Josh: The Gators lost the vast majority of their power to graduation and the draft. They don’t need to completely replace Mike Zunino, Preston Tucker and Nolan Fontana, but someone still has to step up and pick up some of the slack. That is why the most important player on the Florida baseball roster this season is sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue. The lineup won’t be as power-reliant. Instead, UF will increase its focus on small ball. Still, the Gators will rely on Gushue’s raw power to give them some semblance of balance in a lineup that lacks home-run ability at several positions. Even though he hit just .206 as a freshman, Gushue showed his potential as a middle-of-the-order force in flashes early last year.
Adam: Every team needs an ace. Series are won on Friday nights. With the power players at the plate gone from a year ago, pitching becomes more important for Florida. Kevin O’Sullivan had a three-run home run in his back pocket when things went awry last season. Say hello to stolen bases and bunts this season for the Gators’ bats. Junior Jonathon Crawford takes over as the Friday night starter. If he can’t last deep into games, relievers get used up for the weekend. With a team built on defense and pitching, Florida needs Crawford to set the tone for the weekend. For the pitcher who doesn’t say much, Crawford will let his mid-90s fastball, plus-slider and improved changeup do the talking. And Florida will be much better off with that no matter how many RBIs Gushue gets.
Josh: Without a doubt, pitching is important. But pitchers need run support. You don’t need to belt 75 dingers like UF did last year to be successful. Arizona only hit 23 home runs last year and still won the College World Series. And while pitching is more important when runs are at a premium, the Gators don’t have depth in the rotation beyond Karsten Whitson and Crawford to assume small ball will get it done. There are no established starters to take the Sunday and midweek jobs, and the Gators are likely going to have to put up runs in those games. Jonathon Crawford won’t be on the field then, but Gushue will. He has the most raw power of anyone in the lineup, and the Gators will need him to be a 10-15 home run guy as they only return 14 of their home runs from last year’s team.
Adam: Where have you been this fall and spring? The Gators are built on pitching and defense. Power won’t be there for Florida. O’Sullivan and the players said it themselves. And anything can happen in the College World Series. The Gators were the best team on paper and they exited quietly with two straight losses last season. Arizona pitching held opponents to less than two runs per game in Omaha, which includes two wins against Florida State who finished tied for 13th in the nation in home runs. What happens to Florida when its starting pitcher can’t go past the fifth inning? Inexperienced arms make up the bullpen. Steven Rodriguez isn’t running through the outfield wall’s door anytime soon. That means Crawford has to eat up innings if UF stands a chance in a weekend series. Gushue can smack all the home runs he wants, but without a rested bullpen, the opposition will easily outdo the sophomore catcher come Saturday and Sunday when series are decided.
Josh: Like you did in our Rally last week, you are making my point for me again. I’m aware they are built on pitching and defense. But Gushue also factors into the defensive equation. Mike Zunino was strong behind the plate for three years at Florida. Last season, he ranked second in conference in throwing runners out. UF needs Gushue to be somewhat comparable to Zunino defensively. Offensively, the Gators can’t expect him to be Zunino, but they need him to shoulder a large percentage of the offensive burden — even if that is smaller than it has been in years past. Even if Crawford and Whitson are studs, they will start less than half of the team’s games, whereas Gushue is an everyday player. Florida will need offense more than anything on those occasions.
Adam: How am I making your point? The problem here is you have no point. You’re saying Florida needs Gushue’s offense to replace what it lost last year. This isn’t the same UF offense! The Gators will not survive the Southeastern Conference without consistent starting pitching. Sure, teams win by scoring runs, but Crawford gives Florida an advantage every time out. Everything ties into how he pitches. If Crawford can’t eat up innings on Friday night, it will mess everything up in a weekend series. And as you mentioned earlier, Gushue hit .206 last season. He had a tremendous year considering he skipped his high school senior season to play at UF, but like the rest of Florida’s offense, there is still something to prove.