Florida’s baseball team enters the 2019 campaign with high expectations, as it should.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan fielded questions Friday afternoon at McKethan Stadium about the high…
The club is fresh off its fourth-straight College World Series appearance and is looking to make its eighth trip to Omaha since 2010 this season.
With all of that success in mind, it’s hard to imagine this Florida squad — ranked as high as third in various preseason rankings — could be considered overrated, right?
Just look at the overhaul that has turned this season’s roster on its head.
Ace pitcher Brady Singer? Gone. First-round third baseman Jonathan India? Gone. Veteran starters Deacon Liput, JJ Schwarz and Nick Horvath? Gone, gone and gone.
Not to mention Jackson Kowar (10-5, 3.04 ERA in 2018) and Michael Byrne (the program’s all-time leader in saves) are also no longer on the roster.
Oh, and yeah. Relief pitcher Andrew Baker and first baseman Keenan Bell have left the program as well.
With all of that turnover, it’d be moronic to assume this team won’t at least encounter a few growing pains in the season’s early stages.
The Gators look to have immediate contributions from some of their newest members, like freshmen Jud Fabian and Cory Acton. They are expected to be thrust into the starting lineup at center field and third base, respectively.
Fellow rookie Kendrick Calilao is also projected to be in the starting lineup, replacing Schwarz/Bell at first.
Now don’t get it twisted, the three youngsters have talent and probably deserve to be starters at some point. Fabian in particular was named to the 2018 Florida High School All-State Team.
The fact is, none of them have competed at the college level yet, and that inexperience is almost guaranteed to breed costly mistakes for Florida during February and March.
Over on the mound, there’s even more question marks.
The 2018 three-day rotation has been ripped to shreds with Singer and Kowar now Major League Baseball hopefuls.
Those two combined for 22 wins and 229 strikeouts last year.
You aren’t going to just snap your fingers and replace that kind of production.
And yeah, sophomores Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace started in some games and junior Tyler Dyson has plenty of experience to assume the role of UF’s new ace, but you simply can’t compare them to what the team lost.
Leftwich and Dyson combined for a 10-8 record last season with both ERAs hovering over four.
Mace was 5-0 in 26 appearances but only made six starts.
The bullpen has now been overloaded with freshmen as well. Six pitchers were playing high school baseball in 2018.
Coach Kevin O’Sullivan admits to some of the uncertainty that is hovering over this year’s team, and it seems he realizes the impact some of the newcomers will make on its performance early in 2019.
“There’s a lot of question marks,” O’Sullivan said. “But from a talent standpoint, it’s a good nucleus.”
It’s obvious O’Sullivan has confidence in his young players to take their lumps and come out just fine when the calendar turns closer to summer. He has seen it happen, and I’m not saying I don’t agree with him.
All I’m saying is, don’t be surprised when the Gators drop a series to Winthrop or lose a game to Jacksonville before SEC play gets started.
Evan Lepak is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected]