Gators baseball kicks off spring practice at Florida Ballpark Friday at 2:30 p.m. They open the 2022 season at home against Liberty over the weekend of Feb. 18-20.
As Gators skipper Kevin O’Sullivan enters his 15th season, he leads a team loaded with young talent. Despite seeing his team’s season end in NCAA regionals after starting the season as the unanimous No. 1 team, Sully’s plan for this season remains the same.
Sully’s team enters the season ranked as high as No. 9 by D1Baseball.com and as low as No. 23 by Perfect Game. They also come into the season with one of the nation’s best freshman classes. The Gators were the only team in the country to haul in a 2021 recruiting class ranked in the top two by all three major publications. (Baseball America, D1Baseball and Perfect Game.
Although the Gators saw the top-three players in its 2021 recruiting class sign contracts with MLB teams, they still have sixteen freshmen and one transfer coming to Gainesville. Nine of those 17 incoming players are pitchers, and Sully said he expects those pitchers to get to work right away.
Florida’s Friday and Saturday starters, Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich, both left for the MLB Draft after the 2021 season. So, sophomore ace Hunter Barco could be in line for the top spot in the rotation. But after that, Sully might have to rely on some of his younger talent.
O’Sullivan mentioned a couple of freshmen he could see getting some weekend innings. Among them were Philip Abner, Karl Hartman, Brandon Neely and others. He even said freshman lefty Pierce Cappola will remind some people of former Gator great, A.J. Puk.
He said the highly touted freshman class is an achievement, but it won’t put runs on the board by itself.
All this mentioning of the young, raw talent the Gators have brought in, but some veteran players are returning to the roster, as well. Jud Fabian made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason for the team when he announced he’d turn down a second-round draft pick from the Red Sox and return to the Gators for another year.
Colby Halter, Kendrick Calilao, Josh Rivera and Kris Armstrong lead the list of returning position players. Armstrong said the combination of veteran leaders like him and some of the younger guys will be something the team can utilize to their advantage.
Another main theme entering this season is injuries. Experienced pitchers Nick Pogue and Tyler Nesbitt are both hoping to return from long-term injuries this season. The two right-handed pitchers both underwent Tommy John surgery and missed a majority of last season.
O’Sullivan said he expects them to return in March, and he expects them to be a crucial part of the team.
We’re Talkin About Practice?
The Gators will kick off their first practice of the spring at 2:30 on Friday, with a scrimmage following at 4:30.