When Kirby McMullen launched a two-run home race in the last autumn survey in 2020, he not only ended the calendar year on a high note.
He put an exclamation point on a dominant 12-month-old off and on Florida baseball, which included a 16-1 record and a No. 1 ranking before the cancellation of the game, signaling to the rest of the country that coach Kevin O ‘Sullivan’s squad has no intentions about to drop in 2021.
After attending almost every baseball scrimmage between the two of us this fall, these are our thoughts on what to expect from the first year at the new Florida Ballpark.
Who will dominate the mound for the Gators in 2021?
The pitching staff was one of the most notable and impressive aspects of the top-ranked Gators last season, and it seems to have gotten even deeper. The team had eight pitchers on staff with an under-two ERA and seven with a WHIP under one. Nearly every arm from last season returns to Florida in 2021. Tommy Mace, a top prospect who returned to Gainesville after being handed over in the abbreviated draft, is the supposed ace, accompanied by draft staff Jack Leftwich. Hunter Barco, Jordan Butler and Nick Pogue also remain in the rotation. Tyler Nesbitt, who did not allow a race in 11.2 laps last year, could see a bigger role, like Brandon Sproat. Franco Aleman, St. John’s River State College transition, got several starts this fall and had some great performances. Real beginners Chase Centala and Timmy Manning also got a lot of work in the fall
Sara Kate Dyson – For me, the one who will watch this season must be Leftwich. Although he may be in the background of Mace’s light, Leftwich should not be overlooked. He started all four Saturday matches in 2020, and posted a 4.15 ERA over 21.2 rounds of work. Halfway through the fall, the veteran collected 17 strikes and put out a 2.57 ERA through 14 rounds. The team will only benefit from him returning to the mound for his fourth season.
Ryan haley – The favorite must be Mace, and I do not think there is any case against him. But I’ve never been one to argue for favorites, so I’m going to make a case for Hunter Barco. As a freshman last year, he posted a 1.40 ERA in 19.1 innings, including a 5.1 innings, a one-run outing to Miami two days after Mase’s gem against the hurricanes. Barco tied Mace to the team lead on strike (26) in seven fewer innings and had the lowest opposing cut (.162) of any starters. He looked good in the fall, but so did every pitcher. This rotation is super deep, and there are few wrong answers.
Which position player is going to stand out?
Player Jud Fabian looks like the favorite for the season for best player on the Florida list. Fabian was ranked as the fourth best 2021 draft by MLB.com, and was number two on the team in hits (20) and led the Gators in doubles (6), home runs (5) and RBI (13) in the 17-match season. Player Jacob Young also returns after hitting .450 a season ago, as does catcher / infielder Nathan Hickey, who led Florida in OPS (1,061) and slugging (.622) as a rookie. Longtime founder third baseman Kirby McMullen will also have a season in Gainesville after his epic end to 2020, as will return starter shortstop Josh Rivera, first baseman Kendrick Calilao and second baseman Cory Acton.
Dyson – Since last season, sophomore Kris Armstrong has grown, not only in size, but in impact from both the plate and the field as well. Armstrong came to UF as a two-way player, earning as many appearances on the mound as at the plate in his freshman season. Now he is becoming one of the strongest and most dynamic Florida infielders in this squad. At several points this fall, he led the team in RBI and home races, while also splitting, jumping and diving to keep the fort down at first base. Armstrong will come up big for the Gators this season.
Haley – It would be surprising if Jud Fabian was anything but unique in 2021. He had this autumn’s favorite game, and threw a runner in third place from the warning track right in the center. But I do not want to break the trend of arguing favorites now, so I will talk about another fall in Jacob Young. Every time I looked up, Young was at the base. Probably the fastest player on the team, he hit a staggering .500 in the opening week with scrimmages. He recorded a hit in every 2020 game, and rolled over an 18-hit move in 2021. A vacuum in the field, Young’s presence, will be felt in every game.
Who is the first-year student to look at?
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Florida’s 2021 list will include nine freshmen. The incoming class includes two new catchers, four crates and three markers. While we only had a few months of fallball to see how these young players can fit into the Florida system, there were many who already stood out. Halfway through the fall, catch / entry player Wyatt Langford led the team in haymaking, while catcher Mac Guscette and player Sterlin Thompson also got the chance to show up on the plate several times.
Dyson – I have always been a big fan of pitching, and suffice it to say that this Gators team is loaded with talent on the mound. Newcomer Southpaw Timmy Manning is already making a name for himself in the deep Florida Bullpen. Halfway through the autumn, the left gave only nine hits, the fewest among pitchers on the team with over 10 rounds of work under their belt. In the same time frame, Manning posted 16 strikes and a 1.38 ERA. It will be difficult to fight for a place in the competitive pitching staff in Florida, but I think Manning has the edge over the rest of the freshman class.
Haley – Shadowed by McMullen’s ninth inning shot in the last game of fallball was a two-run double by Sterlin Thompson at the bottom of the seventh that tied the game. The tall, slender freshman played the lead role in scrimmages, hitting the .308 opening week and not looking back from there. It will be difficult to find playing time in this infield, but Thompson was one of the most impressive players regardless of age in the fall.
What are the expectations of this team in 2021?
Dyson – The future of this team is bright, simple as that. It was dominant last year before the closure, and this team gained more than it lost towards 2021. With a much deeper pitching loss, which includes the return of Mace and Leftwich, combined with a more experienced experience, the Gators should record right where they left off in 2020. If this team is not in Omaha making a strong campaign for another national title, I’ll be shocked enough.
Haley – I do not think it is reasonable to expect another 16-1 season start. But Florida was the best team in the country last year, and I don’t really see any way this team can be worse. Pitching staff are somehow deeper than last year, all the entrees are a little older and more experienced now, and they look like they just enjoyed playing with each other in the fall. This team can go very, very far, and I would be surprised if they are anything other than national title candidates like Omaha.
Contact Sara Kate Dyson and Ryan Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Follow them on Twitter @sarakatedyson and @ryan_dhaley.
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