The Gators have had at least six players taken in the MLB Draft in 10 of the 12 drafts since coach Kevin O’Sullivan took over the program, and they have a good chance to continue that streak over the next few days.
The 2021 MLB Draft will only be 20 rounds long instead of the usual 40 as MLB battles through some financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. Additionally, the draft is being held in conjunction with MLB’s All-Star Game in Denver rather than in the middle of the college postseason, as has been done previously.
Round one is Sunday at 7 on ESPN and MLB Network. Rounds 2-10 will be held starting Monday at 1, while the final 10 rounds will be staged on Tuesday at noon. The final two days of the draft will be broadcast on MLB.com.
Here is a breakdown of the eight current UF players who could realistically get drafted as well as a look at how the draft might affect the Gators’ No. 1-ranked recruiting class.
Center Fielder Jud Fabian
Unlike most of O’Sullivan’s teams, an offensive player headlines this year’s draft class.
Fabian entered the 2021 season as a unanimous preseason first team All-American and was regarded as perhaps the top college position player available in the draft. He didn’t quite live up to that hype but is still expected to be selected late in the first round or early in the second round.
If he indeed is drafted early, it will be more because of his future potential than his college production, as he’s just a .249 career hitter at Florida.
He was the definition of a boom-or-bust batter. He ranked second in the SEC with 20 home runs in 2021. However, he also struck out in 29.4 percent of his plate appearances, and that greatly diminished the impact he was able to make.
Fabian is a premier defensive center fielder, though he did make some uncharacteristic mistakes last season.
The club that drafts him will be gambling that his contact improves and his power holds steady once he switches to a wooden bat.
Projection: Late first round
Left Fielder Jacob Young
While Fabian is the only position player certain to be drafted, there are three players that are likely on the bubble of signing professionally or returning to campus.
Young is the polar opposite of Fabian. He’s not the biggest, fastest, strongest or flashiest player, and he’s only hit eight career homers. And yet, he’s always found a way to produce and be one of the best players on the field.
He’s a career .330 hitter, and he’s an elite defender, with seven assists last season. He ended the year on a power uptick, with two homers in the SEC Tournament.
Young could face a difficult decision. He’ll likely get drafted this year, and his ceiling is somewhat limited because he doesn’t possess the measurables that scouts look for. However, if he comes back, he’ll slide over to center field in 2022, which is a much more valuable defensive position. If he plays well in center and increases his power output a little bit, he could go a little higher next year.
Projection: Rounds 10-15
First Baseman/Designated Hitter Kris Armstrong
Armstrong is the most powerful hitter on the Gators’ roster. He routinely launched balls out of the stadium during batting practice without even appearing to put his full effort into it. That translated into games, as he cranked eight dingers in 142 at bats.
Like Fabian, however, strikeouts were a major issue for him. He struck out 27.2 percent of the time.
He also struggled defensively to start the year and lost his starting job. He finished the season as the primary option at DH.
So, if he gets drafted, it will be purely because he can make baseballs fly a long way. Is his prodigious power enough to get him drafted?
Projection: Rounds 15-20
Infielder/Catcher Nathan Hickey
Hickey, a second-year freshman, was arguably UF’s best overall hitter last season. He hit .317 with nine homers and 50 RBI.
What’s going to kill him, though, is his defense. He opened the season as the starting catcher, but he only threw out two of 39 base stealers and committed six errors. O’Sullivan replaced him with Mac Guscette during the postseason, and Hickey started the final five games at third base.
Will an MLB club take a chance on a player who doesn’t have a defensive position or possess eye-popping offensive stats?
Hickey would probably be better off proving himself at a corner infield spot and hoping to go higher next year. He still has two draft-leverage seasons left, so there’s no need to rush into pro ball.
Projection: Undrafted, returns to UF
Mace’s best attribute is his bulldog mentality. No matter how poorly a game might’ve started for him, you could always count on him battling through it and giving the Gators a chance to win.
However, his stuff isn’t elite, and he got hit pretty hard at times in SEC play. He finished the year with a 4.38 earned run average and .256 batting average against.
He does have some room left to develop further, and his fierce competitiveness will make him attractive to somebody.
Projection: Second round
If you can figure if Leftwich is good or not, you should let somebody in an MLB front office know. They might have a job for you.
When he had command of all three of his pitches and was in the proper frame of mind, he was the best pitcher on the team and one of the best in the country. When he was off his game, he didn’t even look like he belonged at the Division 2 level.
O’Sullivan moved him to the bullpen one week into conference play, and he had some nice moments in that roll.
Mental toughness is a major concern with him. When something bad happened, he frequently got rattled and let things spiral way out of control, such as when he walked the only two batters he faced on eight pitches in a game at Tennessee.
MLB teams will have to decide whether they view him as a starter or a reliever long term. If they plan to start him, he’ll go in the top-10 rounds.
Projection: Rounds 5-10
Is there any player on the team who symbolized the 2021 season more than Aleman?
His UF career started off disastrously, with six walks and a blown save in game two against Miami. It ended just as horribly with seven earned runs on seven hits against South Alabama in the NCAA Tournament. In between, he did some nice things.
Aleman possesses a mid-90s fastball and a slider than can be lethal when he gets enough depth on it. Unfortunately, he didn’t command either pitch well consistently. He’d often pitch exceptionally well for five innings before absolutely losing it in the sixth. The result was a 5.74 ERA and his becoming the primary target for fans’ frustrations.
Still, he can do things that you simply can’t teach, which means he could go higher than you think.
Projection: Rounds 10-15
He’s been the most reliable pitcher on the team for most of his career. He finished 2021 with a 3.06 ERA and a .230 average against.
He features a mid-90s heater and a slider that can be lethal. His biggest issue is that he tends to hang too many sliders that result in home runs at the worse times possible.
He also didn’t start any games the past two years, and relievers usually don’t get drafted that high. Regardless, his college production will be enough to earn him a spot in professional baseball.
Projection: Rounds 15-20
UF’s Remaining Draft-Eligible Players
INF Nick Blasucci
1B/OF Kendrick Calilao
C Cal Greenfield
RHP David Luethje
RHP Hunter McMullen
3B Kirby McMullen
RHP Garrett Milchin
RHP Nick Pogue
LHP Trey Van Der Weide
UF Commits (according to Perfect Game)
RHP Chase Petty (Mainland Regional High School, Somers Point, New Jersey)
RHP Andrew Painter (Calvary Christian Academy, Pompano Beach, Florida)
OF Jay Allen (John Carroll Catholic High School, Fort Pierce, Florida)
C Rene Lastres (Calvary Christian Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Florida)
LHP Jac Caglianone (Plant High School, Tampa, Florida)
LHP Pierce Coppola (Verona High School, Verona, Florida)
LHP Philip Abner (Charlotte Christian School, Charlotte, North Carolina)
OF Ty Evans (Lakeland Christian School, Auburndale, Florida)
SS Jake Fox (Lakeland Christian School, Plant City, Florida)
RHP Brandon Neely (Spruce Creek High School, Seville, Florida)
OF Michael Robertson (Venice High School, Venice, Florida)
OF Corey Robinson (Spruce Creek High School, Port Orange, Florida)
SS Deric Fabian (North Marion High School, Ocala, Florida)
RHP Fisher Jameson (Park Vista Community High School, Lake Worth, Florida)
RHP Anthony Ursitti (Canterbury High School, Fort Myers, Florida)
RHP Kyle Larsen (TNXL Academy, Sanford, Florida)
RHP Karl Hartman (Rockledge High School, Merritt Island, Florida)
OF Matthew Prevesk (Apopka High School, Apopka, Florida)
SS Jorge De Goti (Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, Miami, Florida)
RHP Samuel Sloan (Lakeland High School, Bartow, Florida)
LHP Carsten Finnvold (American Heritage High School, Boca Raton, Florida)
O’Sullivan signed a larger than usual class this cycle. It’s a good thing he did because the top of this class could be completely wiped out by the draft.
You can forget about Painter or Petty being Gators. Both are projected first-round picks, and Petty’s fastball has been clocked at 100 miles per hour on several occasions.
Allen, a highly athletic outfielder with the potential to be a terrific power hitter, will likely go in the second round, which makes his enrollment at UF unlikely.
Then there are eight guys who could go either way depending on how much money they’re looking for in a signing bonus. Caglianone, who went to the same high school as Gator Greats Pete Alonso and Preston Tucker, consistently hits the mid-90s with his fastball from the left side, though he recently underwent Tommy John surgery, which could cause him to come to school.
Coppola should give you A.J. Puk vibes. He’s from the North, he’s 6-foot-8, and he should be able to consistently hit the mid-90s as he gets into a college or professional weight room.
Abner is from the same high school as Jackson Kowar, and, like Kowar, he’s known for his fastball-changeup combination. He would be a draft-eligible sophomore if he comes to college, so that could play a factor in his decision.
Neely is one of the top high school arms in the state, though his fastball is usually in the upper-80s or lower-90s. He also features a slider and a developing changeup. Command is a concern with him, which could cause him to make it to campus.
Hartman typically throws in the low-90s now, but scouts believe that will tick upward over the next few years. He also needs to work on his changeup.
Fox is a left-handed-hitting shortstop who could be a serious power threat at the next level. His offensive game is ahead of his defense, which means he might be moved to second base in college or the minor leagues. Perfect Game compared him to current UF infielder Colby Halter. If he comes to UF, there’s a good chance that he’s starting at second base next season.
Lastres is a defense-first catcher, a welcomed-sight for Gators fans given the struggles at the position in recent years. He likely wouldn’t beat out Mac Guscette as a freshman but could be a factor down the road.
Robertson bats from the left side and is one of the fastest prospects in the country, making him a potential stalwart at the top of the Gators’ order. He is ranked among Perfect Game’s top-100 prospects, though, which will make this dicey.
If O’Sullivan can get four or five of those eight on-the-fence players to come to school, he should consider that a success.
Everybody else that has signed with the Gators is expected to come to college.