College Preview Capsules: No. 1 Florida

No. 1 FloridaFlorida
2015 Record (Ranking): 52-18 (3). RPI: 6.
Coach (Record at school): Kevin O’Sullivan (344-173, 8 years)
Postseason History: 21 regionals (active streak: 8), 9 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan has been here before with Florida. In 2011 and 2012, the Gators entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country, loaded with All-Americans and weighty expectations.

In both years, Florida reached the College World Series—the last two of three straight trips to Omaha. But both times the Gators came up short, with a loss to South Carolina in the 2011 CWS Finals and an 0-2 showing in 2012.

O’Sullivan said he has learned from those experiences, as well as watching other exceptionally talented baseball teams fall short of a championship.

2016 Lineup
C Mike Rivera, So. .271 .337 .369 3 48 2
1B Peter Alonso, Jr. .301 .398 .503 5 32 0
2B Jonathan India, Fr. HS—Coral Springs, Fla.
3B Deacon Liput, Fr. HS—Oviedo, Fla.
SS Dalton Guthrie, So. .287 .362 .365 2 26  6
LF Jeremy Vasquez, So. .339 .424 .459 2 20  1
CF Buddy Reed, Jr. .305 .367 .433 4 47 18
RF Ryan Larson, Jr. .305 .401 .365 1 25 7
DH J.J. Schwarz, So. .332 .398 .629 18 73 1
Pos. Name, Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Logan Shore, Jr. 11 6 2.72 112 84 0
LHP A.J. Puk, Jr. 9 4 3.81 78 104 0
RHP Alex Faedo, So. 6 1 3.23 61 59 0
RP Brady Singer, Fr. HS—Leesburg, Fla.

“I think the message is clear: the most talented team on paper doesn’t win the national championship or the World Series,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s the best team that wins. Talent can get you to a certain point, but I’ve learned over the years that you can’t get ahead of yourself. You’ve got to continue to get better as the season goes on, you’ve got to stay healthy and play your best baseball at the end of the year.”

This year’s Gators are certainly talented. They return 18 lettermen from last year’s team that won the Southeastern Conference tournament and went 8-2 during the NCAA Tournament, losing only a pair of one-run games in Omaha to Virginia, the eventual national champion. Among the returners are the entire weekend rotation, the precocious sophomore catching tandem of Mike Rivera and J.J. Schwarz and electric center fielder Buddy Reed.

Added to that mix, Florida brought in the No. 2 ranked recruiting class this fall. Six of the 12 newcomers were drafted in June, including unsigned second-rounder Brady Singer. Selected No. 56 overall by the Blue Jays, the righthander was the highest-drafted high school player to make it to campus.

Even with as much returning talent as the Gators have, there will be opportunities for the freshmen to contribute. Florida lost shortstop Richie Martin and third baseman Josh Tobias, as well as several key relievers from last year’s club. Sophomore Dalton Guthrie will move from second base to take over shortstop from Martin, but freshmen are likely to fill many of the holes left by the draft and graduation.

“I haven’t put as much stock into experience as some other people do,” O’Sullivan said. “If you know in your mind that they’re going to figure it out, they just needs innings or at-bats, I’m willing to take some lumps.”

There don’t figure to be too many lumps, thanks in large part to the depth of Florida’s pitching staff. Righthander Logan Shore has been the Friday starter almost from the start of his freshman season. Lefthander A.J. Puk blossomed in the second half of last season, becoming a strong candidate to be drafted first overall this June. Righthander Alex Faedo went 6-1, 3.23 as the Sunday starter last year and has taken a step forward in his development going into his sophomore season.

Behind them are quality returning arms such as righthanders Dane Dunning and Shaun Anderson, as well as highly regarded newcomers Singer and righthander Jackson Kowar. They’ll be counted on to replace departed relievers such as Taylor Lewis and Bobby Poyner, with Singer and Kowar bringing power arms to relief roles. O’Sullivan thrives at finding ways to spread out the innings across his pitching staff.

“Even when they get to full tilt, our guys get to 80, 90, 100 pitches and that’s it,” he said. “We don’t extend guys. We don’t have guys in the midweek go to 100 pitches. If you look at our numbers, a lot of times our starters get no decisions. Instead of maybe having six or seven guys on staff that we depend on, we’re always in double digits.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Florida has multiple ways to replace Martin, Tobias and outfielder Harrison Bader, a three-year starter who was drafted by the Cardinals. Schwarz (18 home runs as a freshman) and first baseman Peter Alonso, who missed more than 30 games in 2015 due to a broken foot and later a broken nose, should provide plenty of power if healthy. The outfield trio of Reed, Ryan Larson and Jeremy Vasquez are effective table setters, with the switch-hitting Reed primed for takeoff after a strong summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.

O’Sullivan won’t allow himself to get ahead of himself, however. Looking at the big picture, he knows how many obstacles lie in wait for the Gators as they pursue the program’s first national championship. So while he’s happy to enter the year No. 1, he understands the work is just beginning.

“I know we’ve got a talented club, but we’ve got a lot of hurdles in front of us,” O’Sullivan said. “I think it’s a testament to our program and to our players that they’ve worked hard and earned some of the preseason accolades and rankings, but we haven’t played a game yet.”

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