It’s been almost six years since sweet victory in Omaha.
Ever since bringing home the National Championship in 2017, the Gators have been chasing a repeat. The past two seasons have ended in disappointment on home turf. Florida couldn’t escape past the regional round either year.
However, this year is different. There are high expectations for the Gators this season with a stacked returning roster and strong freshman class.
Flashback to Fall Ball
Florida fans have not been without their Gators for too long. Kevin O’Sullivan’s squad held fall practices and exhibition games in October. For three weeks, the Gators gave a glimpse of their talent and chemistry leading up to their 2023 campaign.
The Gators dominated fall play defeating both their opponents, Georgia and Stetson.
Florida downed their SEC rival Georgia 8-4 in their first fall exhibition game. One week later, they swept Stetson in a doubleheader.
It was a win-win situation in the Gators’ fall world series. A nice farewell to their fall slate before they switch the script in the spring.
New Season, New Faces
Acquiring top recruits is nothing new for Florida.
Along with the talented freshman joining their roster, the Gators hit the transfer portal hard in the off-season, capitalizing on developed experience.
Tyler Shelnut (Santa Fe CC), Richie Schiekofer (Rutgers), Clete Hartzog (Wallace CC-Dothan) and Dale Thomas (Coastal Carolina) are among the few who have found a new home in Gainesville.
Southern Mississippi transfer Hurston Waldrep has been a highlight in everyone’s book. The right-handed pitcher displays a four-pitch mix, utilizing his curveball, splitter and slider to pair with his high 90s fastball.
His unofficial debut against Georgia demonstrated how competitive his arsenal is. If one start was not enough to prove his demeanor on the mound, in his second start against Stetson he pitched two perfect innings. Six up, six down, six straight strikeouts–pitching an immaculate inning in the second.
For Waldrep, the choice of settling on Florida just made sense.
“Something about this place always stuck out to me,” Waldrep said. “Seeing that team [2017 National Championship team] and the impact they had on college baseball really left an impact on me.”
The Gators also have a solid group of fresh faces to join the squad. Cade Kurland, Cade Fisher, Salvador Alvarez, Jake Clemente, Luke Heynan, Erik Blair, Chris Arroyo and Yoel Tejeda Jr. are prepared for their first spring in the orange and blue.
“It’s a really good class, it’s not a very big class but it fills our needs,” O’Sullivan said on the Sports Scene Steve Russell in early fall.
Back in our element. pic.twitter.com/UwuUosFDIE
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) November 7, 2022
Rockstar Returners for the 2023 Gator Baseball Roster
Beyond the slew of newbies, Florida’s slate of returners is solid.
The 2023 Gator Baseball team has not only gotten some of the nation’s top players—it has kept them too.
Brandon Sproat was selected by the New York Mets as the 90th pick in the 2022 MLB draft. Despite his pick in the third round, Sproat opted to return to Florida for a final season. In the past two years, only six players selected in the top 100 of the draft returned to play at the collegiate level. Two of them have been Gators, which shows how impactful the Florida program has been on their development.
Leading the pack of veterans is Wyatt Langford, the SEC home run leader in 2022.
Langford was one of two Gators to start all 66 games in the spring in which he also tied the single-season program home run record with 26.
Josh Rivera is another Gator who has raised his stock in the past year. The junior was one shy of double-digit home runs last year and is a promising playmaker in the infield.
All of the aforementioned returners, in addition to Waldrep, found themselves listed on D1Baseball’s 2023 Top 100 College Draft Prospects. Florida is only one of two schools with four prospects on this prestigious list, so it is a no-brainer that expectations have increased.
Colby Halter isn’t a new face around the park. He is bound to be on everyone’s radar after coming back from the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he was an all-star after having one of the best plate performances in the league.
Halter hit .307 and was tied atop the league with seven home runs.
Another asset finally back in full force is sophomore Jac Caglianone.
The two-way powerhouse had not seen the mound last year because of a torn UCL. He did, however, produce at the plate as a designated hitter.
As a freshman, Caglianone hit seven homers and continuously delivered when the stakes were high. He pounded one out of Condron Ballpark against the No. 1 ranked Tennessee for his first career start. He then was the first to put one on the board in Florida’s final regional tournament game, where the 5-4 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners ended their 2022 season.
Every year is an adjustment combining new talent with old, but this year’s team chemistry cannot be shaken.
“Bringing in a bunch of new guys, we all mesh pretty well, surprisingly,” Caglianone said. “Everyone kind of hit it off from the jump.”
2023 Gator Baseball Spring Slate
The Gators’ have landed in the Collegiate Baseball’s preseason top 25 list for the 15th-consecutive season as they debut as No.2 this spring.
A lot is on the plate for the Gator baseball team come spring. With all these preseason achievements, all eyes will be on how well they adjust and bounce back from last season.
The Florida Gators make their official debut for the 2023 Gator Baseball season against Charleston at home on Feb. 17.