, and you have no way to react. I think it was you that tweeted the other day, or maybe even told me, something like he is in the 97 range most of spring and fall ball. That’s insane for a 6’7” guy with a lefty delivery that you can’t even see. Give me a break.

Nick:                         He’s been sitting between 93, 94, 95, and he’s touched 98. So we’ll put a picture up for this podcast on the website of an angle of him from the first base side, and you can just see. It’s all arms and legs that are coming at you when you’re standing in the box against him. Definitely not fun for a righty. Certainly not fun for a lefty.

Andrew:                 Nick, I’m sure you had this thought growing up. Growing up you would always face these certain pitchers that were throwing the ball in speeds in excess of everybody else, but it always, this guy’s wild, and you’d get in the batter’s box, and it was like, just please let him throw it down the middle. Don’t let him hit me. That’s what I always picture of the guys that go in there is it’s almost like Little League. It’s like just don’t him me. Just give me a chance to hit the ball.

Nick:                         Then when you look at Puk the pitching mound is 60 foot 6 inches, but he’s so tall, by the time he’s releasing a ball his mounds like 50 feet away.

Andrew:                 They had that, I’ve seen different things about that with Atlanta with the Braves. Jason Grilli and a couple other guys, Jordan Walden is one of the biggest ones. He would kind of jump off the mound, and I remember seeing a graphic of it. Something like 52 inches when he released the ball from the plate, and he was throwing 98, 99. That’s insane.

Nick:                         It really is.

Andrew:                 But the thing for me though is this. What makes Puk so difficult in my opinion might not even be Puk. It might be that Florida surrounds him with guys that are totally different than him. A guy like Logan Shore, Logan Shore is throwing the ball hard, but he’s got that nasty breaking ball, and he’s from the right side.

Nick:                         Really I don’t think Florida has a guy that’s going to throw less than 91 this year, and if they have a guy that’s only throwing 90 it’s Kirby Snead, who’s throwing from a very low sidearm angle. They’ve dropped Rubio down to a very low, almost 90 degree angle. He’s throwing about 92 from that angle.

Andrew:                 Got the president pitching now?

Nick:                         No. This is Frank Rubio, esteemed St. Thomas Aquinas Raider, proud alum of my high school as well. So I always root for Frank.

Andrew:                 I didn’t know if the potential president of the United States was coming out to throw for us now. Who knew?

Nick:                         No. That’s not it. Another thing that helps Puk, it helps the entire pitching staff, is Florida had a .984 fielding percentage last year. That was top five in program history, and it’s something that they’re trying to replicate again. You’re losing Josh Tobias, who went 55 games at third base without an error. I’ll repeat that. A third baseman went 55 games without an error. He made an error the last weekend of the season, and O’Sullivan said it’s because the guys in the dugout started talking about it the last game of the season. So that’s nuts.

Andrew:                 You never talk about an error streak. You never talk about the no-no. You never talk about the perfect game. You see people talk about it all the time, and they’re like, why does it matter? Baseball’s a very superstitious game.

Nick:                         Yeah. Josh Tobias had 114 assists last year. So that’s 114. He was well past 100 consecutive plays made, attempts, without making an error before he finally made one. So Florida has him to replace. You have Richie Martin to replace. You have Harrison Bader to replace as far as defensive wise, but in the outfield Buddy Reed covers everything. Buddy Reed covers whatever water doesn’t cover. You’re going to look at some freshmen. At third base you’re looking at Jonathan India and Christian Hicks at third to replace Tobias. If I’m that third baseman, first ball that’s hit to me I’m booting it. I’m kicking it. I’m just saying, listen guys, this is going to happen. I’m going to do my best so that it doesn’t happen a lot, but I’m going to have the kind of season that Tobias had. We’re going to boot a play. Let me get it out of the way.

Andrew:                 Let’s run through this real quick. Let’s run through the starting lineup as far as position wise goes. Give me your opening day left to right.

Nick:                         Okay. Left to right. This is offensive line?

Andrew:                 I mean left field, center field, right field.

Nick:                         I’m going to run you through it. We’ll start with pitching. Friday night’s going to be Logan Shore. Your Friday night catcher is going to be Mike Rivera. Anytime Logan Shore is on the mound Rivera will be catching him. You go over to first base, there’s going to be Pete Alonzo. Second base I think there’s a real good possibility that Deacon Liput, who’s a freshman, will be the starter there at second, with Dalton Guthrie, who started every game but one last year at second base, sliding over to short to fill in for Richie. Guthris is nails. He is tough as nails. Didn’t miss a game until he got hit in the hand last year during the SEC championship game, or during the SEC tournament. I expect there to be no drop off at shortstop defensively with him there. He’ll lead off again as well. Then at third you got to look at Hicks. Hicks is a great defender, also another freshman in India.

The outfield to me, with Sharpie, not even penciling it in, Sharpie. Buddy Reed is there. To me, I think it’s going to be Ryan Larson in left field. Left field’s the way that the Mack is split. You’re in the sun. So the sun sets behind the press box, behind the first base line, and that means left field sun’s in your eyes. Ryan Larson, after Buddy Reed, is your best defensive outfielder. I think you put him in left, and then you put Jeremy Vasquez in right field. He needs to work on his defense, on his routes, but you can’t keep that bat out of the lineup.

Andrew:                 That’s a good point. That’s a good point for sure. Buddy Reed, a good centerfielder though makes Jeremy Vasquez and Ryan Larson’s game so much easier.

Nick:                         Yeah. Listen, Ryan Larson’s a great defensive outfielder. So what you do is we have two great defensive outfielders, one that’s not great, but we want his bat in the lineup. We’ll just shade over. We’re confident that Buddy shades over to right, that he can cover that left center gap, that he and Larson can cover it. No problems with Larson. You tell Larson, cover the line a little bit tighter. Don’t worry about anything to your right. That’s Buddy’s territory. Just focus on hitting the ball. Then when you look at this lineup, Dalton Guthrie led off the entire year as a freshman. You keep him there. Move Buddy Reed into that two spot, and that might be the easiest spot to hit in the country, because right behind you is JJ Schwarz. Talk about protection in a lineup when JJ Schwarz is hitting behind you, and then you put Pete Alonzo behind him. That’s a lot of power and a very solid one through four. Jeremy Vasquez probably slides in at five after that. That’s a very powerful lineup with great speed in Guthrie and Reed at the top.

Andrew:                 Reed a potential top 10 pick as well in the draft. So good luck getting around this lineup. Nick, to put the Tobias thing in kind of in light a little bit. Nick Markakis set the record in the MLB last year. Guess how many games he went without making an error?

Nick:                         30.

Andrew:                 398.

Nick:                         398 games without an error.

Andrew:                 That is correct. It was ended on a ball that was hit, and he bobbled it up his arm in Atlanta against Colorado, I believe, last year.

Nick:                         He set a record.

Andrew:                 Yes.

Nick:                         I thought you just said he had the most last year.

Andrew:                 No. He set the record. 398, I believe it was over a three year period I believe is what it was. So kind of crazy.

Nick:                         Yeah. Well he’s a two time Gold Glove winner?

Andrew:                 Three time Gold Glove winner.

Nick:                         Three time Gold Glove winner. So maybe that’s part of the reason.

Andrew:                 Maybe it is. So we’ll see. Nick, real quick. I just want to run through the schedule real quick with you here. That Miami weekend, give the listeners real quick usual Miami team this year?

Nick:                         Very good Miami team this year. They will be, I think Miami was slightly down, not down, they were young last year. So you’re getting a very good Miami team. I think to me I would expect Florida to handle Florida Gulf Coast this weekend. Before that Miami game you’re going to get two against Eastern Michigan. Those guys are shoveling snow off the baseball field right now. So they’re behind.

Andrew:                 They should be strong.

Nick:                         They should be strong. I don’t know how many baseballs they’ve been hitting sitting indoors with snow.

Andrew:                 UCF, how are they this year?

Nick:                         UCF is very good, very strong again. To me it is right there is kind of the welcome for the freshman class. It’s kind of like, we’re going to down to Orlando, probably stop in Orlando on Monday when you’re driving back from Miami, and just stay the night, but that game against UCF, I was there last year, and it was a crazy environment. Almost kind of like a football environment at the game.

Andrew:                 You had to sit outside.

Nick:                         Yeah. They added new seats. They set an attendance record for a baseball game at UCF last year. UCF came away with a win. So I think right there there’s a five game stretch where you’re really looking and saying, this is what it’s going to be like. This is the kind of intensity that you should expect once SEC play starts. Then after that you get your three game set against Dartmouth where JJ might hit eight home runs like he did in a week last year. Two games against UNF and Harvard before Florida State and the SEC schedule. Then the SEC schedule is just stacked. Kentucky has a pitching staff that has a Sunday guy who was drafted in the second round and chose to come back for his senior year. So that’s the kind of depth that you’re talking about.

