What’s next for Florida baseball: A post-mortem of the 2022 season

·23 min read

The Florida Gators’ 2022 baseball season ended Monday with a 5-4 loss in the regional finals of the NCAA Championship Tournament against Oklahoma. The year was filled with ups and downs, but being six outs away from a Super Regional berth isn’t too shabby for a team with 16 new players on the roster.

Pitching was a bit of a disappointment early on, but a few freshmen started to stand out from the bunch. That depth allowed the Gators to make a deeper run than most expected in the playoffs and finish the year 42-24.

Conference play was a bit of a struggle. UF finished the regular season .500 against the SEC, including series losses to Georgia (sweep), LSU, Tennessee (sweep) and Vanderbilt. A 9-3 finish against the weaker members of the conference (Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and South Carolina) allowed Florida to finish with a respectable record, but things didn’t really turn around until Texas A&M beat them via the mercy rule.

After that 10-0 loss, Florida played like the team it needed to be all year. It even got legendary performances from the likes of Carsten Finnvold, a freshman who hadn’t seen game action since April when he got the start against Tennessee in theSEC Tournament.

Then there’s the offense. At times, the veteran group didn’t back up the young pitching staff as it was expected to. Jud Fabian was a disappointment down the stretch, hitting just .185 against the conference and going 1-for-30. To his credit, Fabian struck out 10 times less than he did a year ago in about 40 more plate appearances. Walks were also up considerably, so his eye definitely improved despite the low average.

On the other side of things, Wyatt Langford made a complete transformation over the offseason and became one of the best leadoff guys in baseball. He led the team in most major offensive categories and tied Matt LaPorta’s 2005 school record of 26 homers in a season.

There’s a lot to celebrate about with this team, and a lot to address moving forward. Many of them have played their final games in the Orange in Blue, and others are just starting to tell their story.

What will the team look like next year? There’s only one way to properly answer that question and it’s long-winded. Feel free to jump to the sections that interest you the most as we break down the team position by position.

Starting Pitchers

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

[autotag]Hunter Barco[/autotag]: Tommy John surgery claimed a number of the top college arms in the country this season, and Florida’s left-handed ace wasn’t exempt from that list. He threw eight games for the Gators before leaving start No. 9 against Vanderbilt on April 15 after two innings. He confirmed Florida’s worst fears in early May and underwent the surgery shortly after. Still in his brace during the playoffs, the most optimistic of timelines have him returning to throwing action by the end of the year and there is still rehab to consider. A lengthy recovery could eat into next season.

Is that enough to keep in college an extra year? It likely depends on where Barco is drafted. He was on track to pitch himself into the first round, but the injury is a setback and MLB.com currently ranks him at No. 71 among draft prospects. Fear of not signing may force him a few spots lower come draft day, so a third-round selection seems like the best-case scenario.

[autotag]Brandon Sproat[/autotag]: It’s hard to step in for a guy like Barco and not miss a beat, but Sproat managed to get it done and got better as the year went on. He led the team with 89 2/3 innings pitched, striking out 82 and managing a 3.42 ERA along the way.

His future is hazy right now, but he could go in the second round if a team really liked his postseason performance. Losing both of the team’s top arms is a very realistic worst-case scenario.

[autotag]Brandon Neely[/autotag]: Sully didn’t give Neely his first start until April 9 against Arkansas, but the freshman wasn’t giving up his spot once he got it. Barco’s injury locked Neely into the No. 2 spot for Florida and got stronger as the year went on. Striking out 10 through seven innings of two-hit baseball against South Carolina was his high point, and he managed to redeem a poor start against Oklahoma by allowing just one run through 6 2/3 innings two days later.

If Barco and Sproat leave, Neely’s the de facto ace going into next year. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and finished the season 3-3 with a 3.76 ERA and 74 strikeouts through 69.1 total innings.

[autotag]Nick Pogue[/autotag]: After much trial and error, Pogue finally won the No. 3 spot in the rotation. He’d hang on to it through the postseason and give the Gators enough to make the run they did. A 4-3 record with a 4.81 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 39 1/2 innings is a solid return from Tommy John surgery.

Pogue graduated in the summer of 2021 and participated in the senior day ceremonies, so he’s likely headed to the minors. In 2018, Pogue was drafted 996th overall in the 33rd Round by the Colorado Rockies out of Eau Gallie High School.

[autotag]Pierce Coppola[/autotag]: The 6-foot-8-inch left-hander out of New Jersey started the season as the team’s No. 3, but he went down earlier than expected with a known back injury that required surgery. The hope was to get him a few starts before shutting him down for the year, but Coppola was scratched after just one outing. He threw 4 1/3 innings against Liberty and earned a no-decision despite surrendering two runs.

[autotag]Timmy Manning[/autotag]: After finishing with a 6.60 ERA and 16 strikeouts through 15 innings in 2021, Manning improved to a 4.76 ERA and 26 strikeouts through 22 2/3 innings this season. He made seven starts, including a pair in the postseason. The five scoreless innings he gave against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament may have been the biggest 15 outs of his career, but he couldn’t get a single one when it came to facing Oklahoma in the regionals.

[autotag]Carsten Finnvold[/autotag]: After pitching in four games early in the year, it seemed like Carsten Finnvold’s season was done and that a redshirt would be placed on him, but duty called when it mattered most and he showed up big time. After holding Tennessee to zero earned runs through 4 2/3 innings, Finnvold topped it with a legendary performance.

Remember that game that Manning couldn’t get an out in? Finnvold came in and closed it out with nine scoreless innings. Oh yeah, he tops out in the mid-80s velocity-wise. People are going to want to see more of the slow-throwing lefty in 2023.

Relief Pitchers

Mark Zaleski/The Tennessean/USA TODAY NETWORK

[autotag]Blake Purnell[/autotag]: Purnell led the bullpen with 36 appearances this season, but he only pitched once in the NCAA regionals. The question has to be asked whether or not he was overused in the middle of the regular season when Kevin O’Sullivan was really trying to figure out his pitching staff.

In the first week of April, he’d gone out there four games in a row and earned SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors. After that, Sully used Purnell whenever he needed to get out of a tight spot. Let’s keep in mind that Purnell is a walk-on and didn’t throw an inning in 2021.

His 2.86 ERA was second only to Barco on the team, and maybe Sully needed to save his best reliever for a crucial situation that never came around, but Purnell peaked too early this season. The good news is he’ll return as the likely closer next year as he looks to bolster his draft status.

[autotag]Nick Ficarrotta[/autotag]: Fic might have given Purnell a run for his money as the team’s best reliever when he worked 6 1/3 innings scoreless innings against Alabama in the SEC Tournament. He’d gone four innings three times earlier in the season, but putting up that kind of performance with elimination on the line is what gets you a gold star in Sully’s notebook.

A long-relief pitcher might be less important next year with a more experienced starting rotation, but it’s a useful tool to have and Ficarrotta made plenty of single-inning holds throughout 2022. His 3.90 ERA and 63 strikeouts through a bullpen-leading 60.0 innings is a strong foundation to build on in his redshirt sophomore season next year.

[autotag]Ryan Slater[/autotag]: As the staff worked its way through growing pains, Slater stepped up and became an innings-eater when the likes of Timmy Manning or Brandon Sproat fell short in an early-season start. Good for five on multiple occasions, and three or four innings on plenty of others, Slater just needs to work on limiting the big frame to stay in the mix next year.

He made three starts but seems better off in the ‘pen barring some more development. His 5.34 ERA is a bit inflated after a disastrous and season-ending outing against Oklahoma.

[autotag]Phillip Abner[/autotag]: The lefty from North Carolina struggled in his first year in the Orange and Blue. His ERA shot up to 10.80 after the second game of the season and never really came back down to where it needed to be. A three-strikeout performance against FSU was the highlight of Abner’s year, and he managed to bring that ERA down to 8.06 when all was said and done.

[autotag]Fisher Jameson[/autotag]: It took until the Tennessee series in late April to get Jameson on the mound, but he provided some valuable depth in the bullpen for the Gators down the stretch. His emergence correlates strongly with Florida’s best chunk of the season, but you know what they say about confusing that for causation.

Still, a 3.72 ERA in 19.1 innings of work against the SEC, FSU and Oklahoma is a strong indicator that he’ll have a bigger role in 2023.

Relief Pitcher (cont.)

Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union

[autotag]Tyler Nesbitt[/autotag]: Like Pogue, Nesbitt returned from Tommy John surgery following a year off. He finally got his freshman year out of the way after COVID and the surgery prevented him the previous two years and gave up 17 runs in 33 1/3 innings, which is good enough for a 4.59 ERA. He also struck out 29 and walked just 14 batters.

While Nesbitt is draft-eligible, a return feels likely for him in 2023.

