Ahead of this weekend's series in Gainesville, I talked with Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army to get a read on the Gators.
PodKATT - Results for Florida are up and down this year, with series wins over Arkansas and FSU, but series losses to A&M, Miami, and Illinois (in 2 games) What do you think is the cause for the Gators' inconsistency?
Andy Hutchins - I think it boils down to two things: Youth (and the inconsistency that comes with it) and a lack of offense. There are zero — yes, zero, as in zero — seniors on this team, and just two redshirt juniors, one of whom is Karsten Whitson, far removed from the form that made him a top 10 MLB Draft pick long ago, and the other of whom is Keenan Kish, a reliever who learned he needed Tommy John surgery in February, and has now shifted into a sort of pseudo-GA role. There just aren't that many battle-tested players on this team, which has been an MLB farm team year after year under Kevin O'Sullivan, and is now dealing with a lot of the issues left behind by massive roster turnover.
More specifically, Florida lacks power, and so it spends its outs trying to get one run out of an inning, rather than trying to string together rallies and make crooked numbers appear. This is somewhat infuriating for Florida fans who remember the days of Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino, which were not that long ago, but it is probably just what happens when a team's big-time players are mostly freshmen and sophomores.
PK - The Gators are at or near the bottom in every offensive category in the SEC, But players like C Taylor Gushue and 1B Braden Mattson appear to have some good pop in their bats, especially in conference play where Gushue’s line shoots up to 500/542/682. Who else on this roster do you think is (or should be) an offensive weapon who maybe isn’t performing to expectations?
AH - Harrison Bader, who Florida suspended for about a third of the season thanks to a not-quite-a-DUI incident involving a scooter earlier this year, is probably Florida's best offensive player when he's on, because he's got a good swing, a little pop, and excellent speed; he would probably be putting up something like a .300+/.375/.450 line at this point had he been eligible for Florida's non-conference games. But he hasn't been on, not quite yet.
Casey Turgeon, who appears to have peaked as a freshman, is also a bit of a disappointment.
PK - Aside from Logan Shore, it doesn’t look like the Gators have had a solid weekend rotation this year. Who do you think will fill the TBA spot on Sunday? Side question: What’s up with Karsten Whitson?
AH - Normally, I would think we'd probably see Eric Hanhold take the bump on Sundays, but with him set to go on Friday this weekend, I can't be sure, really. Maybe Bobby Poyner, if he doesn't get used on Friday or Saturday?
And Whitson's problem is the same as it was last year, after his first attempted return from elbow trouble: He can't miss bats like he used to. The stuff's still pretty good, especially the fastball, but his body betrayed him, and he throws arrows, which batters send for rides when they make contact.
PK - Kevin O’Sullivan got the Gators all the way to the CWS finals in 2011, but things weren’t that great last year and aren’t looking a lot better this year. Is this a momentary dip or are things starting to slide for the program?
AH - I think it's a dip, and I think it's probably one that Florida comes out of late this year or early next year; there's too much pitching talent, from Shore to Danny Young to phenomenal freshman reliever Aaron Rhodes (1.93 ERA and 30 Ks in 28 IP) for Florida not to have a really, really good rotation for most of the next three years. But the lack of pop likely requires new timber to fix, and that will take time.
Can Florida get back to the team that it had from 2010 to 2012, one that was arguably the most talented in college baseball history? I don't know. But O'Sullivan's still a great recruiter, and his competition is often the pros. He'll have a shot to reload his program.
PK - 2 outs, bottom 9, 1 man on, down 1. Who do you want at the plate for the Gators?
AH - ...so we can't bunt? You're sure we can't bunt?
I think I want Gushue at the dish, but, hell, there's no one I'd be more than minimally confident in. Florida strands runners like it's the object of baseball, and I'm not kidding myself: We're going to extras.