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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Florida baseball position preview: Corner infielders and catcher

The Gators have a trio of talented catchers and impressive corner position players

Jac Caglianone rounds the bases during Florida's 10-0 win against Vanderbilt Friday, May 12, 2023.
Jac Caglianone rounds the bases during Florida's 10-0 win against Vanderbilt Friday, May 12, 2023.

Florida baseball has a talent-loaded roster with plenty of depth at nearly every position. However, there might not be a more experienced collection of players than at catcher and the corner infield positions. 


It’s not often you come across a player like BT Riopelle.

Riopelle, who served as the Gators catcher and a leader of the team for three years, graduated and decided to call an end to his baseball career. The former catcher was a main catalyst during the Gators’ title run and provided significant contributions on both sides of the ball. He concluded his final season with Florida hitting .246 with 19 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made it a priority to try and fill the shoes of Riopelle in the transfer portal during the offseason. In addition to a young, promising catcher already on the roster, O’Sullivan brought in two talented catchers who specialize on different sides of the field. The Gators now have three capable players who will be fighting for playing time all throughout the season.

The one returning catcher from the Gators’ 2023 run to Omaha is sophomore Luke Heyman. Heyman was one of the key players in Florida’s 2023 freshman class and is the most probable starter due to his experience with the team.

The sophomore played a majority of his first year at first base and as a designated hitter. In 55 games, he produced a .314/.366/.555 slash line with two triples, 12 home runs and 39 RBIs.

Heyman has room for improvement defensively, but his hitting prowess likely guarantees him a starting position, whether it be at catcher, first base or as a DH.

Behind Heyman is Coastal Carolina senior transfer Tanner Garrison and Virginia Tech sophomore transfer Brody Donay. Each player brings a different set of abilities to the table, which will make it hard to declare who’s most likely to back up Heyman.

Donay is primarily a catcher but can also play right field if need be. He has loads of pop off his bat and hit 12 home runs and 38 RBIs his freshman season. He has a cannon of an arm behind the dish and was clocked above 95 mph on throw-downs to second during the preseason.

Donay has loads of potential, however, there is a glaring flaw in his hitting ability. Donay lacks a consistent approach at the plate and struck out in nearly 30% of at-bats with Virginia Tech. It’s not surprising for a player with his skillset to strike out at a high rate, but a more desirable number is somewhere below 25%. It will be important for Donay to limit his strikeouts to earn a starting role.

On the flip side, Garrison brings a more consistent approach to the plate but lacks the power of Donay. The Coastal Carolina transfer produced a .275/.296/.588 slash line with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Garrison’s most coveted asset is his defensive ability behind the plate. The senior caught 14 base stealers and ranked as the best catcher in Division I in pitching framing in 2023.

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Third base

The hot corner belonged to junior infielder Colby Halter in 2023. In 54 starts, Halter batted .247 with three home runs, four triples and 30 RBIs and was a brick wall defensively, rarely allowing a ball past him. Third base will look different in 2024 after Halter was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 17th round of the 2023 MLB Draft.

Senior infielder Dale Thomas is the most proven starter for Florida at third base. Thomas displays a defensive ability similar to Halter and has seemingly garnered a leadership role due to his energy and likeability. The senior began his 2023 season primarily as a valuable reserve and eventually earned a starting role near the final homestretch of the season. He doesn’t have the most impressive bat. However, if Thomas can maintain a level of consistency at the plate, he will be a sure-fire lock on the corner.

Like the middle infield, there are several options behind Thomas at third base. The top reserve is most conceivably senior Florida Atlantic transfer Armando Albert.

Albert is a versatile defender with the ability to play middle infield, third base and in both corners of the outfield. He doesn’t have the hitting power traditional to a third baseman but consistently produces solid at-bats and maintained a .400 on-base percentage in both of his seasons with the Owls.

Another player suited just as well as the primary third base reserve is starting outfielder Tyler Shelnut. Shlenut is naturally a corner infielder but gutsily transitioned to the outfield midway through the year after a discussion with the coaching staff.

It was Shelnut’s first time playing the outfield, which took some adjustment. However, his bat remained unaffected by the change, and the Lake City, Florida, native closed the curtain on 2023 batting .277 with seven home runs, 30 runs scored and 28 RBIs.

The final reserve at third base is freshman infielder John Martinez. Martinez was ranked as the No. 30 shortstop out of Florida by Perfect Game and has the defensive ability to play across the infield. There are several experienced players ahead of him, which will make it difficult for the first-year player to find playing time early on, but Martinez could fulfill an infield role if the opportunity presented itself.

First base

There isn’t a more obvious starter at any position than there is in junior two-way player Jac Caglianone. Caglianone possesses nearly every asset scouts look for in a first baseman. He stands at a lofty 6-foot-5 and weighs 250 pounds while boasting a reliable glove and a power-focused approach at the plate. 

In 2023, Caglianone led the NCAA with 33 home runs and produced a staggering 1.126 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Among the Gators, only former outfielder Wyatt Langford ranked higher in OPS in 2023, and he was selected No. 4 overall by the Texas Rangers in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Caglianone’s two-way ability presents an opening at first base on days he is in control of the mound. When that occurs, Florida likely looks toward Heyman to take charge at first. However, Shelnut and Donay offer reasonable options if the Gators decide they want to take a different route.

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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.

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