Photo by Cliff Welch / Getty Images

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators baseball team will open season play at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium against Long Beach State on Friday, February 15th. With opening day fast approaching, this is a great time to take a look at what to expect from this year’s team.

Under O’Sullivan, the Gators find themselves in the preseason rankings for the eleventh consecutive season. The sixth ranked Gators will be squaring off against seven other programs who begin the year in the top 40. In fact, their SEC schedule boasts four different teams within the top 15 as LSU, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Georgia rank No. 1, No. 2, No. 11, and No. 13, respectively.

Following last season’s 49-21 record and a deep run to the College World Series, Florida will be looking fresh as veterans like Jonathan India, Deacon Liput, J.J. Schwartz, and Keenan Bell have moved on. With so much attrition, what and who can we expect to see this year?

The pitching rotation should be plenty capable with guys like Jack Leftwich, Tommy Mace, and Jordan Butler having added another season of development under their belts. Tyler Dyson will have the opportunity to be the staff ace if he’s able to tap into his pre-injury form as he played a solid role in the Gators’ championship run.

The infield could see some fluidity as they attempt to replace the steady experience that was lost last year. Sully will need to decide between Jordan Battle, Garrett Milchin, and Brady Smith at first base. Battle and Milchin will also be on rotation in the bullpen, while Smith would leave another crucial decision to be made behind the plate.

Blake Reese will be the likely starter at second with redshirt freshman, Jose Cicarello and true freshman, Kristofer Armstrong also vying for the opportunity to contribute. On the opposite side of the bag (short stop), Brady McConnell –who was limited by a hand injury last year– is expected to be back to full strength and is primed for a solid comeback season.

True freshman phenom, Cory Acton declined an opportunity to go professional straight out of high school and should step right in as the starter at third base.

Closing out the infield lineup is catcher, Brady Smith. While I mentioned him as a possible contender for first base, this is where I see him landing. He broke out during the post season last year and is too valuable behind the plate.

Smith also hit a respectable .264 last season and has the power to be a deep threat. Should he be needed elsewhere, Sully still has options for the position with Jonah Girand and Cal Greenfield being more than capable.

Florida will need to replace plenty of offensive production from a year ago, but with guys like Austin Langworthy and Wil Dalton, they’re off to a good start. Given this staff’s track record, it’s difficult not to believe that they will get the most firepower possible out of their youthful lineup.

O’Sullivan and his staff have built this program into a perennial power and they have the chance to become the first team since Stanford (1999-2003) to get to Omaha in five consecutive seasons with a successful campaign in 2019.

This team has a lot of youth and great talent. Despite a lack of experience, the Gators have earned the right to be in the championship discussion each season until proven otherwise.

As spring rapidly approaches, so too does one of the sweetest phrases ever uttered. “Play Ball!”

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