2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 4 Florida

Image credit: Kevin O'Sullivan (Photo by Cliff Welch/Getty Images)

Last season: 34-26 (13-17 in SEC); reached regionals.
Final ranking: NR.
Coach (record at school): Kevin O’Sullivan (531-255, 12 years). 

Top 100 draft prospects: RHP Tommy Mace (No. 49), RHP Jack Leftwich (No. 91).

The good news: Florida endured a lot of growing pains in 2019 and its regionals streak was in danger late in the season as a result. But the Gators finished stronger and made the NCAA Tournament for the 12th straight season, a run that dates back to the first year O’Sullivan took over the program. Now, with most of the team back, the Gators’ growing pains should pay off. Mace and Leftwich have the talent to be one of the best 1-2 punches in the country and lead one of the deepest pitching staffs. Lefthander Hunter Barco was the second-highest player in last June’s MLB draft not to sign and will pitch in a key role, either in the rotation or bullpen. While Florida lost its top two hitters from last season, it returns six regulars. Center fielder Jud Fabian has taken a step forward and the trio of him, senior Austin Langworthy and sophomore Jacob Young should give Florida one of the best outfields in the country.

The bad news: Florida must replace designated hitter Nelson Maldonado, who was a four-year starter, and shortstop Brady McConnell. The pair last year not only led the Gators in hitting but were also their biggest power threats. Replacing that production will take a collective effort and Florida will especially look for the four regulars who last year played extensively as freshmen—Fabian, Young, second baseman Cory Acton and first baseman Kendrick Calilao—to take a step forward. For all its returning experience, Florida will be young up the middle. Freshmen Nathan Hickey and Josh Rivera will take over at catcher and shortstop, respectively. Rivera has immense potential, and both should be able to handle the challenge, especially defensively. But the transition to the SEC as freshmen at premium positions isn’t an easy one. On the mound, Florida has plenty of talent, but no settled roles. It’s rare that the Gators’ pitching staff is so unsettled entering a campaign and O’Sullivan will likely use the season’s first month to figure out how best to arrange the staff.

Player to know: Jud Fabian, OF.

At this time last year, Fabian had been in college for about a month after graduating high school a semester early and joining the team in January. He had some ups and downs as a freshman, but overall handled the challenge well. He’s now coming off a full offseason in college baseball, including an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League. He’ll be at the heart of any success Florida has this year, manning center field and hitting in the middle of the order.

Path to Omaha: Florida’s talent level is again elite and last year’s experience should help its younger players take a step forward this spring. Its pitching staff should be one of the nation’s deepest and if the Gators can get a couple arms to establish themselves in key roles, they’ll also have one of the best staffs. If Florida can get solid seasons, especially defensively, out of Hickey and Rivera, it’ll be in good shape from a position player standpoint. With its upside on the mound, it won’t need to rely on its offense, but its lineup will be able to provide enough support that it won’t need every game to be a pitchers’ duel. Put it all together, and Florida is ready to prove that last year’s step back was just a blip.

C Nathan Hickey, Fr. HS — Jacksonville
1B Kendrick Calilao, So. .276 .348 .401 5 49 217
2B Cory Acton, So. .251 .353 .387 6 30 199
3B Brady Smith, Jr. .270 .392 .428 5 20 152
SS Josh Rivera, Fr. HS — Bradenton, FL.
LF Austin Langworthy, Sr. .283 .262 .498 10 43 223
CF Jud Fabian, So. .232 .353 .411 7 26 168
RF Jacob Young, So. .311 .383 .404 3 26 183
DH Jordan Butler, Jr. .358 .404 .566 2 11 53
RHP Tommy Mace, Jr. 8 5 5.32 89.2 62 0
RHP Jack Leftwich. Jr. 6 5 5.31 62.2 62 0
LHP Hunter Barco, Fr. HS — Jacksonville
RP David Luethje, So. 1 1 3.86 28 15 0
RP Christian Scott, So. 6 3 5.19 52 44 1

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