Florida baseball is no stranger to the major leagues. Since head coach Kevin O’Sullivan took over in 2008, the Gators have seen the second-most first-round selections. UF is tied for third in active MLB players with seven.
The legendary pool of Florida pros grew July 9 when three Gators were selected on the opening night of the 2023 MLB Draft. O’Sullivan’s tally of drafted players moved to 102 and first-round selections grew to 13.
UF’s run of picks in the first and second rounds began with star outfielder Wyatt Langford. The Trenton, Florida, native dominated last season at UF with a .373 batting average. He slugged 21 homers and 57 runs batted in on the way to a College World Series final berth in his junior season.
“Wyatt had four at-bats his freshman year,” O’Sullivan said. “Now, in my opinion, you can flip a coin between him and Dylan Crews.”
Langford entered the 2023 season as a projected top-three pick and held firm behind Louisiana State stars Paul Skenes and Crews all year.
Following a stellar CWS run and in the days leading up to draft night, Langford became the betting favorite to be selected first overall.
Skenes and Crews would eventually fall in place and leave Langford available at third as expected. He instead fell to the Texas Rangers at fourth after the Detroit Tigers took high school phenom Max Clark. Langford is the highest-drafted UF player since Mike Zunino went third to the Seattle Mariners in 2012.
MLB experts consider Langford a prospect who can make an immediate impact once called up. His steady approach and pro-level power make him a dangerous batter and he is sure to make noise at the plate.
The Gators’ first-round selections didn’t end at Langford. Next to hear his name called was junior right-handed pitcher Hurston Waldrep. The Atlanta Braves selected the Gators ace with the No. 24 pick.
With Waldrep’s selection, the Gators marked their first multi-draftee first round since 2018.
Waldrep spent his first two years at Southern Mississippi before transferring to UF for 2023. He boasted a 10-3 record and finished one strikeout short of tying Alex Faedo’s single-season record.
The Thomasville, Georgia, native will return to his home state and provide plenty of upside for the Braves.
"This whole experience has been awesome,'' Waldrep said. "It means the world to me to be able to pitch in this environment, to help these guys. And I couldn't have done it without a single one of them, from the coaches all the way down to the bullpen catchers and the managers."
He struggled with consistency at times last season, but wowed scouts with a nasty split-finger pitch that recorded a 65 percent whiff rate. He recorded 10 or more strikeouts in seven of his 19 starts this season.
Juniors Brandon Sproat rounded out UF’s draft class for night one. Sproat was selected by the New York Mets with the No. 56 pick.
Sproat, selected in the third round last year by the Mets, chose to come back and compete for a national championship after falling to Oklahoma in the 2022 NCAA Regionals.
He led the Gators in innings pitched and walks and hits per inning as UF made its deepest postseason run since 2017.
Junior shortstop Josh Rivera returned to Gainesville undrafted but with MLB offers on the table. He is looking to hear his name called early on in the week after being ranked in the top 100 of most draft boards.
He rebuilt his approach at the plate and became one of Florida’s most consistent players. He finished second in nearly every major batting statistic while serving as the Gators’ best defensive glove.
A draft selection would mean significantly more compensation and a more straightforward path to the majors for Rivera.
“Josh has been in our program for four years,” O’Sullivan said. “And you’ve seen him not only develop as a baseball player, we’ve talked about the hitting and the defense, but the maturity level.”
The Gators have big cleats to fill with the loss of its draftees and graduating seniors. Former freshman standouts Cade Kurland and Luke Heyman, alongside the fifth-ranked recruiting class in 2023, will look to replicate the 2023 draft class’ production in 2024 and beyond.
Jackson Castellano is a junior sports media journalism student at UF and the Senior News Director at The Alligator for Fall 2023. In the past, he's served as the Sports Editor, Assistant Sports Editor and a Sports Reporter covering Football, Men's basketball and Baseball.