With just over two weeks before the Gators will host Maryland to kickoff the 2014 baseball season, Kevin O’Sullivan’s roster is coming together — slowly.
You see, after a 29-30 finish in 2013 the Gators were rejuvenated by a monster recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the country. The injection of young, talented players on the roster created a competitive atmosphere in the fall that has carried over into the spring semester.
Position battles rage on at the corner infield positions and in the rotation but the one that we’re focusing on today is in the outfield.
In the outfield, Harrison Bader (who led the team in batting as a freshman) projects to start in center field with Justin Shafer in right field as well as competing for the role of closer. That leaves a gap in left field.
It’s a void that freshmen Ryan Larson and Buddy Reed are trying to fill.
Larson is a 6-0, 185-pound righty from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. Larson was ranked the No. 11 outfielder in the state of Florida as a senior by Perfect Game and named to the preseason All-Region team. He’s a speedy outfielder who can handle the bat well and field his position. His style of play has stood out to O’Sullivan.
“He’s just a baseball player, he’s a grinder, and he gives you good at-bats,” O’Sullivan said. “He can handle the bat, he can move the ball around the field, he can drag and push, he’s a smart base runner, and he’s a tough kid. I really, really like him.”
Larson is competing with a fellow freshman in Buddy Reed. Reed is a 6-3, 200-pound slugger from Maryland. He was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 35th round of the Rule 5 Amateur Draft before electing to attend Florida rather than go pro.
Reed is an all-around athlete. He lettered nine times in high school including baseball, soccer and hockey.
Reed is a switch hitter who has all five tools (speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power and fielding) and has improved since arriving on campus. He suffered a broken thumb in the fall, an injury that set back his development slightly, but he is healthy now and ready to compete in the spring.
“He’s 6-4 and he’s got every tool the pro scouts look for. He’s just continued to improve and improve and improve and I think our fans are going to be really, really pleased with him,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got a chance to be a superstar at this level. Obviously he’s from the northeast and there’s been a learning curve for him. He broke his thumb in the fall, which kind of set him back a little bit.”
O’Sullivan couldn’t hold back his excitement while talking about Reed and maybe inadvertently placed lofty expectations on Reed’s shoulders.
“He’s one of the hardest workers we have and I think he’s got as high a ceiling as any position player that we’ve been able to bring in,” O’Sullivan said of Reed. “He’s got a bright, bright future.”