The Florida Gators are heading into the 2022 season nationally regarded as a top-ten program on the year. Baseball America has the Gators at sixth overall and D1Baseball has them at ninth as they get ready for the upcoming season.
Despite being frequently viewed as a top program year after year, the 2022 Gators team is going to look a little different with 17 newcomers set to join the squad. After a disappointing season in 2021, the Gators will look to bounce back this year and they certainly have the talent to do so.
The amount of newcomers is a lot for this Gators team. However, that primarily impacts the pitching staff, which we will get to later on. For the position players group, that will be composed of mostly familiar names with a couple of new ones penciled in this season.
For the outfielders, both Jud Fabian and Sterlin Thompson are returners who will be of impact to the Gators in 2022. Fabian made a surprising decision to return to Gainesville after being selected by the Boston Red Sox in the Second Round of the 2021 MLB Draft. Last season, Fabian slashed .249/.364/.560 with 10 doubles, 20 home runs, 46 RBI, 40 walks, and 79 strikeouts in 59 games.
Even though he is heading into his fourth season with the Gators, Fabian is considered young for his age and will look to boost his draft stock. For Fabian, the most important aspect of his game he can improve on is cutting down strikeouts while continuing to show a development of power. His presence in the lineup and in the outfield will give the Gators an immediate and surprising boost.
Sterlin Thompson is coming off a Freshman All-SEC season. In 2021, Thompson slashed .301/.396/.470 with 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 27 RBI, 21 walks, and 45 strikeouts in 55 games. Fabian and Thompson will be staples in the outfield and both will be featured near the top of the Gators lineup. With the departure of Jacob Young, that leaves the final outfield spot up for grabs.
The remaining outfielders on the Gators roster are made up of freshmen and a redshirt freshman, giving way to a competition for the left field spot. In his preseason press conference, Kevin O'Sullivan mentioned that he really likes the depth the team has in the outfield and there are quite a few names that will compete for that spot.
Some of the names brought up were Wyatt Langford, who is making a position change to outfield, and incoming freshmen Ty Evans, Michael Robertson, Matthew Prevesk, and Corey Robinson. For Langford specifically, O'Sullivan praised him for a strong fall and mentioned that he moves around better in the outfield than most would think. Another name to keep an eye on for the left field spot is Tucker Talbott, who is going on his third season with the team but has not appeared in any games yet.
The infield will feature a handful of returning starters. Kris Armstrong and Kendrick Calilao will split first base and DH duties this season. Armstrong is coming off a year where he had career-highs in hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and walks. Calilao has had some experience playing outfield in the past, but he seems like a better fit defensively at first base moving forward.
Playing up the middle will be sophomores Colby Halter and Josh Rivera. Halter is coming off an impressive first campaign with the Gators, where he finished third on the team with a .302 batting average. Rivera has struggled a bit offensively and defensively since his freshman season, but the right-handed hitting shortstop has some intriguing tools that can make him one of the better all around players on the Florida roster if he can put it all together.
Speaking of up the middle players, Kevin O'Sullivan praised this group in his press conference. Sully stated that he believes Rivera, Halter, Fabian, and the catchers will be really sound up the middle and that could be a strength of the team.
At catcher, sophomore Mac Guscette should take the reigns as the primary catcher for the Gators in 2022. In 16 starts last season, Guscette slashed .298/.364/.351 with 17 hits, six walks, and five strikeouts. Overall, O'Sullivan believes the Gators have depth here, stating that all three catchers can be really good.
At third base, incoming freshman Deric Fabian has an opportunity to take on a starting role right away. According to Perfect Game, Fabian has the arm accuracy and tools to eventually stick as a middle infielder, so those tools should translate over to the hot corner without much trouble. At the plate, Fabian has a compact swing that generates some natural loft. There's room for power to develop, as long as he fills out his 6'4" frame during his time in Gainesville.
Kevin O'Sullivan is happy with what Deric Fabian has shown thus far, stating that he had a really impressive fall at third base. It seems like he's the current favorite to be slotted in to third base when the team takes on Liberty to open up the season.
While the position players seem pretty clear for the most part, the pitching staff is a bit of a question mark heading into the 2022 season. Most notably, the starting rotation, is going to take some time to figure out.
Left-hander Hunter Barco is the clear headliner of the rotation, as he looks to lead the Gators pitching staff and make a name for himself in the upcoming MLB Draft. Barco owns a career 3.52 ERA with the Gators, where he's tossed 102.1 innings with 32 walks and 120 strikeouts. 2022 should be a big year for Barco, especially if he's able to consistently command his arsenal within the strike zone.
Behind Barco is where things aren't quite as clear for the Gators. The team lost Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich, and Franco Aleman, who all started a chunk of games in 2021, especially Mace. When Kevin O'Sullivan met with the media on January 27, this was the primary topic of discussion and rightfully so.
As the team gets ready for the regular season to roll around, O'Sullivan mentioned two goals for the Gators are to get the team healthy and to build up pitch counts for potential starters. The pitching staff is composed of a lot of freshmen, who Sully mentioned will need to contribute this year.
Some of the freshmen that O'Sullivan mentioned will have an opportunity to earn starts early are Philip Abner (LHP), Pierce Coppola (LHP), Karl Hartman (RHP), Brandon Neely (RHP), and Carsten Finnvold (LHP). He also stated that it's not out of the question to see one or two freshmen in the weekend rotation and others to fill out late inning, back end of the bullpen roles.
Aside from the freshmen, Brandon Sproat is a guy that could see an extended role as a starter this year. Sproat spent time this summer playing with the Collegiate National Team where he got experience throwing against professionals. Against Team USA, Sproat got the start and tossed three no-hit innings, giving him some momentum heading into the fall.
Kevin O'Sullivan was pleased with the work Sproat showed during the summer. In regards to what he can do for this Gators team, O'Sullivan said that Sproat is a guy who can help determine how far the Gators go this season.
In addition to Sproat, the Gators are expecting to get Nick Pogue and Tyler Nesbitt back from injury this season. By the time March comes around, O'Sullivan is hoping that both right-handers will be game ready. Even then, it's going to take some time for both of them to build up innings and to be consistent contributors.
The Gators pitching rotation is going to be a work in progress this season. What the rotation looks like at the beginning of the year certainly won't look the same by the time conference play rolls around. There was one common theme Kevin O'Sullivan brought up in regards to the pitching staff and most notably, the young arms, and that was to have patience with them.
O'Sullivan mentioned that there is going to be a learning curve throughout the course of the season for the young arms. Every home start and road game will have takeaways for these players and O'Sullivan would like to have them feeling confident by the time SEC play starts up.
While this Gators team is mostly composed of younger players, the expectations should still remain high as the team gears up to improve on a disappointing 2021 season. The Gators offense will be key for the team, especially at the start of the season, as O'Sullivan and Co. look to figure out what the rotation will look like for the remainder of the year.
It's going to be a challenge for Kevin O'Sullivan as he looks to determine a pitching staff that gives his team the best opportunity to win. Opening night is just about a week away, with the Gators set to host Liberty on Friday, February 18. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 PM.
Featured Photo Credit: UAA Communications