Dooley’s Dozen: 12 things Florida baseball needs to do to get back to CWS

Kevin O’Sullivan really likes his 2023 Gator baseball team.

Do you know who else likes their teams?

“Every coach in America,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re all undefeated right now.”

On paper, the Gators look loaded this year. Of course, “on paper” has a career record of unfilled potential and broken dreams.

Still, the preseason polls have O’Sullivan’s 16th Florida team ranked anywhere from second in the country to seventh. And pre-season polls are never wrong, he said sarcastically.

Sully is coming off a regional finals loss to Oklahoma and could see a team that was going to go into 2023 with momentum.

“In 2021, the season ended on a bad note,” he said, referring to a two-and-barbecue as a regional host. “But I was proud of the way your young team turned it around last year.”

Now, there is the question of Omaha. Florida has not been since 2018 (“It feels like a decade,” O’Sullivan said).

How do they get back? In this Dooley’s Dozen, we give you the 12 things that need to happen for Florida to make its eighth appearance in the College World Series under O’Sullivan.

Find a closer

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody who was watching the 2017 team win the whole thing knows that one of the biggest keys was that closer Michael Byrne was as close to automatic as you can get. There are a lot of options to find a real closer Sully can count on, including the candidates for third starter.

“We’re going to work on it situationally during practices and see if we can find a guy we can count on,” O’Sullivan said.

Top two starters must live up to the billing

AP Photo/Butch Dill

[autotag]Hurston Waldrep[/autotag] must be pretty good. I know a lot of you can’t wait to see him pitch. Neither can the Florida coaches, but so far so good. Getting [autotag]Brandon Sproat[/autotag] to come back for another year is huge. Those are starters 1A and 1B.

The SEC is all about trying to win series after series. That’s how you win a conference title and get to host regionals and supers. The first two starters put you in position.

Rivera has to be in spring what he was in fall

Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

[autotag]Josh Rivera[/autotag] was the star of the fall practices, not only with his glove but with his bat. There were times when he was an auto-out at the plate last year and had some lazy errors. But the word is he is ready to be a rock in 2023.

“He was probably our most improved offensive player (in the spring),” O’Sullivan said. “I talk to our assistant coaches all the time and we’ve agreed that next year at this time when we don’t have him at shortstop people are going to realize how valuable he was to the team.”

Be solid up the middle

Joshua L Jones/Online Athens

Almost all really good teams defensively have to be. It’s an unwritten rule. Catcher, short and second, center field. [autotag]BT Riopelle[/autotag] is one of the team leaders behind the plate and Rivera at short is a fourth-year senior.

Center field and second base could end up being strengths, but it is going to be interesting to see how the freshmen will fit into those spots.

Langford has to be Langford

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

No pressure, Wyatt. You could have the kind of season that will get you into the top five in the Major League Draft. You know, like last year when you tied the all-time UF record for home runs in a single season.

This dude has laser focus on the prize. He could put together one of those all-time great seasons at UF. Like I said, no pressure.

Fill the void

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

OK, so that center field thing is something that will be interesting because it seems like [autotag]Jud Fabian[/autotag] was out there for 10 years. He was a real presence on this team and O’Sullivan believes [autotag]Michael Robertson[/autotag] could be the next great center fielder at Florida.

“I’m really high on Michael Robertson,” he said. “If the season was starting today, he’d be starting. I hope he will be our leadoff hitter. I like his small ball game.”

Small ball? What’s this small ball of which you speak?

Take advantage of your depth

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News

There is not a position on the team where Florida does not have depth. You just don’t know with some of the newcomers how they will fare once you get into conference play.

Don’t forget – the lineup you see on opening day may look a lot different than the one you see in May.

Also, staying healthy is always No. 1 on the list. There are at least some spots that Florida’s depth would help cover up.

Leadership has to be right

Syndication: The Tennessean

There are plenty of potential leaders. Langford and Riopelle and Rivera and [autotag]Colby Halter[/autotag]. A college baseball season can be a grind, especially for the freshmen.

There is a fine line that leaders have to straddle between getting on a teammate and encouraging them. Sully loves his clubhouse, but even he is curious to see what it looks like when adversity comes.

Remember it is a game of failure

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel

You all know this. Nobody goes undefeated. You get three hits in every 10 at-bats and you have a chance to be All-Conference. The best of the best have bad days.

This is baseball, where the players have to be able to shake things off whether it’s a slump or a hot streak. The only pitch or at-bat that matters is the next one.

The portal payout hopefully hits

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

O’Sullivan has confessed that the transfer portal “snuck up on me.” He still does not want to build through the portal and would rather concentrate on high school recruiting, but he’s more open to taking four or five a year.

Waldrep is the gem after pitching Southern Miss into a Super Regional a year ago. But there are several more including Tyler Shelnut from Santa Fe College. He’s a two-way player.

Figure out what to do with Jac Caglianone

Cyndi Chamber/Ocala Star-Banner

He did not pitch last year after an arm injury in high school but suddenly burst on the scene as a power hitter. Now, he’s ready to do both.

If last year was any indication, he has the make-up and tools to be a bigger version of Brad Wilkerson. OK, there was only one Brad Wilkerson. But this could be a special year for Cags.

Find a third starter

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

Plenty of candidates. [autotag]Brandon Neely[/autotag] was freshman All-SEC. Clete Hertzog is another transfer who could ne that guy or the closer. Pierce Coppola started last season as the third starter. Caglianone will have a shot.

The key for this team is to find someone who can give you five good innings every time out. If Waldrep and Sproat are what they hope, the bullpen will be rested for a season of Game 3s.

[lawrence-related id=94531,90695,87946,86951]

[listicle id=95747]

[listicle id=92532]

Follow us @GatorsWire on Twitter and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Florida Gators news, notes and opinions.

Let us know your thoughts and comment on this story below. Join the conversation today!

Story originally appeared on Gators Wire