The past four seasons have felt like limbo for the Florida baseball team. Following an NCAA Championship in 2017, the Gators were bounced out of the second round of the College World Series a season later. Since then, the Gators have yet to return to an NCAA Championship. Three regional tournament exits and a season cut short by COVID-19 in 2020 is all head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his squad have had to show in the past four seasons.
There was certainly no lack of talent on Florida’s rosters — Gators vets Jud Fabian, Hunter Barco, and Sterlin Thompson left the program for the MLB Draft this summer. All four were drafted in the first 100 picks. Despite the talent that has continually been recruited and developed under O’Sullivan, not much has come of it in recent years. To put it simply: the rest of the NCAA’s top teams were just as talented.
Now, following an offseason spent retooling the roster into a contending one, Florida may have a chance at a return to its championship-winning ways.
Florida’s roster is extremely solid on paper looking ahead at 2023. Despite losing some key players to the big leagues, the Gators are retaining some big names from the 2022 campaign. RHP Brandon Sproat, who was drafted 90th overall by the Mets after a breakout redshirt sophomore season, decided to delay his professional career in favor of another season in Gainesville.
Another key returner is outfielder Wyatt Langford. Langford led the Gators in every statistical category on offense in 2022. His return will be absolutely critical for the Gators offense, who look for other returners such as Colby Halter, Ty Evans and Jac Caglione to step forward and fill the gaps left in the batting order.
Both Sproat and Langford were named preseason All-Americans by D1Baseball. Langford is currently listed as the No. 3 draft prospect in 2023 on MLB.com, and he is considered one of the best hitting prospects in baseball right now. His offensive production will likely lead the team once again in 2023.
𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐨𝐧 𝐏𝐫𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐝. 🇺🇸#GoGators // 📰: https://t.co/h3rI6Bv6Tj pic.twitter.com/zXsJnFnsEQ
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) January 30, 2023
Also making his return to Condron Ballpark in 2023 is fan-favorite catcher BT Riopelle. Riopelle, the only senior on Florida’s 2023 roster, will serve as a huge veteran presence behind the plate and will hover near the top of the team’s offensive rankings.
Despite losing some big names to the draft, the Gators’ group of experienced but youthful veterans will surely make a major impact on the 2023 campaign.
Despite the big boost that will come from UF’s veterans, the Gators will not be solely reliant on its returners. O’Sullivan was able to reel in a freshman class ranked No. 5 in the nation by D1Baseball. Of 36 roster spots, Florida’s freshman take up nine, sitting behind only the sophomores with 11.
O’Sullivan has show little fear in throwing freshman on the field early when necessary. Don’t be surprised if a few of UF’s new guys make a name for themselves in year one.
However, in a league where the transfer portal is now king, the biggest new addition comes with a solid resume already built. Junior pitcher and Southern Miss transfer Hurston Waldrep will look to headline in part the Gators bullpen this season. Waldrep, also a D1Basbeall preseason All-American, boasted a 3.20 ERA, a 6-2 record and tossed 140 strikeouts last season with the Golden Eagles. Had he been on Florida’s roster last season, those numbers would’ve ranked fourth, third and first on the team, respectively.
All things said, the Gators are extremely young. In order to contend this year, Florida will need its youth to realize their potential early.
Ahead of UF’s opening series against Charleston Southern, the team is ranked third in the nation by Baseball America and seventh by D1Baseball. The Gators are the third and fifth-ranked Southeastern Conference team in those rankings.
The Gators are far from the consensus top-team, but there is certainly potential for O’Sullivan and his team to shake up the landscape in 2023. Moving past juggernauts like Louisiana State and Tennessee will be far from easy, but it’s certainly possible for Florida this season.
All there is left to do for the Gators is go out and execute.