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June 3, 2014

Looking Ahead: 2015 Florida Baseball



Florida's baseball team surprised the Southeastern Conference and much of college baseball in 2014. There will not be a surprise factor in 2015, as the young Gators have set the bar for seasons going forward. Here are the questions that will face UF throughout the offseason and going into next spring.

Who joins Logan Shore as reliable starting pitchers?

Kevin O'Sullivan believes the future is bright for Florida's young pitching staff and it's tough to disagree with him assuming the untapped potential comes to fruition. Fans saw glimpses throughout the season, but the Gators never secured a regular rotation around Shore, the SEC Freshman of the Year.

"We've got a lot of youth," O'Sullivan said. "To do what Logan is doing, going out there six, seven, eight innings, that's hard to do on a Friday night. We have a bunch of guys next year when you look up, they'll be that kind of guy like Logan is this year. But they're just not ready. They're two-inning, three-inning, four-inning guys right now. But when you look at next year, it's going to be pretty good."

That stable of rising sophomores includes right-hander Brett Morales, left-hander A.J. Puk and right-hander Dane Dunning. All are imposing in their own way; Puk and Dunning with height (6-7, and 6-3) and Morales with top-level stuff. Merging them into regular rotational pieces along with rising junior Aaron Rhodes, who occasionally starred in 2014, is critical.

Which players will depart?

Florida does not have any sure-fire MLB prospects or any players out of eligibility heading into next season. But the Gators do have a number of intriguing cases of players who need to make a decision of whether or not they're done with college baseball. They include:

* RHP Karsten Whitson: Would be a fifth-year senior if he returns. His career has fizzled because of injuries after once being a top-10 MLB draft pick out of high school.
* C Taylor Gushue: Likely Florida's most prominent draft prospect. His return will depend on where he is selected in the MLB Draft, which begins Thursday.
* 2B Casey Turgeon: An undersized prospect who has appeared to reach his ceiling in three years of starting for the Gators. He may have to balance risk vs. limited reward if selected in the first 15-20 rounds of the draft.
* RHP Ryan Harris: The junior reliever became one of Florida's go-to guys in 2013 and continued that role to some extent as a junior. He could likely benefit from another year under O'Sullivan.
* LHP Bobby Poyner: Like Turgeon, Poyner is undersized but is coming off the best season of his collegiate career as a reliable long-relief option. His stock may not get higher than it is right now.

Can the Gators develop a formidable lineup?

After an "extremely gratifying" - O'Sullivan's words - season, Florida's campaign crumbled in two games at the Gainesville Regional despite allowing runs in just two of 18 innings. The reason was a woeful lack of situational hitting, batting .182 with runners in scoring position and stranding 24 baserunners.

It was a reminder of what went wrong when the Gators started the season 6-6 and lacked an offensive identity. Like pitching, the pieces were there but those pieces wer often not quite ready. Outside of Gushue, Florida mostly relied on freshman Peter Alonso for power. Sophomore Harrison Bader was the team's best hitter but missed nearly one-third of the season because of a suspension.

Getting the young bats more accustomed to the college game will improve the team's approach heading into a 2015 season in which the Gators will be expected to contend.


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