The Florida Gators baseball team is just 42 days away from opening their 2023 season with a three-game series against Charleston Southern on February 17th.
Kevin O’Sullivan’s club has disappointed in postseason play over the last few years, failing to make a Super Regional since 2018.
The talent and depth on this year’s roster isn’t going unnoticed as the Gators enter the season ranked #2 in Collegiate Baseball’s 2023 D1 preseason baseball rankings.
As the season rapidly approaches, Gator Country provides you our mailbag, answering all your Florida Gator baseball questions.
LongdawgUF: Pitching depth: It looks like we are going to have two quality starters so it appears Friday and Saturday are set with Sprout and Waldrep. Who are the names we could see on Sunday? How do we sit in the pen? Do we have some young arms that could handle the shut down innings where we struggled last year? Do we have some depth?
Lineup: Langford is going to get pitched around A LOT so I assume he will hit in front of Caglianone (probably the players I am most excited about this year looks like a potential absolute stud). Halter is primed to have a good season and Riopelle is back, but outside of that it seems to be uncertain. How does the rest of the line up look to be shaping up? Do we have any position battles that could be interesting early in the season? Is there anyone we are looking at with the “have to get that bat in the lineup so they will play somewhere”, kind of discussions?
NM: The Sunday starter could come down to either Pierce Coppola, Jac Caglianone, or Brandon Neely. Neely is the most experienced as he made 10 starts as a true freshman last season, posting a 3.76 ERA and a .205 batting average against. Coppola and Caglianone offer the most upside out of the three. I’m leaning towards Coppola as the Sunday starter as long as he’s progressed nicely from his season ending injury he suffered early in the 2022 season.
The depth in the bullpen this year is the best it’s been for a few seasons. Ryan Slater, Blake Purnell, and Nick Ficarrotta pitched a combined 167 ⅔ innings in 2022 and are back for another season. Tyler Nesbitt is back and fully healthy. You will see 2 of the 3 potential Sunday starters in the bullpen on the weekends. The Gators will be looking to Phillip Abner, Anthony Ursitti, and Fisher Jameson to step up and eat serious innings this season. Florida could lean on several talented freshmen for pitching depth as well.
I’ll post my projected starting lineup later in the week, but I predict Coach Sullivan will shuffle the lineup early and often to start the season. There’s a lot of players on this team that can hit and hit for power. If you can hit the baseball, the coach will find somewhere for you to play. The catcher situation will be one of the more interesting storylines to start the season. Florida has three catchers that could start at most major programs. BT Riopelle isn’t going to be removed from the lineup, but he isn’t the best defensive catcher on the roster. Sophomore Rene Lastres likely has the most power on the team and incoming Freshman Luke Heyman is the team’s best defensive catcher but is unproven at the plate. I predict you will see a lot of Riopelle at 1st base or DH and Lastres and Heyman rotating at catcher.
The last outfield spot will be a position battle to watch. Wyatt Langford and Ty Evans have their spots virtually locked down, but the last one is up in the air. If I had to pick one right now, I would go with Matt Prevesk because it will be hard to keep his bat out of the lineup, but you could see Tucker Talbott or Michael Robertson out there as well.
1st base is another open competition. Sante Fe product Tyler Shelnut has impressed since joining the Gators and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the field in some capacity. Jac Caglianone is another candidate at 1st base as well as BT Riopelle, and freshman Yoel Tejeda.
I would not be concerned about the Gators lineup as things will shape up as the season progresses, but Coach Sullivan will have some difficult decisions to make this season.
WESGATORS: How’s Fabian doing?
NM: Deric Fabian is one of the better defensive players on the team, but he will need to be able to hit SEC pitching in order to stay in the lineup. There are too many good hitters on this roster to keep off the field. He’ll compete for a spot on the infield, but he’s not guaranteed a starting role.
Southgator: What’s your prediction for the weekend rotation?
NM: Friday: Hurston Waldrep
Saturday: Brandon Sproat
Sunday: Pierce Coppola
Other options for Sunday are Brandon Neely and Jac Caglianone.
Ecogator: Has all of the rumored “division in the clubhouse” finally come to an end now that we are two years removed from the alleged controversy? Is this team, and this coaching staff, ready to focus on the task at hand and leave all of that behind? The last third of last season gave me hope that we were back on track to playing Gator baseball and that the team was cohesive again in their efforts to get back to Omaha.
NM: I was not covering the baseball team when the rumored “division in the clubhouse” stories came out, but I do remember them. I also remember Florida rallying at the end of that season to host a regional when it looked like it was nearly impossible. At one point Florida was on the verge of not making the tournament at all, and they finished the regular season as one of the top 16 teams in the country. Consistency at the plate and depth in the bullpen has been Florida’s downfall the last few seasons.
This is a tight knit group from what I’ve seen so far.
82Gator: How is Coppola’s rehab progressing?
NM: This is a great question that I don’t know the answer to. This will be one of my first questions when media availability opens up in the next few weeks.
Bear1974: One key is identifying a reliable closer from all the pitchers in this roster. There should be someone to find this season.
NM: I like Jac Caglianone at closer this season if he doesn’t crack the weekend rotation. Ryan Slater, Philip Abner, and Yoel Tejeda are other names to watch.
CandymanfromGC: Do you have Someone in mind who could have a breakout year?
NM: My breakout player of the year is Josh Rivera. He’s been inconsistent at the plate and on defense throughout his first three seasons at UF. Rivera has all the tools to be successful at the next level, he just needs to show more consistency.
I also like Colby Halter to have a much better 2023 season. He’s coming off a really good summer and has shown the ability to hit for a high average and lock down 3rd base defensively.
Gatorntuscaloosa: Will Sully max out the value of the talent he always signs this season ?
NM: Kevin O’Sullivan is one of the best coaches in college baseball. He develops talent.
Ursidman: Will there be a hard-nosed scrappy type personality that will lead the club through effort and toughness? a ‘la Jacob Young?
NM: It appears that Josh Rivera has taken a step forward as a leader during the offseason. Rivera was very vocal in the scrimmages I attended.
GatorLegend: Of the incoming transfers, who is most likely to win a starting role in the infield or outfield.
NM: Coastal Carolina infielder Dale Thomas has a good chance to start at 2nd base for the Gators. Sante Fe product Tyler Shelnut could find himself in the lineup at 1st base.
The Florida Gators have the most depth at the plate and in the bullpen since 2018. It’s bound to be an exciting season in Gainesville.