With the completion of the Florida Gators baseball team’s final open practice before the regular season begins, comes the highest level of preseason anticipation for fans. No more scrimmages or press conferences remain to satiate their hunger. All thats left for Gators faithful to mull over until Charleston Southern comes to town Saturday is who UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan will field on opening weekend.
It won’t be that easy for O’Sullivan. He’s got a problem — a good problem. He has more viable players than he has positions on the field. Solving the lineup equation is always a battle for coaches, and one that usually takes a while. However, the opening weekend group will be a good indicator of the 2023 Gators’ identity. That being said, here’s who could take the field this weekend:
Catcher: BT Riopelle, Senior
Senior catcher BT Riopelle will likely serve as the strongest veteran presence on the roster, and is probably the biggest lock to be an infield starter. A member of the 2022 All-Southeastern Conference first team, Riopelle was the glue between last year’s UF stars like Jud Fabian, Sterlin Thompson and Wyatt Langford. Riopelle will likely take a larger role on offense with some of Florida’s previous swingers now turned pro. Despite taking some starts at first base last season, he’ll be most useful behind the plate, guiding Florida’s young pitching unit through tough SEC bats.
Although Riopelle is an early lock at catcher, don’t be surprised if O’Sullivan gives his younger guys some run behind the plate. Sophomore Rene Lastres looked good in spring training, and true freshman Luke Heyman was the No. 6 ranked catcher in his recruiting class.
First Base: Tyler Shelnut, Junior
The rest of the infield is where it gets complicated. There are toss-ups at nearly every position and plenty of experience in the locker room. Four of Florida’s six listed infielders are upperclassmen. First base is possibly the most stacked position.
Names like Jac Caglianone and Deric Fabian will jump off the roster list for fans trying to piece together a lineup, but the two sophomores would be better suited in different roles. O’Sullivan will likely turn to junior college transfer Tyler Shelnut.
Shelnut is a veteran presence but is beginning his first season with Gators. He spent two years in JUCO and batted .306, hitting 26 home runs in two season. He had 85 RBIs in 84 games. The biggest question mark will be how he adapts to the SEC level.
Second Base: Deric Fabian, Sophomore
Fabian started in 43 games as a freshman and seems primed to make a step forward in year two. He hit two home runs and batted in 22 RBIs on a .218 average. He moved around the infield in his first year but seems to fit the lineup best at second.
If Fabian doesn’t play up to expectations, junior Colby Halter could take over. He spent time at second last season but moved to third after a slump from the aforementioned Fabian took him out of the lineup and moved Halter to third.
Shortstop: Josh Rivera, Junior
While Rivera is listed as a Junior on Florida’s roster, but 2023 will be his fourth year enrolled at UF. He opted to return for this season rather than turn pro and will be looking to garner some more MLB attention. He’s started over 131 games in Orange and Blue and will be the number one option at shortstop all season.
Third Base: Colby Halter, Junior
Halter finished last season at third and will serve as some lineup continuity in 2023. The junior had a down season in 2022, batting .240 after a .302 freshman year. Halter will need to return to his efficient ways if he wants to keep his spot secure.
If Halter begins to struggle, or there are issues with Fabian at second base, Halter could be moved around the infield or put on the bench later in the season.
The outfield was the most star-studded position group on the 2022 UF roster. O’Sullivan will have to take on the challenge of replicating the production of the three-headed monster of Langford, Thompson and Fabian.
Left Field: Wyatt Langford, Junior
Langford is more than the star of the outfield — he’s the best on the entire team. He’s considered by many publications to be a top five MLB prospects and will no doubt turn heads in 2023 after a prolific sophomore season despite playing with some respectable batters.
Essentially, there is no one up to the challenge of dethroning Langford.
Center Field: Michael Robertson, Redshirt Freshman
Robertson serves as the biggest what-if of all the Gators starters. The redshirt freshman missed last season with a hamstring injury and will make his debut in 2023.
Small ball is the name of Robertson game. He was praised for his speed and base running ability at the high school level. His speed will help him cover the outfield at center. Beyond that, what’s to be seen from Robertson will be seen on the field.
Right Field: Ty Evans, Sophomore
Beyond Langford, Evans is the most experienced outfielder. He made 26 starts as a freshman, including 21 to close out the season. He batted .242 and was a strong defensive presence in right field. If Evans isn’t up to par, any combination of Matt Prevesk, Tucker Talbott or Richie Schiekofer could get some run.
Weekend Starters: Brandon Sproat, Hurston Waldrep, Brandon Neely
Florida’s pitching unit was young and hurt last season. That combination led to some tough outings and blown games thanks to pitching inexperience. An older and more complete pitching unit should help out the Gators in 2023.
Sproat will be the lead man on Friday. It seemed all but certain he would turn pro after being drafted by the Mets but made a surprise return. He will be the standout on the mound all year.
Hurston Waldrep is coming off a third-team All-American season at Southern Miss. Although he’ll be facing tougher batters, he is expected to produce efficiently at the next level.
Neely was thrust into a starting role after injuries depleted the lineup last year and has earned the Sunday spot for now, but it’s possible O’Sullivan moves to different options later on.
Midweek Starters: Jac Caglianone, Ryan Slater
Jac Caglianone proved himself to be a two-way stud last season and has spent considerable time on the mound this spring. He will be competing for the Sunday job but will likely make the start in the midweek at first. He could also make appearances at first base or designated hitter this year.
The Gators have a few weekday doubleheaders this season and Ryan Slater will likelt fill the role. He made starts when needed last season and will be serviceable for the midweek.
Overall, there is plenty of talent of Florida’s roster with few spaces to put players. Fringe players will need to create opportunities as a DH or filling in for absences later on. O’Sullivan’s opening weekend lineup will answer a lot of leftover question marks.