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Friday, September 24, 2021

Gators in the MLB - former Florida stars shine in pros

An in-depth analysis of Florida baseball alumni in the pros

Tampa Bay Rays' Mike Zunino hits a solo home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Tampa Bay Rays' Mike Zunino hits a solo home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

While fans wait for the return of college baseball, MLB teams enter the All-Star break and several UF alumni are making their mark among the elite. 

There’s a copious amount of Gators spread about the major and minor leagues such as New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso and right-handed pitcher Shaun Anderson, who just got promoted from Triple-A Norfolk to help out the Baltimore Orioles.

Every player on the list brings their own set of skills to the table, and this list narrows down the five former Gators tearing apart the league the most in 2021.

No. 1 - Mike Zunino, Catcher, Tampa Bay Rays 

2021 American All-Star Selection Zunino starts off the list. The nine-year veteran catcher set his anchor back in his home state of Florida after six seasons on the west coast with the Seattle Mariners. 

A 30-year-old from Cape Coral, Florida, Zunino was the third overall draft pick by Seattle in 2012. The former Gator knocked 19 home runs in the first half of the season to lead the Rays and ranks second among MLB catchers in dingers. 

Zunino’s .198 bat average doesn’t leap off the page, but his defensive work behind the plate helped the veteran earn his first appearance in the All Star game July 13. The catcher threw out 510 baserunners on 538 chances this year and recorded 26 assists so far this season.

The Rays compiled a six game win streak but lost to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon. Zunino went one-for-three in the Saturday matchup with a home run in the bottom of the third.

No. 2 - Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets

The second-round pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft made a name for himself in the 2019 season. He recorded 53 home runs, the most by a rookie in MLB history, and won National League Rookie of the Year. 

The right-handed first baseman played for the Gators in 2014-2016 before being selected by the New York Mets in the 2nd round and sent down to the minor leagues. Now in his third season, the 26 year-old remains consistent and has eclipsed his pace from the 2020 season. 

The Polar Bear has been on and off the injured list because of a lingering hand sprain but returned to the lineup June 9 to launch two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. In a recent double header against the Pittsburgh Pirates July 10, Alonso bombed his 17th home run while going one-for-four in the 4-2 win.

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Besides his 17 trots around the bases, Alonso has tallied 68 hits in 268 at-bats, carries a .332 on-base percentage and recorded 49 RBIs. The slugger’s hot bat will be tested further when he defends his crown in the 2021 edition of the Home Run Derby.

No. 3 - Jonathan India, 2B, Cincinnati Reds

A rookie hailing from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, India recently broke into the MLB and quickly claimed the spotlight in southern Ohio. Selected in the first round of the 2018 Amateur Draft, India blasted through two seasons in the minor leagues before being called upon to play second base for the Cincinnati Reds.

Cincinnati sits in second place in the National League Central due in large part to the hot bat of the former Gator. India logged 78 starts this season with a .275 average and batting in 42 runs. The rookie leads the Reds with a team-high seven stolen bases. 

In a 5-2 victory July 7 over the Kansas City Royals, India went three-of-four and recorded a double plus two RBIs. The rookie’s slugging percentage rests at .408 on the year.

No. 4 - Anthony DeSclafani, Pitcher, San Francisco Giants

The first pitcher on the list is a seasoned seventh-year pitcher currently working through his debut with the San Francisco Giants. 

DeSclafani earned the trust of Giants manager Gabe Kapler to start on the hill with a 2.68 ERA. The 31-year-old right hander carries a 10-3 overall record in 107.1 innings tossed. 

The veteran tossed two complete game shutouts this season against the Colorado Rockies April 26 and most recently against the Washington Nationals June 11. In the two starts, DeSclafani threw 17 total strikeouts while only giving up five hits and two walks.

No. 5 - Dane Dunning, Pitcher, Texas Rangers

The right-handed Dunning played for the Florida Gators from 2014-2016 before being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2016 Amatuer Draft. 

Washington traded Dunning to the Chicago White Sox to work in the minor leagues before Chicago shipped the pitcher to his current squad, the Texas Rangers. 

The veteran has now found his home in the lone star state and made 17 starts but is only credited with a 3-6 overall record. In 79 innings pitched, the right hander from Orange Park, Florida, successfully struck out 85 of 342 batters while giving up 86 hits and seven home runs.

Dunning struck out six and allowed one hit in his last five inning start against the Detroit Tigers July 6. The hurler’s ERA stands steady at 4.22 for the season while his ERA+ is at 106, just above the MLB average of 100.

Honorable Mention: Brady Singer, Pitcher, Kansas City

Singer narrowly missed a spot in the top five this week despite similar statistics to Dunning. The right hander from Leesburg, Florida, carries a 3-6 record in 18 starts but finished his most recent stint against the Cincinnati Reds with six strikeouts in six innings pitched.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352

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