It marks the 11th-straight season that head coach Kevin O'Sullivan's club has been ranked during the preseason in the nation's oldest college baseball poll, which began in 1959. Courtesy: Daniel Apple

Barco, Armstrong preview No. 1 Gators Baseball

Hunter Barco and Kris Armstrong are just two players of an incredibly deep, talented and hungry roster for the Florida Gators. Last season, the Gators ranked No. 1 in the nation and bolstered an impressive record of 16-1. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic cut that season short, Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators come into 2021 with an improved roster and endless expectations.

FILE- In this June 12, 2015, file photo, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan speaks during a news conference in Omaha, Neb. This year the Gators are again with a roster overflowing with talent and the consensus No. 1 ranking in the preseason polls. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)

The Florida Gators baseball team could be known for their pitching staff, or they could be known for their hitting. Regardless, this roster is full of talent across the diamond.

Barco-Mace-Leftwich lead Gators pitching staff

Let’s start with the bullpen. When you have three players that have the potential to be the “Friday Starters”, there is not much struggle when it comes to pitching. Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich and Hunter Barco make up a three-man pitching rotation that could go up against anybody.

While some schools may develop rivalries out of too many talented arms, the Gators are using it to their advantage. While Barco was supposed to be the clear-cut ace for Kevin O’Sullivan, Barco is using his competition to make himself and the team the best they can be.

But, why stop at the starting rotation? Barco himself came on in relief last year. A few pitchers to keep an eye on include a handful of freshmen at O’Sullivan’s disposal. Brandon Spoat, a sophomore, has a cannon for an arm that is just shy of hitting 100 mph. Timmy Manning, a freshman, and Franco Aleman, a transfer out of St. Johns River State College, are two new arrivals that could be difference makers in the bullpen.

In terms of All-SEC selections, Tommy Mace made the Second Team All-SEC lineup along with right-handed pitcher Ben Specht, a sophomore out of Fort Meyers.

Abundant talent in the batter’s box

With all this depth on the mound, it could be easy to get caught up in the possibility of close, low-scoring games. However, the Florida bats are equal to, if not better than, that pitching side.

Led by Preseason All-SEC First Team selection Jud Fabian, who many consider one of the better position fielders and hitters in the country, Florida is shaping up to be dominant at the plate.

Kris Armstrong, a sophomore infielder from Jupiter, also possesses power. Armstrong says practicing with pitchers like Barco only make him more excited for this team’s potential.

It is remarkable thinking about the depth Florida has in both offense and defense. As Barco would agree, this team was poised for a trip to Omaha last season before an untimely ending. Bringing back a majority of that roster to go along with freshmen and transfers and a year of socially distanced training, it is a scary sight for the opposition.

That being said, if a trip to Omaha was the goal last year, a College World Series Championship is a potential expectation for this year.

Potential, expectations and goals

Armstrong and Barco would agree that a National Championship is this team’s end goal. However, you do not get to Omaha for being the preseason favorites to win it all. Despite the acclaim of a No. 1 ranking in the country and being the Preseason SEC favorites, O’Sullivan wants to keep his players humble.

According to Armstrong, Sully has been working his roster at practice to make the most of their seemingly endless potential.

Likewise, Barco wants to make sure he and his teammates improve each week.

The Gators will begin their season at home in just over a week when they welcome No. 21 Miami to Gainesville. Also, it will be the first competitive game in their new stadium. SEC Championships, Omaha and a National Championship might be the target for the season as a whole, but that starts with an opening series win against Miami starting Feb. 19.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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