Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 1 Florida
2017 Record: 52-19 (21-9 in SEC); won national championship.
Final ranking: No. 1.
Coach (Record at school): Kevin O’Sullivan (448-208, 10 years).
Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: RHP Brady Singer (1), RHP Jackson Kowar (8), 3B Jonathan India (69), C/1B J.J. Schwarz (142), RHP Michael Byrne (195).
The good news: Florida won the first national championship in program history last June, finally finishing the season with a dogpile in Omaha. Much of that team returns, including righthanders Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, All-American closer Michael Byrne and outfielder Nelson Maldonado and catcher J.J. Schwarz, the team’s leading hitter and power threat, respectively. To that group the Gators add the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, headlined by shortstop Brady McConnell, the highest ranked position player on the 2017 BA500 to make it to college. Florida is deeper on the mound this year and, thanks to an older lineup, should be able to find its stride offensively quicker than it did a year ago. The Gators have a chance to be one of coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s best teams.
The bad news: The Gators’ only lost six players to the draft in 2017 – they had that many top 100 picks the year before – but among those losses were righthander Alex Faedo, shortstop Dalton Guthrie and catcher Mike Rivera, three players that helped define this era of the program. In addition to Rivera, Florida also lost backup catcher Mark Kolozsvary to the draft, as well as its top two catching recruits. It still has options with Schwarz and freshmen Calvin Greenfield and Brady Smith, but after eight years of excellent defense from Mike Zunino, Taylor Gushue and Rivera, it will be up to someone new to take up the mantle behind the plate.
Returner to know: Michael Byrne, RHP: Florida’s outstanding rotation got most of the attention last season, but Byrne’s success as the closer was also critical. He went into the season slated to be the team’s midweek starter but was pressed into action at the back of the bullpen and went on to set a program record with 19 saves. He isn’t a typical flame-throwing closer, instead relying on his control and four-pitch arsenal to get outs. He can throw multiple innings, though he may not be called on to do so quite as often this year thanks to a deeper bullpen.
Path to Omaha: O’Sullivan’s best teams are built on strong pitching and defense, and this year is no exception. With Singer, Kowar and Byrne leading the way on the mound, the Gators have a team capable of repeating as national champions. With even a little more offensive production, they may be able to eliminate some of the drama they experienced on the path to Omaha last season, when they played must-win games in both regionals and super regionals.
C Calvin Greenfield, Fr.: (HS – Jensen Beach, Fla.)
1B Keenan Bell, So.: .283/.327/.391 | 92 AB | 2 HR | 12 RBI
2B Deacon Liput, Jr.: .227/.313/.314 | 255 AB | 3 HR | 37 RBI
3B Jonathan India, Jr.: .274/.354/.429 | 212 AB | 6 HR | 34 RBI
SS Brady McConnell, Fr.: (HS – Merritt Island, Fla.)
LF Austin Langworthy, So.: .238/.352/.352 | 193 AB | 4 | 26 RBI
CF Wil Dalton, Jr. Transfer: (Columbia State (Tenn.) JC)
RF Nelson Maldonado, Jr.: .299/.449/.433 | 201 AB | 6 HR | 32 RBI
DH J.J. Schwarz, Sr.: .259/.351/.444 | 259 AB | 12 HR | 56 RBI
RHP Brady Singer, Jr.: 9-5 | 3.21 ERA | 126 IP | 129 SO | 0 SV
RHP Jackson Kowar, Jr.: 12-1 | 4.08 ERA | 108 IP | 84 SO | 1 SV
RHP Tyler Dyson, So.: 4-0 | 3.23 ERA | 39 IP | 47 SO | 2 SV
RP Michael Byrne, Jr.: 4-5 | 1.67 ERA | 76 IP | 93 SO | 19 SV
RP Jordan Butler, Fr.: (HS – Tampa)