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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Wyatt Langford proves his coach right every day

The Gators left fielder is having a season that is making baseball fans across the country take notice

<p>Sophomore Wyatt Langford delivered his 26th home run of the season Monday, tying Matt LaPorta for most homers in a single season from a UF batter. </p>

Sophomore Wyatt Langford delivered his 26th home run of the season Monday, tying Matt LaPorta for most homers in a single season from a UF batter.

In a roller-coaster start to the year for Florida baseball, there has been one constant: Wyatt Langford. 

The sophomore from Trenton, Florida, is in the midst of a tremendous season, posting a team-leading 1.103 on-base-plus-slugging percentage along with a .417 on-base percentage and 10 home runs. He has been the Gators’ best and most consistent hitter, and somebody they can always rely on to spark the offense.

However, Langford has not had a smooth ride in his time at Florida. He has traversed through rough terrain since arriving in Gainesville.

Langford struggled to find playing time in his first season on campus, appearing in just four games. Then he had to battle for the starting job in left field this year with four extremely talented freshmen, eventually winning out due to his prowess with the bat.

“It’s been awesome just being able to play this year,” Langford said. “Kinda got used to not playing baseball last year, just watching a lot of it so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan put his trust in Langford and it is paying huge dividends. O’Sullivan, who is in his 15th season at Florida, said the left fielder’s transformation in the offseason helped earn him the starting job.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a player change his body and change the athleticism as much as [Langford] has,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s spent a lot of time in the weight room and a lot of time on his nutrition, and he’s transformed himself into a really good player from hard work.”

Langford attributes that transformation in part to moving in with teammate Colby Halter. He said living with the junior second baseman helped him stay focused on his training and nutrition. 

“No twinkies at all,” Langford said with a smile.

Clearly the change in his body — gaining 10 pounds of muscle since last season — has paid off big time in the power department. Langford’s .684 slugging percentage is second on the team to center fielder Jud Fabian, as are his 11 home runs.

Scouting expert Spencer Morris of Diamond Dreams Baseball said that Langford is somebody that began catching his eye while focusing on other Florida prospects. Now, he has quickly emerged as one of UF’s best.

“I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone that he also packs some serious raw power,” Morris said. “The fact that he's already lifting the ball effectively against SEC competition as a teenager is a great sign for its continued growth. 

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Langford is not eligible for the MLB Draft until next season, but Morris said he is someone who is rocketing up boards. His pedigree as a prospect and the reputation of success for guys like Langford has him projected as an early-round pick in 2023.

“This is a well-regarded prep player who is blossoming at a very early age against the upper echelons of college baseball talent,” Morris said. “Those types of players have a very strong track record in the pros, and he more than looks the part.”

Part of the reason Langford was able to earn himself a starting job is because he changed positions. He came to Gainesville as an infielder/catcher and was stuck behind experienced guys, unable to get any playing time.

Once he changed his body, he also changed positions, switching to a full-time outfielder. This allowed Langford to compete for the open spot in left field and quickly find himself in the starting lineup.

“He’s a really really good player, but he’s a self-made player,” O’Sullivan said. “I mean this guy had four at-bats his freshman year and made himself a good left fielder.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Langford’s game this season has been his defense. It caught everybody by surprise how easily he has transitioned to the outfield, posting a perfect fielding percentage on the season. 

“I remember getting on him in the Fall, he mishandled two balls right at him in an intersquad game,” O’Sullivan recounted. “I’m like ‘Hey, at some point you’re gonna have to start taking some fly balls right at you before or after practice, put some extra work in.’

O’Sullivan confirms that Langford did indeed put his head down and grinded his way to become the “unbelievable” player he is today. 

Langford has arguably the two biggest highlight-reel plays of the season for Florida. In one week alone, Langford robbed two home runs, one against Florida State and another against Georgia. The second was even better than the first, and both cracked Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays

He does it all for the Gators, and without him they would not be the same team they are this year. While they have struggled, things would be a lot worse without the heroics of their left fielder. 

Luckily, Langford made such a statement in fall that O’Sullivan was left with no choice but to start him. He has proven in every game this season that Florida’s legendary head coach made the right decision.

Contact Ethan Budowsky at Follow him on Twitter @ethanbudowsky.

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