Gator Baseball Preview: Pitchers – The Independent Florida Alligator
Sophomore Hunter Barco will meet an abundance of new faces when he scrutinizes the Florida pitching staff this season.
Twelve pitchers who entered the 2021 season with the Gators will not be returning this spring, and nine freshmen will enter their first season dressed in orange and blue.
With the exception of Barco, the extreme turnover in Florida’s workforce during the offseason has shrouded the pitching staff in uncertainty.
Florida’s much-vaunted freshman crop could still get Florida back into the National Championship conversation despite the team’s proven lack of power. How this talent develops will likely determine Florida’s playoff results.
In Florida’s brief playoff appearance in 2021, manager Kevin O’Sullivan sent nine players to the mound through four games in the SEC tournament and two at the NCAA Regional in Gainesville. Only two of those pitchers return this season: a preseason All-American selection by Perfect Game to Barco and his sophomore Brandon Sproat.
Program staples like Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich, Christian Scott and Franco Aleman left the team and went pro. While last season’s pitching staff weren’t always an elite, posting a modest 4.38 ERA, the leadership provided by these veterans will be sorely missed this season.
The 2022 roster will consist of just two students: graduate student Garrett Milchin and red-shirted junior Hunter McMullen. The rest of the pitching staff are sophomores or younger, although some players will be entering their third year at UF, including Barco and Sproat, as 2020 did not count towards their eligibility.
As O’Sullivan tries to determine his starters and the squad roster, he’ll be relying on the performances he saw in fall practice, as many players will be making their college debuts this year. season. The only player the skipper can rely on the most is Barco. As the Jacksonville native enters his third season at Gainesville, he will be looking to build on an exceptional season.
After entering the program as the No.14 prospect in the country according to Perfect Game, Barco made a name for himself in his first full season as Gator. The southpaw has delivered more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings while leading the team in wins with ten and posting a BAA of .239.
His last start of the season was forgettable, allowing two runs on five batters to open the Southern Alabama final before being pulled out, but his last full start was a highlight of the season. Facing future national champions Mississippi State Bulldogs in the SEC tournament, the southpaw pitched all seven innings.
Allowing just one run and four hits, Barco smothered the ‘Dogs as the Bats upped the score to a possible 13-1 victory.
This performance against the elite offense of the 2021 Mississippi State team, which averaged seven points per game last season, is a sign of hope for the season ahead. No matter where the rest of the K’s come from this season, O’Sullivan has his ace.
Sproat, the other pitcher returning from last year’s playoffs, will likely serve as the Gators’ other starter. The Pace, Florida native made two starts in his first season.
Enjoy what you read? Get The Alligator content delivered to your inbox
The first came in his Florida debut, losing 6-1 to the Stetson Hatters. Despite the score, Sproat delivered four clean innings and allowed only one hit. However, he fared badly on his second start, allowing three runs and five hits in 3.2 innings against Tennessee in the SEC tournament.
Sproat may not have the experience against the top talent Barco brags about, but his experience as one of the team’s oldest pitchers will likely earn him more starts this season.
Much of the rest of the training is uncertain. O’Sullivan could opt for more experience with his sophomore Timmy Manning, who won four starts last season or delve into the busy recruiting class the Gators will welcome.
Florida are adding three prospects among the top 75 pitchers this spring according to the Perfect Game ranking: freshmen Jac Caglianone (No.31), Pierce Coppola (No.50) and Philip Abner (No.67). Caglianone, a Tampa native from Plant High School, was nominated as the Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Coppola, from Verona, New Jersey, threw 88 strikeouts in 42.1 innings en route to an invite to the Perfect Game All-American Classic.
Abner, of Charlotte, NC, was a state champion in his senior year while earning a 0.70 ERA. While the trio of freshmen have all shown flashes of elite talent in their respective high schools, how that talent can translate directly into college play will only be revealed over time.
For now, freshmen will be in the mix with the rest of the roster competing for free spots in the starting pool. The talent of the pitching staff is visible – six former Top 100 prospects are still on the list. Producing this build-up of, largely still young, talent at the top of college baseball will likely determine how far these Gators can go. O’Sullivan has big decisions to make.
Contact Carson Cashion at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent from the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider donating today.