Jun 20, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators catcher JJ Schwarz (22) greets teammates after scoring in the sixth inning in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Baseball Prepares to Open Up 2016 Season

Good news Florida baseball fans, it’s February and in t-minus 16 days the #1 Gators will take the field at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium.

Florida has high expectations coming into this season ranked #1 in just about every major preseason poll. Knowing the pressure that comes with top preseason rankings the Gators are taking no time off, practicing relentlessly awaiting their 2016 season debut versus the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on February 19.

Last season was memorable for the Gators finishing  52-18 overall (the second-most wins in school history) and 19-11 in the SEC. Despite some rough patches in the regular season Florida rebounded when it mattered, not only winning the SEC Tournament championship but also advancing to the College World Series for the fourth time in the past six years. Florida swept through the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional ultimately falling one game short of the 2015 College World Series championship. The Gators’ heartbreaking 5-4 loss to Virginia fueled Florida to come back stronger than ever.

One thing is for sure with a top recruiting class, Florida has the opportunity to do just that. Ranked No.2 by Baseball America Kevin O’ Sullivan and the Gators landed 13 recruits. Of the new class six were drafted by professional baseball last June — this marks the third-highest number of drafted players ever in a Florida recruiting class.

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said the team and coaching staff are excited to see what this talented group will accomplish but nevertheless there is a lot of work to be done.

Key losses to the Gator roster include shortstop Richie Martin, who was selected by the Oakland A’s in the first round and outfielder Harrison Bader, who was picked up by the St.Louis Cardinals in the third round of the MLB draft. Other Gators drafted were Eric Hanhold (Milwaukee Brewers), Danny Young (Toronto Blue Jays), Taylor Lewis (Atlanta Braves) and Josh Tobias (Philadelphia Phillies).

Florida does however have some talent coming back in future first round draft picks outfielder Buddy Reed and pitcher A.J. Puk.

A bullpen filled with depth and experience will be the Gators staple this season. Florida’s Friday night starter Logan Shore went 11-6 in a team-leading 19 starts last season with 84 strikeouts, 24 walks and a 2.72 earned run average. While A.J. Puk started in 14 of 17 appearances and was 9-4 with a 3.81 earned run average. Puk led the team with 104 strikeouts, ranking fifth in the SEC, and held opposing hitters to a .210 batting average, fourth-lowest in the league.Pitcher Logan Shore says Florida’s loss in the College World Series will fuel them for next season.

Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan is excited to see what his talented pitchers and 2016 squad will do this year.

About Caroline Keesler

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