Florida baseball starts their 2024 season with a three-game series against St John’s on Feb. 16th. With just 10 days until first pitch, Gator Country begins breaking down each position group.
Florida has three catchers on their 2024 roster, all of which have experience at the collegiate level and would be starting at the majority of D1 programs. The group brings 124 division one starts to Florida’s roster, 88 of which came from two true freshman in the 2023 season. The catcher position is viewed as a strength of the Gators’ roster.
“We have three catchers we can really rely on – obviously Luke had a great freshman year, Tanner Garrison from Coastal who’s probably the best one defensively out of the three, at least right now. And Brody Donay is gonna give us a chance to have some real power in the second half of the lineup,” Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said live on the radio.
Sophomore Luke Heyman was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2023 while playing in 55 games including 51 starts at catcher, first base, and designated hitter. Heyman slashed .314/.366 /.555 across 191 at bats in his freshman campaign. The 6’4, 220-pound Longwood, Florida native totaled 12 home runs, two triples, six doubles, 39 RBI, and 30 runs a season ago.
Heyman is Florida’s best hitting catcher which will make him impossible to take out of the lineup. Heyman should see his name on the lineup card in nearly all of Florida’s games this season, whether that’s at catcher, 1st base, or DH.
Heyman is the only catcher on the roster that was with the Florida Gators in 2023 as the other two transferred in this offseason. Heyman provides a level of familiarity and trust within Kevin O’Sullivan’s system, which is something O’Sullivan doesn’t take lightly. Pace of play is critical to pitching at the University of Florida, and that’s something Heyman will have a stronger grasp on given his one year of experience with O’Sullivan.
The Virginia Tech transfer made 33 starts as a true freshman in 2023, slashing .260/.352/.587 with a .937 OPS, 12 home runs, four doubles, 32 runs, and 38 RBI across 33 starts with the Hokies.
Donay averaged a home run every 10.25 at bats a season ago, which is a better mark than Josh Rivera (13.4), Wyatt Langford (11.2), Luke Heyman (15.9), Cade Kurland (15.4), and BT Riopelle (12.6). Donay trailed only Jac Caglianone on Florida’s roster in home run percentage, who launched an NCAA leading 33 home runs and averaged a long ball every 8.5 at bats.
Donay is a gigantic catcher, standing at 6’5, 235 pounds with a strong arm to show for it. The Lakeland, Florida native has been clocked throwing the ball 95 MPH from behind the plate on a stolen base attempt.
Donay tends to swing and miss at a high rate. While at VT, Donay struck out on 34.1% of his at bats. For more context, BT Riopelle struck out on 35.4% of his at bats in 2023 and set Florida’s program record for strikeouts in a single season. It doesn’t appear his contact has improved during the offseason.
Donay’s strong arm makes him a candidate for right field as well, where the Gators have occasionally worked him throughout preseason scrimmages.
The pop Donay has in his bat will make him difficult to keep on the bench. Donay will likely see time at catcher, 1st base, DH, and right field this season.
The Coastal Carolina transfer appeared in 96 games including 56 starts for the Chanticleers, slashing .257/.381/.481 with 13 home runs, 11 doubles, 53 RBIs, and 48 runs over 222 at bats. His best season at the plate came in 2023, where the senior catcher set career highs in batting average (.275), on base percentage (.396), and slugging percentage (.588). Garrison has improved at the plate in each of his four collegiate seasons.
Garrison might not have the arm Donay does behind the plate, but he is the best defensive catcher on Florida’s roster. The 6’3, 220-pound right hander was the top division one catcher in pitch framing in 2023 and threw out 14 runners on the base paths. The Dallas, Texas native has recorded a .992 fielding percentage across 589 chances in his career behind the plate including a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with 106 put outs and eight assists during his sophomore year.
While Garrison doesn’t have the raw power Heyman or Donay possess, he has shown the ability to hit the long ball in preseason scrimmages. Garrison has a nice approach at the plate where he often looks to drive the ball to the opposite field. If Garrison is holding his own at the plate, we will be seeing a lot of him throughout the 2024 season.
The reality is all three of Florida’s catchers are going to see significant playing time this season. There’s even a chance you could see all three of them play on the same day, as Donay has been working at 1st base and right field. My bold prediction is that Tanner Garrison will be the starting catcher come SEC play. The catcher position is one piece to the puzzle that Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators’ staff will look to solve throughout the beginning stages of the 2024 season.