The reality of being a national champion is still setting in for Brady Singer. A couple weeks after helping Florida beat Louisiana State in the College World Series finals to win its first national title, Singer said what the Gators accomplished will occasionally hit him.
When he does think about the national championship, he said it means the world to him.
“That’s something I’m going to remember until the end of time, being a part of the first national championship,” the rising junior righthander said. “It means so much to me and to the guys.”
Singer played a critical role in the national championship run. Voted a Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors, he had a strong regular season as a part of Florida’s dynamic rotation of junior righthander Alex Faedo and fellow sophomore righty Jackson Kowar. Singer found yet another level in super regionals and finished the season by going 2-0, 1.80 with 32 strikeouts in 20 innings in his final four appearances. He won both of his starts in Omaha, including the first game of the championship series, which pushed Florida to the precipice of the national title. Singer finished his sophomore year 9-5, 3.21 with 129 strikeouts in 126 innings. That performance, combined with his massive talent—his fastball sits in the low to mid-90s with plenty of run and sink, and he adds in a sharp slider with a changeup in reserve—and elite competitiveness has him positioned as the top collegian in the 2018 draft class. He’s also the early favorite to be the first overall pick next year.
“This guy’s going to pitch forever,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s not just ability. He’s extremely talented, and he has a competitive spirit. He’s just different. That’s hard to come by.”
Singer has long been regarded as a high-level prospect. He ranked No. 54 on the BA 500 pre-draft rankings in 2015, when he was coming out of Eustis (Fla.) High and was drafted No. 56 overall by the Blue Jays that June. He was the top-ranked prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer after his freshman season.
Singer’s star has never shone brighter than it did this June, however. He made two electrifying starts in the CWS, holding Louisville and LSU, two of the top offenses in the country, to four runs in 14 innings and struck out 21 batters. He likely would have been named CWS Most Outstanding Player if Faedo, a Tigers first-round pick this year, hadn’t struck out 22 batters in 14.1 scoreless innings in his two starts.
Singer said that after getting hit hard by Arkansas in his start at the Southeastern Conference Tournament he began pitching more aggressively and honing his ability to locate his slider. He credited the change in mentality for his postseason dominance.
“Just pitch with an edge, pitch almost mad,” he said. “Not worry about the other things. I executed what Sully called. If he wanted it inside or outside, I just threw it there the best I could.”
Singer’s teammates say that his fiery persona on the mound is different than what they see off the field. It is also part of the reason they enjoy playing behind him. They feed off the energy he brings to the mound. “That’s the kind of person you want taking the mound for you,” said shortstop Dalton Guthrie, who signed with the Phillies as a sixth-round pick. “It’s nice to see when you’re on his team. You want someone who wants the ball when the game is on the line.”
In retrospect, the 2015 draft class was heavy on high-upside high school pitchers from Florida, and five were selected in the first two rounds. Singer was the fourth of the group to be picked, going in the second round to Toronto.
Like the rest of the players picked in the first few rounds, Singer was expected to sign a professional contract. But, ultimately, he and the Blue Jays were unable to reach an agreement and he headed to Florida. When O’Sullivan found out Singer would be a Gator, he was delighted.
“I was overly excited because I knew the impact he would have on the program,” O’Sullivan said.
In Gainesville, Singer and Kowar joined an already elite pitching staff. Ace righthander Logan Shore would be a Golden Spikes Award finalist in 2016. Lefthander A.J. Puk and Faedo rounded out the rotation, and both would be first-round picks over the next two years, as would swingman righthander Dane Dunning. Closer Shaun Anderson would be a third-round pick.
Florida’s returning depth pushed Singer to the bullpen, where he went 2-2, 4.95 in 43.2 innings in 2016. While it wasn’t easy to carve out a role on the Gators’ staff, Singer was able to learn something from all of their top pitchers. He picked up on Shore’s command, Dunning’s sinker and Faedo’s slider, all critical parts of Singer’s own game.
“It was extremely fun to watch,” Singer said. “But it was more fun for me and Jackson to sit in the dugout and learn from them because we figured this past year we’d be starters with Shore and Puk leaving.”
After Florida’s 2016 season ended with a disappointing 0-2 showing in Omaha, Singer went to the Cape to play for the summer. In preparation for that move to the Gators’ rotation as a sophomore, he started for Falmouth and excelled, going 2-0, 0.64 with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 28 innings.
Singer carried that momentum into his sophomore season at Florida. He presents hitters with a difficult matchup. Listed at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he throws from a low arm slot that adds deception and movement to his pitches.
Mike Rivera, who caught Singer the last two seasons before being drafted in the sixth round this year, said he enjoys catching Singer because he locates his pitches so well. Getting into the batter’s box to face him in an intersquad game is a different story, however.
“I don’t like it,” Rivera said. “I always say he’s the hardest (Gators pitcher) to hit off, the way his ball moves to a righty. You think you can cheat for it, but at the end you notice how much the ball moves and you can’t even cheat for it.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Singer reminds him of Aaron Nola, his former ace, a comparison O’Sullivan agreed with. Singer said he likes to watch Jake Peavy and Max Scherzer, both of whom also throw from a lower arm slot.
Beyond their arm actions, Singer likes the persona Peavy and Scherzer bring to the mound.
“(Peavy) pitches mean, almost mad,” Singer said. “He likes to show his emotion a lot. The thing you can really tell when you’re watching Jake is how he wants to dominate and win every single time. And I’ve been watching that with Scherzer, too. Just wanting to win every single pitch and beat anybody that steps into the box. I think pitching with that attitude, you’re going to go a long way.”
Singer will bring that attitude with him next spring as he moves to the front of the Gators’ rotation. Scouts will be closely watching as they evaluate him as a potential No. 1 overall pick. He knows he still has work to do, particularly with his changeup. Singer hasn’t needed a third pitch much to this point, but it will be a focus this fall. O’Sullivan expects Singer to throw his changeup more often next spring, giving him a full three-pitch mix.
If Singer is able to do that, he will be difficult for teams to pass on at the top of the draft and could become the highest-drafted player in Florida program history, surpassing Mike Zunino, who went third overall to the Mariners in 2012.
It is the kind of career O’Sullivan envisioned Singer having two years ago when he first learned the righthander would come to college.
“There are certain guys you get in a recruiting class that changes the whole complexion of the class and the program,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s one of those guys. He’s going to go down as one of the best that’s ever pitched here.”