Missouri, that’s a very good team. Florida State twice. Texas A&M has one of the better teams in the SEC. Mississippi State. You have to go to Arkansas. That’s a tough trip to make. Georgia. At South Carolina. South Carolina just built a brand new baseball stadium. Tennessee should be alright. Vanderbilt’s one of the best teams in the league, and a College World Series team. LSU one of the best teams in the league, a College World Series team. I think Florida plays four of the eight teams that were in the College World Series, and they were also in it. So five of the eight teams, including them. It’s a tough schedule. It’s what Sully likes.

Andrew:                 Exactly. That’s what I was going to ask you. Who do you expect it to be? For me looking at it I think it’s Florida or LSU, maybe Kentucky in the mix for that SEC championship. Give us a quick prediction of how you think it’ll come out.

Nick:                         I think it’s Florida, LSU. I think when you look at the East, the East is tough, but I think it’s Florida and LSU, and really going to come down to that last weekend of the season. I said it to you. We were watching LSU practice in the fall when we were there for the football game, and I said, May 19th, 20, and 21st. I said the 21st might decide who wins the SEC regular season, and then right after that you’re going to Hoover for the SEC tournament.

Andrew:                 Quick for softball. It’s kind of going to be, I think Florida’s by far the best team in the SEC, and then after that I think it’s kind of a logjam there. LSU is returning a good team. Auburn has a really good team, coached by former Arizona State coach there. Then Alabama and Tennessee are both really good teams as well. Tennessee returns a good team that beat Florida in the SEC tournament last year. So it’s stacked up top for softball as well. We’ll see kind of where things go. Good news for Florida, they get Alabama in Gainesville this year. So that should be fun. I’m excited to see what the little new national championship deal is going to be out there.

Nick:                         That’ll be interesting to see what they do. I’m sure it’ll look great though. Just knowing that coaching staff and what they do, I’m sure they will put something nice out there for the girls.

Andrew:                 They should. Nick, let’s get out of here. We’ll see everybody on Tuesday when we recap this weekend of basketball, again at home against Alabama on Saturday, softball, gymnastics has Arkansas coming to town, and I think that’s about it. Am I leaving anything out?

Nick:                         No. Arkansas comes into town. Softball gets kicked off out in Tampa, and baseball in a week.

Andrew:                 Women’s basketball.

Nick:                         Women’s basketball, you’re listening to this on Friday. They will play as we tape on Thursday up at #1, South Carolina?

Andrew:                 #2, South Carolina. #16 in the country. Good team for Amanda Butler. They’re doing really well. That’s it. Quick shout out to everybody that’s listening to this and everything. We appreciate you guys. Seeing a lot of you guys jump on our membership at GatorCountry.com. If you’re interested in hopping on, shoot me a message, or shoot Nick a message. One of us will get you hooked up with the good deal to get on Gator Country. It’s a great time to join. Nick’s covering baseball. Football still going. Recruiting and softball are going really well, and baseball. So don’t be left behind. Join your friends on Gator County.

Nick:                         Tweet us #GCPodcast if you’re interested in joining, and maybe Andrew can work out a little discount for you. As always, there’s really nobody else that’s going to be covering softball and baseball. Kind of a shame seeing as how good those two teams will be, and they are certainly deserving of your support. So @NickdelaTorreGC, the gif game will be strong all baseball season long. We’re going to see if Andrew can start throwing some gifs out for softball as well.

Andrew:                 Do you have any ideas for me? I’m trying to find a home run one. If anybody’s got a good one that they come up with, I’m looking for it. I’ll give you a shout out if you can help me find a good one.

Nick:                         You’ll find those, and you can send your tips to @AndrewSpiveyGC on Twitter. Follow us on Instagram. It’s TheGatorCountry. Also follow us on Facebook where everything else goes. Thursday, or Friday night, Andrew is excited. His game gets underway. Florida’s 56 game baseball schedule in a week. That’s all I got.

Andrew:                 That’s all you got, for sure. Butch and Mark, your teams aren’t very good down there in softball, and the Gators are coming to get you in baseball Mr. Mark Richt. So as always, chomp, chomp, and go Braves. Spring training’s on the way.

Nick:                         You stay classy, Gator Country.

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