Photo by Kristen Oliff / ChompTalk.com

The Florida Gators baseball team kicks off its 2020 season this Friday at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium against the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Florida will also go into this game as the #4 team in the D1Baseball Preseason Rankings.

In the 2019 season, the Gators weren’t their dominant selves. They finished the season with a 34-26 record and 13-17 conference record. Florida barely made it to the postseason but were quickly eliminated by Dallas Baptist in the Lubbock Regional.

The Gators baseball team is still very young but the talent gap between them and the top ranked teams in the country has closed. Their 2020 recruiting class finished #3 in the country and including top draft prospects that decided to honor their commitment and not sign pro contracts.

Starting Rotation

The Gators starting rotation is very similar to their rotation last season. Junior Tommy Mace will be the ace of the rotation as he was last season. Junior Jack Leftwich be the #2 starting in Florida’s rotation once again. The #3 starter was a bit of a surprise to many as sophomore RHP Nick Pogue was named the Sunday starter. Many believed freshman Hunter Barco would be #3 pitcher, but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan decided to go with the more experience pitchers.

Hunter Barco will still likely get some starts during Florida’s midweek games. Another top freshman that should get some starts on Florida’s midweek games is Brandon Sproat. The Pace (FL) graduate was drafted in the seventh round by the Texas Rangers but decided to attend Florida. Sproat has wowed many people with his power fastball and experts already see him as a top draft prospect for the 2022 MLB Draft.

Bullpen

The bullpen was one of Florida’s weaknesses as the Gators usually have one of the best pitching staffs in the country. They return most of their bullpen arms but now have a year of experience in the college baseball. Some of the top relief pitchers for the Gators last season were junior LHP Jordan Butler, sophomore RHP David Luethje, junior RHP Justin Alintoff and sophomore RHP Christian Scott. Sophomore RHP Nolan Crisp was the closer for most of 2019 but struggled towards the end of the season. He looks to redeem himself and earn his closer role once again.

Some newcomers that will help with the bullpen including one graduate transfer and four freshmen. The lone graduate transfer is left-handed pitcher Trey Van Der Weide from USC Upstate. During his time at USC Upstate, Weide was mostly used a relief pitcher but did start in 14 games.

The five freshmen that’ll be in Florida’s bullpen are RHP, Tyler Nesbitt, LHP Ryan Cabarcas, RHP Hunter Mink and RHP Nick Ficarrotta. Nesbitt was a top 200 draft prospect that was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 32nd round but had already announced he was going to Florida. Ryan Cabarcas is a left-handed pitcher out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. Hunter Mink ad Nick Ficarrotta are both from Palm Harbor University High School.

Catchers

The Florida Gators have four catchers on their roster in Brady Smith, Cal Greenfield, Nathan Hickey and Matt Powell. Smith was the starting catcher last season but is expected to move to third base for this season. Smith could still get some playing time behind the plate if needed.

Cal Greenfield is a junior who hasn’t made much of an impact during his time at Florida. His offense hasn’t been up to par but he’s a plus defender with a strong arm. Nathan Hickey is a true freshmen with a big bat and is also very solid behind the plate. He’s competing with Cal Greenfield for the starting job but Hickey’s offensive upside may make him Florida’s starting catcher. Another freshman catcher is Matt Powell out of Bishop Verot Catholic High School. Powell could get some playing time as the season prolongs.

Infielders

The Florida Gators infield will look pretty different compared to last season. There’s no change at first base as Kendrick Calilao will be the Gators starting first baseman. Calilao was one of Florida’s most consistent hitters and will look to build off of last season. Other potential first basemen for the Gators this season are Hunter Barco, Jordan Butler and Kris Armstrong.

Cory Acton will move from third base to second base this season. Acton started most of last season at third but does have experience playing second.

Freshman Josh Rivera will replace Brady McConnell at shortstop. McConnell was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Rivera earned the shortstop role with his play during fall practices and is play in their scrimmages. Freshman Isaac Nunez is another middle infielder that should get some playing time.

Brady Smith will be the starting third baseman for the Gators this season. Smith had a very rocky start last season but turned it around in a big way. The junior out of TNXL Academy has some experience at third and has been good defensively at third base. Freshman Andrew Roberts will add some depth at third base. Seniors Nick Blasucci and Kirby McMullen will get playing time either at DH or third.

Outfielders

The Gators outfield will have some changes but all of the starters will be back from last season. Austin Langworthy is back for his senior season and will start at left field for the fourth year in a row.

Sophomore Jud Fabian will look to bounce back after an up and down freshman season. There’s a lot of high expectations on Fabian as many believe he’ll be Florida’s breakout star this season.

Right field will be the only change as Wil Dalton was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round. Jacob Young will take over at right field as he moves from second base to right field. Young had a terrific freshman season as he was Florida’s leadoff hitter and hit .311 with eight doubles and seven stolen bases.

Other outfielders on Florida’s roster are junior Brock Edge, freshman Tucker Talbott and freshman Austin Brinling. Brock Edge is a JUCO transfer from Santa Fe Community College. Edge batted over .300 in his career at Santa Fe. Tucker Talbott is out of the Providence School and Austin Brinling is from the Out-of-Door Academy.   

The Gators open the season against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 PM and it will be the final Opening Day at McKethan Stadium.

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