The Florida Gators were the champions of the college baseball world in 2017, defeating LSU in the decisive final game. Entering the 2018 season, Florida is the number one ranked team in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Poll. Kevin Sullivan’s squad returns plenty of contributors from last year’s championship team, including potential number one overall pick Brady Singer.
Singer will likely slide into the Friday night role, taking over for last year’s ace Alex Faedo. Faedo was drafted in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft after posting a 9-2 record with a 2.26 ERA in 123.2 innings. Singer also enjoyed a stellar season, finishing 9-5 with a 3.21 ERA in 126 innings of work. An October mock draft posted by Baseball America projected Singer as the first pick in the 2018 draft. Singer’s main pitch is a mid-90s fastball with run. Singer is a tall, lanky pitcher (listed at 6’5″ 200 pounds) and uses his 3/4 arm slot to his advantage. Also returning is star closer Michael Byrne. As a sophomore last season, Byrne led the nation with 19 saves, striking out 93 in 75.2 innings. Byrne also led the team with a platry 1.67 ERA. Byrne, along with Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.08 ERA in 108 innings) and Tyler Dyson (4-0, 3.23 ERA in 39 innings) are all candidates to fill the remaining two spots in the weekend rotation. Four incoming freshman pitchers were drafted but did not choose to sign. Of those four, Tommy Mace was the highest pick, being drafted in the 12th round by the Cincinnati Reds.
As for the offense, Florida will return most of their significant contributors from last season. Despite losing Dalton Guthrie, Mike Rivera, and Mark Kolozsvary to the draft, and Ryan Larson to graduation, Florida’s offense, which averaged over five runs per game last year, should continue to be successful. Senior catcher JJ Schwarz is a surprise return, as he was drafted in the 38th round in 2017. After turning down the chance to go pro after high school (17th round draft pick in 2014 draft), Schwarz began his college career with a bang, hitting .332 with 18 homeruns and 73 RBI, en route to being named to multiple Freshman All-American teams, All-American teams, the NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year, and the Louisville Slugger C0-Freshman of the Year. Schwarz’s average has dropped to .290 and .256 in his sophomore and junior years, respectively, and so has the power, with 19 combined homeruns the past two seasons. While the power may have leveled off following a dominant freshman campaign, the drop in batting average is a cause for concern. Schwarz will look to rebound this year, and continue to anchor the Gators lineup. Rounding out the Gator infield is junior Jonathan India (.289 average in two years), junior Deacon Liput (25 stolen bases in two seasons), and senior Christian Hicks (.282 average, 4 homeruns in 64 games in 2017). Austin Langworthy (.238/.352/.352, 4 homeruns) and Nelson Maldonado (.299/.449/.433, 6 homeruns) will cover the outfield again.
Sullivan and his staff continued their dominance on the recruiting trail, bringing in the second-rated class as ranked by Perfect Game. In a packed SEC, Florida has a very good chance to rise to the top of the conference after an exit in the semifinals in 2017. Led by Brady Singer and the rest of a stellar pitching staff, the Gators are once again on the prowl, with their sights set on a repeat championship.