The deadline for college and high school baseball players to sign with MLB clubs was on Sunday. Now that it has passed, we have a much clearer view of what the 2022 Gators might look like.
Overall, the draft couldn’t have gone much better for the Gators. Center fielder Jud Fabian unexpectedly decided to return for his junior year, and they only lost five of their 21 high school signees to professional baseball.
Of course, this roster is still subject to change. There will likely be more changes between now and February. With that in mind, here is a preliminary look at the 2022 Gators baseball team.
Returning: Jud Fabian, Tucker Talbott, Sterlin Thompson
Departing: Brock Edge, Jacob Young
Incoming: Ty Evans, Matthew Prevesk, Michael Robertson, Corey Robinson
Losing Young, who was taken in the seventh round by the Washington Nationals, is a huge blow. He was a career .330 hitter, a terrific defender in left field and a threat on the basepaths. He was as dependable as they come; you never had to worry about losing a game because of Young.
But the loss of Young is canceled out by the unexpected return of Fabian, who turned down seven-figures after the Boston Red Sox selected him early in the second round.
The 2022 outfield could be one of Kevin O’Sullivan’s best defensively. Fabian is a vacuum that sucks up pretty much every ball with more than two seconds of hang time from gap to gap. He also has a terrific arm that most teams aren’t even willing to challenge.
Thompson has a cannon in right field, and he should have a better feel for the position after playing in the infield in high school.
Robertson is the favorite to start in left field. He was one of the fastest high school players in the country, and he would likely start in center for most teams.
The group also has a very high ceiling offensively. Fabian slugged 20 home runs but also struck out 29.4 percent of the time, which led to a lackluster .249 batting average. If he can cut down the strikeouts and get his average to the .270-.280 range, he’ll be one of the best players in the country.
Thompson hit over .300 as a freshman, and he started to find his power stroke from the left side down the stretch. He should hit in the middle of the order.
Robertson doesn’t have much power yet, though that could come as he gets into UF’s strength program. He does a nice job of spraying the ball around and using his elite speed to his advantage. He could bat leadoff as a freshman. He’s sort of like a left-handed hitting version of Young.
Returning: Kris Armstrong, Kendrick Calilao, Cal Greenfield, Mac Guscette, Colby Halter, Wyatt Langford, Josh Rivera
Departing: Cory Acton, Nick Blasucci, Jordan Butler, Jordan Carrion, Nathan Hickey, Kirby McMullen
Incoming: Jorge De Goti, Deric Fabian, Rene Lastres, BT Riopelle
This offseason has a weird feel to it for the infield. Rivera’s the only one who is all but guaranteed to start at a specific position, with the other four spots up for grabs. But at the same time, they have some strong veterans to choose from in Armstrong, Calilao, Halter and Guscette.
Rivera played much better over the final month or so of the season after a really rough start to the year for him on both sides. With Carrion transferring to Florida State, he’ll start at shortstop. The Gators would like to see his fielding continue to improve and for him to become a middle-of-the-order bat.
Halter and Deric Fabian, Jud’s brother, figure to start at second and third; it’s just a matter of deciding who plays which position. Halter is a more natural third baseman than second baseman, and he made some outstanding plays with his glove at third last season. Fabian is considered a work in progress on defense, which could make second base a better position for him.
First base features a battle between Armstrong and Calilao. Armstrong can hit the ball a million miles, but making contact often enough for it to matter is the issue for him. He’s also a below-average defensive first baseman, which makes him better suited as the designated hitter. All Calilao does is deliver clutch hit after clutch hit, but he hasn’t been able to earn consistent playing time the last two years. He’ll also play in the outfield on occasion.
Guscette is the incumbent starter behind the plate, and he hit just below .300 and threw out five of 14 base-stealers. He’ll battle Riopelle this offseason. Riopelle, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, threw out 50 percent of base-stealers and hit eight home runs from the left side in 2021.
The wildcard in the infield is Langford. He can play catcher, first base or third base. He hit .345 with three home runs, two triples, eight doubles, 20 RBI and six stolen bases over the summer with the Charlottesville Tom Sox of the Valley Baseball League. Obviously, you’d love to have that kind of production in your lineup, but you’d have to take out Halter, Deric Fabian, Calilao or Armstrong to make it happen.
Returning: Hunter Barco, Nick Ficarrotta, David Luethje, Timmy Manning, Hunter McMullen, Garrett Milchin, Tyler Nesbitt, Blake Purnell, Nick Pogue, Ryan Slater, Brandon Sproat
Departing: Franco Aleman, Ryan Cabarcas, Chase Centala, Jack Leftwich, Tommy Mace, Hunter Mink, Andrew Roberts, Christian Scott, Ben Specht, Trey Van Der Weide
Incoming: Philip Abner, Jac Caglianone, Pierce Coppola, Carsten Finnvold, Kyle Hartman, Fisher Jameson, Brandon Neely, Samuel Sloan, Anthony Ursitti
Five of the six pitchers that O’Sullivan typically used in conference games in 2021 are gone. The Gators will have a very different look on the mound next season. Given their 4.39 team ERA, that might be a good thing.
Barco is the only member of that six-man group who returns. He had a seven-week stretch where he gave up only 12 earned runs and didn’t drop a decision. However, he also turned in major clunkers against Miami and Samford to start the year and against South Alabama in the regional. The Gators need him to be more consistent as he transitions into the ace role.
Sproat will likely be the No. 2 starter. He pitched well in his three starts late in the season and played well for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team over the summer. He needs to command his off-speed pitches better to complement his upper-90s fastball.
How the third starting spot and the bullpen shake out is anybody’s guess. Pogue will likely be the third starter if he recovers from Tommy John surgery in time. Nesbitt also underwent Tommy John, and he’ll be one of their top relievers if healthy. He didn’t give up a run in 11 2/3 innings as a freshman in 2020.
Look for Manning to potentially become one of the team’s breakout stars. He was a highly touted recruit who walked 13 batters and uncorked three wild pitches in 15 innings last season. If he can locate his fastball for strikes more regularly, that will allow his sweeping breaking ball to be much more effective. He’ll also be a contender for the third starter role.
Among the freshmen, look for Abner, Hartman and Neely to have the most immediate impact.
Abner is a lefty from the same high school as Gator Great Jackson Kowar. Like Kowar, he’s known for his outstanding fastball-changeup combo and needs to work on his breaking ball. He could replace Van Der Weide as the situational lefty.
Hartman is 6-foot-4 and throws in the lower-90s. He features a good slider but needs to develop his changeup to the point where he feels comfortable throwing it in games.
Neely, another righty, throws in the upper-80 and lower-90s and needs to improve his changeup and his slider.
Coppola is more of a long-term project than a plug-and-play guy, but he may end up being the best of the bunch. He will give you flashbacks to A.J. Puk. He’s a 6-foot-8 lefty from up north (New Jersey) who often struggles with repeating his delivery because of his enormous size. He can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and the low-80s with his slider. He could be a weekend starter eventually.
Caglianone is another big lefty (6-foot-5) who throws as hard as 97 miles per hour, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in June. He’ll almost certainly take a medical redshirt year and try to contribute in 2023.