The last time the Florida Gators baseball team hosted an opponent at Florida Ballpark, it was eliminated from the collegiate postseason and saw its College World Series chances disappear with a 19-1 loss to South Alabama.
Last year’s unanimous preseason No. 1 fell short of the extraordinarily high expectations set for them at the start of the 2021 season. Now, the Gators return for a brand new year, with a relatively brand new team.
The Gators hosted a double-header scrimmage against Georgia Southern Saturday to offer a first look at the 2022 squad. The Eagles took game one 3-1, while the Gators won game two, 7-6.
Though the early loss to Georgia Southern threatens to spark conversation over the status of this year’s Florida team, the panic button shouldn’t be pushed just yet. The Gators certainly have room for improvement after Saturday’s showing, but they show glimpses of hope as well.
Here are three takeaways from the first fall ball head-to-head.
A Young Squad
One of the first things to remember about this year’s baseball squad is how young and new the team actually is.
Between the end of last season to the start of fall ball, the Gators lost 20 players.
Twelve of the departing players were pitchers, including weekend starters Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich, meaning fans should expect several young arms on the mound in the spring. On Saturday alone, six freshman pitchers saw action.
First-timers burst onto the scene on Saturday. Freshmen Deric Fabian, Ty Evans, Michael Robertson, Rene Lastres, Jorge De Goti, Matt Prevesk and Corey Robinson all made appearances.
As of now, the Gators roster consists of 16 freshmen, nine of which are pitchers. While it’s easy to start criticisms after one preseason show, this inexperienced roster may just need some more time to find its footing.
Fabian Family Affair
Florida generated success throughout the 2021 season at the plate. Four Gators finished the season with above .300 batting averages and totaled a team average of .278.
One vital piece of this offense elected to return to Florida, and his name is Jud Fabian. Fabian, despite being drafted in the second round by the Boston Red Sox, chose to play for the Gators for another year.
Last season, Fabian mashed 20 home runs and earned the highest slugging percentage on the team with .560. The power on Saturday, however, came from someone with the same name but a different face.
Jud’s little brother, Deric, lifted fans out of their seats, launching two pitches over the wall — one in each game — to elevate a Gators offense that lagged a bit in game one and early on in game two.
Though veterans Sterlin Thompson and Wyatt Langford each knocked another over the wall in game two, the newest Fabian is definitely one to watch at the plate.
On the Mound
The age-old Florida pitching dynasty looked at risk to crumble once again this season. Beyond just the uncertainty from the freshmen arms, the veterans found their own struggles on Saturday.
Sophomore right-hander Brandon Sproat gave up two hits and an earned run in his opening two innings in the second game. Sophomore lefty Timmy Manning also struggled in his inning of work, giving up three hits and a pair of earned runs.
On the bright side, returning starter Hunter Barco didn’t miss a beat. Barco opened up game one with six consecutive outs, including four strikeouts, in his two-inning appearance.
Though the Gators could use some work and fine-tuning, the good news is there is plenty of time before the season’s first pitch in February.
Contact Sara Kate Dyson at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @sarakatedyson.