Could the freshmen surge be the spark Florida baseball needed?

Florida baseball has been searching for players to step up all season, particularly regarding the bottom of the order and the pitching staff. A trio of freshmen in outfielder Hayden Yost, LHP Frank Menendez, and RHP Jake Clemente have provided quality appearances throughout recent weeks after finding minimal playing time early in the year.

OF Hayden Yost

Yost, a 6’1 outfielder from Tampa, Florida, is 9-15 (.600) at the plate in his last five games, posting an on base percentage of .700 in that span. Yost has scored a run in each of those contests while scoring three in Florida’s midweek win over FAU.

Not only has Yost shown the ability to reach base, but his speed allows Florida to be more aggressive on the base paths. Yost has recorded a stolen base in each of his last three games and is 4-5 on the season.

That speed is also evident defensively. Yost, a natural center fielder, covers a lot of ground in the outfield, highlighted by several diving plays as of late.

Yost has mostly seen the field as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement, but with his recent surge it’s expected that the true freshman will remain in the lineup. Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan stated that the next step for Yost is hitting left-handed pitching.

“Hayden, in all fairness to him, he hasn’t had a tremendous amount of opportunities the first half of the year but now he’s making the most of them and he’s a good player,” O’Sullivan said on Yost. “He’s had a great couple weeks.”

Yost is providing Florida will production at the bottom of the order, speed on the bases, and elite defensive play in left field, all areas the Gators have struggled in this season.

LHP Frank Menendez

After tossing just 3.1 innings in Florida’s first 24 games, true freshmen Frank Menendez has allowed just two runs and six hits in 8.1 innings pitched since April 16th. Menendez provides swing and miss stuff, striking out 12 batters in 11.2 innings pitched this season and nine strikeouts in his last 8.1 innings. While the 6’1 left hander struggled with command earlier in the season, he’s walked just two batters in his last 6.2 innings pitched (five appearances).

“You’re starting to see Frank Menendez figure some things out and be able to hold it together and give us a valuable option left-handed wise,” O’Sullivan said on Menendez.

Menendez brings a mid-90’s fastball and a breaking ball that he has been able to throw for strikes as of late. Having a hard throwing lefty in your bullpen can be very valuable for any team, but especially with where Florida’s pitching staff is at this late in the season.

RHP Jake Clemente

Redshirt freshman Jake Clemente missed all of the 2023 season with an injury, so he’s seeing the field for the first time in his collegiate career.

In Clemente’s first three appearances of 2024 he allowed five earned runs across three innings. After a month of no outings, the hard throwing right hander has pitched 5.2 innings of no earned run ball, striking out nine while walking three in the last 15 days.

Clemente was critical in Florida’s midweek win over FAU on Tuesday night, tossing 1.2 scoreless innings while allowing just one hit and one walk.

“I thought Jake Clemente came in and threw the ball extremely well again, so hopefully he’s going to be able to help us down the stretch here,” O’Sullivan said on Clemente.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas product primary uses a two-pitch mix, a fastball that sits 96-97 MPH and a put away slider. If he’s able to locate both for strikes, he can be highly effective against top competition. Clemente’s fastball comes in faster than 96-97 due to his extended reach and spin rate, which causes the ball to rise to the top of the zone, making it very difficult to hit.

In 2023, Florida relied heavily on true freshmen as Luke Heyman and Cade Kurland combined for 29 home runs and each posted a batting average at or above .297. Cade Fisher also provided the Gators with 49.1 innings a year ago, posting a 3.10 ERA as a true freshman.

We haven’t seen that kind of production from the freshmen in 2024, but Yost, Menendez, and Clemente are starting to come around as Florida approaches the end of their regular season.

“You just don’t know when the light is going to go on for freshmen,” O’Sullivan said on his younger guys turning the corner.

The Gators are set to take on No.3 Tennessee in Gainesville starting on Thursday, May 2nd.

Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.