Kevin O’Sullivan and his staff’s prowess for recruiting is indisputable. The Florida Gators have sent 77 to the Major Leagues, 64 in the last eight drafts alone. With that recruiting comes talented freshmen. Sully isn’t afraid to play freshmen but there’s an unknown factor to them.
“You just don’t know when that light is going to go on,” O’Sullivan said of when it starts to click for freshmen. “You just don’t know.”
Tyler Dyson has the look. He’s a player you’d have sit in the front of the bus so that he’s one of the first off and the first player a team would see. His teammates call him Roger Clemons. At 6’3” and more than 220 pounds, Dyson doesn’t look like a pitcher, and for most of his life he wasn’t.
Dyson played third base and shortstop most of his life. It wasn’t until the summer before his senior season, playing for Dalton Guthrie’s father and the Florida Burn that he really started pitching. O’Sullivan and the Gators had been recruiting him but when Dyson started showing a low-to-mid 90s fastball as a senior in high school, Florida really turned up the heat. When Dyson arrived at Florida there was still a thought that he could be a two-way player.
“I loved playing infield when I was growing up. But getting here I’ve learned that pitching was my better option. I’m happy I started later. It kind of gives my arm a freshness.”
Dyson made his first appearance on Sunday of the opening weekend against William & Mary. He came in to start the ninth inning in an 11-6 game that was long over. You couldn’t tell the freshman that. His first offering read 99 on the radar gun at McKethan Stadium. His second the same. Then 98. This wasn’t just adrenaline, Dyson had a major league fastball and he was flashing it in his debut.
Dyson pitched well out of the bullpen until that freshman wall hit. He gave up two runs and four hits over 1.2 innings against Stetson. Three runs and two hits in his next outing against LSU and three runs a few days later against FSU — his ERA ballooning from 1.00 all the way to 4.40 in the span of three weeks.
It’s a learning curve,” Dyson said. “You don’t want to come here and have to sit for a while. You want to get thrown out there and you want to be put in pressure situations ’cause that’s when you see what kind of player you are and what kind of person you are. It took me a little it.”
Prior to the season starting Dyson was a candidate to close games for the Gators. He and fellow freshman Andrew Baker — a lefty — were thought to potentially share that role. Michael Byrne ended up taking advantage of his opportunity, set the school record for saves in a season (19) and was an All-American. Dyson, however, couldn’t let his confidence waiver.
When the post season arrived Dyson had thrown 24.1 innings and had a 4.18 ERA. He didn’t get an opportunity to pitch in the Regionals but would be a key player in the Super Regionals.
Dyson threw in game two of the Super Regionals against Wake Forest, striking out three without walking a batter or allowing a hit. Florida lost the game to force a decisive game three, but the Gators had Brady Singer on the mound a ready to go.
Those plans were dashed thanks to Mother Nature. Singer started the game but was quickly washed out and a lengthy rain delay would ensure the end of his outing. That’s when O’Sullivan came up with a plan. Junior Alex Faedo had told Sully he was good for two innings, but how would Sully manage until the eighth. The plan was to pitch Dyson for two then throw a soft lefty, Nick Horvath or Austin Langworthy, at Wake Forest and try to ice together a few innings, hope for a lead and let Faedo close.
O’Sullivan may not have known when the light was going to come on for Dyson, but in that moment he knew it had.
“Tyler walked out of the locker room and he went to go in the training room and I said ‘I’m not taking you out. You’re going to have to pitch well for us if we want to get to the World Series’. Sure enough, he stepped up and I think maybe that was a little vote of confidence from me that kind of pushed him a little bit. He answered the bell.”
Against Wake Forest Dyson gave up a leadoff single after he took over in the third inning before retiring the next 13 batters in a row and 15-of-16. That bridged the gap to Faedo and sent the Gators to Omaha.
“That was basically a big confidence booster going forward,” Dyson said of his five innings against Wake Forest.
The Gators set themselves up perfectly in the College World Series. Faedo and Singer took care of the first two games. A win over TCU would send the Gators to the Championship series with Faedo and Singer ready to throw again on full rest but TCU used a four-run sixth inning to beat Florida 9-2, forcing a third game. The Gators battled back, beat TCU to face LSU in the CWS Finals where they turned, once again, to Dyson in a huge game.
Before the game O’Sullivan said he didn’t know what to expect of his freshman on that stage. There was no way to know how even someone like Faedo or Singer would handle the stage of the college world series, let alone a freshman that had pitched just over 30 innings.
He couldn’t have dreamed of what was to come.
Dyson threw six innings of three-hit, one-run baseball and kept the Gators in the thick of it before Byrne and Kowar finished it off on the mound. It led the Gators to their first National Championship and certainly made Tyler Dyson a household name in the collegiate baseball community.
The tribulations of his freshman season faded as he jumped into a dog pile at TD Ameritrade. He had just won the last game of the season and what a way to end your freshman season.
This year Dyson is better. He’ll start for the Gators on Sundays, after Singer and Kowar.
It’s an incredible luxury for O’Sullivan, who has had Alex Faedo, Jackson Kowar and now Tyler Dyson throwing on the final day of a weekend series for the last four seasons. Dyson has added a changeup, which is faster than some other pitcher’s heaters, to his blistering fastball and wipeout slider. He’s throwing from the windup now, too.
“Arguably he could be a lot of team’s No. 1 pitcher,” O’Sullivan said of Dyson.
This season will be big for the sophomore. He has a defined role, which he admitted is nice, but he won’t be taking anyone by surprise this season.
“He’s a big leaguer,” said O’Sullivan. “He’s got the stuff, he’s got the frame, the size, the durability. He’s athletic. He’s got a bit of a mean streak to him, but he’s a great teammate. You know, he’s got all the qualities that you look for for a guy to succeed not just at this level, but for many years to come.”