It’s so hard to choose.
With the way Florida’s baseball team has played so far in 2018, it’s difficult to single out a handful of players who merit the title “top performers.” There are just too many.
With Missouri and Florida slated for a doubleheader on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium to…
Especially after this weekend, when the No. 1 Gators (32-6, 12-3 SEC) swept the Missouri Tigers to further swell their conference record. Especially when UF has won 13 of its last 14 games.
But Saturday’s win over Missouri marked the halfway point of the team’s conference slate, so it’s worth taking a look at which players among the ones excelling are excelling the most.
“To be 12-3 halfway through,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said, “obviously you’ve gotta be pleased with where you’re at.”
But who has helped the team get there the most? Here’s a look at two pitchers and two position players who are leading the Gators.
Closer Michael Byrne
Despite boasting a weekend rotation with three potential first round MLB Draft picks, Byrne, a junior from Orlando, has been UF’s most consistent — and perhaps most dangerous — weapon on the mound.
He doesn’t overpower anyone with a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, and he doesn’t have much pitch variety. But what he does have is near-robotic control.
In 32 innings this season, Byrne has walked two hitters and struck out 34. His ERA of 0.84 leads the Gators and places him third in the SEC among pitchers with at least 10 innings tossed.
His numbers aren’t as remarkable in conference play — he has a 1.84 ERA — but they’re still the best on the team.
Reliever Jordan Butler
You probably imagined Brady Singer or Jackson Kowar filling in this spot. Both are solid choices, and both have eerily similar numbers, which made it hard to choose.
But that’s expected.
It was always expected that Singer and Kowar would fulfill their lofty expectations, and so far, they have. Freshman lefty Jordan Butler was a complete unknown outside the program entering the season, and he’s now filled a role that O’Sullivan was concerned about when the season started. For that, he gets the nod.
Butler is third on the team with a 2.38 ERA, and he’s thrown more than twice as many innings as second place Andrew Baker. His numbers in SEC play are even more impressive, with zero earned runs, 14 strikeouts, four walks and four hits allowed in 11.1 innings.
O’Sullivan said that entering the season, he wasn’t sure who was going to bridge the gap from Singer, Kowar and fellow starter Tyler Dyson to Byrne. He didn’t have an established eighth inning guy.
Butler has become that guy.
“He’s a very big part of our team,” catcher JJ Schwarz said.
Third baseman Jonathan India
It’s impossible to leave India off this list.
His .436 batting average leads the SEC, and so does his slugging percentage, on-base percentage and number of runs scored.
His average would set a new UF single-season record if the season ended today, and he’s carrying a 23-game hitting streak. And like Butler, he’s only gotten better in conference play.
He’s hitting .509 in the SEC, and teams have made a habit of intentionally walking him. That speaks to how feared he’s become as well as to how influential he’s been for the Gators during their run of success.
Shortstop Deacon Liput
Wil Dalton, Nick Horvath, Austin Langworthy and Schwarz could have filled this spot just as well, but because of how he’s excelled after a slow start, the nod goes to Liput.
Florida’s shortstop opened the year suspended, but since he’s returned to the lineup — often in the leadoff spot — he’s hitting .301 with 20 RBIs. Had he played during his suspension, those RBI numbers would put him on pace for 30 runs driven in. That would place him second on the team to Dalton.
His return to the lineup also filled a major hole for the Gators. UF hadn’t figured out what to do with shortstop, trying out true freshman Brady McConnell as well as sliding India over from third base and leaving freshman Brady Smith at the hot corner.
McConnell and Smith have hit .143 and .267 this season, respectively, so keeping them on the bench and solidifying an already potent lineup with Liput at shortstop has been a major boost for Florida’s offense.