[autotag]Anthony Ursitti[/autotag]: Another true freshman, Ursitti put up a 5.06 ERA through 21 1/3 innings in his first collegiate campaign. Those numbers are deceiving, though. Alabama scored six runs against him in his longest outing of the season during the SEC Tournament. The outlier skewed things, but Ursitti was solid for most of the year. He carried an ERA of 2.89 through 18 2/3 innings of work before the meltdown and managed to finish the season with 26 strikeouts.

[autotag]Garret Milchin[/autotag]: Milchin had a chance to step into the starting rotation after Barco went down, but it became clear to O’Sullivan that he didn’t have the stuff needed to be a starter. He moved back to the bullpen and played sparingly, last appearing for the team on April 19. Despite a lack of opportunity in his final season with the team, he managed a 3.14 ERA through 14.1 innings

[autotag]Karl Hartman[/autotag]: Opponents put up a crooked number against Hartman four separate times this season, and the rookie only appeared in 12 games for the Gators. That’s not ideal and likely the reason Sully opted to go with other arms down the stretch. Hartman’s last outing was on May 3. He finished the year with a 9.00 ERA across 15 innings.

[autotag]Sam Sloan[/autotag] and [autotag]Hunter McMullen[/autotag]: Neither threw this year, which is fine for Sloan who is one of the 15 true freshmen on the team. But McMullen is a fifth-year guy who participated in the senior day ceremonies. He hasn’t pitched since 2019 due to injuries, so this could be the end of his baseball career. He graduated in spring with a bachelor’s degree in Food and Resource Economics.

Catcher

(Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News)

[autotag]BT Riopelle[/autotag]: One of the best stories of the season, BT Riopelle made his mark on Florida baseball in just one year. The Coastal Carolina transfer led behind the plate and at the dish for most of the year after unseating Mac Guscette as the everyday catcher. He’d shift to first base towards the end of the season to get his knees some rest and Guscette’s bat in the lineup.

Riopelle was an All-SEC First Team Selection and led the conference among catchers in home runs (15), RBIs (55) and slugging percentage (.551). He also had a .304 batting average, 69 hits, nine doubles and six steals on seven attempts. An extremely aggressive baserunner, which is odd for a catcher/DH/first basemen, Riopelle ran into his share of outs throughout the season.

Still, he more than proved himself worthy of a pick in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Riopelle has good leadership qualities and is solid enough behind the plate to play there until his knees force him into the infield or a designated hitter role. However, it sounds like he’ll return to UF for his final year of eligibility, according to a report by Nick de la Torre of Gators Online.

[autotag]Mac Guscette[/autotag]: As good as Riopelle was, Guscette deserves plenty of credit for working his way back into the lineup through pinch hits and doubleheader opportunities. Unfortunately, he’ll be playing elsewhere next year as he announced his entry into the transfer portal on Friday.

That creates a slight wrinkle in Florida’s future plans. Riopelle needs a backup, and the only other catcher on the roster, Rene Lastres, had Tommy John in May. Freshmen [autotag]Luke Heyman[/autotag] and [autotag]Salvador Alvarez[/autotag] are coming in to give some depth at catcher, so that could help add some depth.

Guscette started to show some power in clutch moments down the stretch, knocking five balls out of the yard in 105 at-bats. Some work over the “offseason” should do him good and help improve his .238 batting average wherever he lands.

[autotag]Rene Lastres[/autotag]: Hitting a two-run bomb in your first at-bat is quite the way to make an entrance, and that’s exactly what Lastres did against Georgia State in February. It was one of five hits he collected on the season before heading to the shelf with, as mentioned above, a UCL issue that required Tommy John surgery.

Wyatt Langford can serve as a backup catcher next year if needed.

First Base

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

[autotag]Kendrick Calilao[/autotag]: For most of the year, Florida’s first baseman was  Calilao. Riopelle took over late in the season as mentioned above, forcing No. 6 to be the first pinch hitter off the bench in his final days with the Orange and Blue.

He finished the season with a .209/.289/.316 slash line.

[autotag]Kris Armstrong[/autotag]: Similar to Calilao, Armstrong’s presumed final run with the Gators came without much fanfare. He started the season in the designated hitter spot and went 1-for-20 through UF’s first five games. He’d raise things to .294 by the start of conference play, but he came back down to .230 by the season’s end.

Both Calilao and Armstrong were participants in the senior day festivities, so they are expected to move on. With new blood coming in, there just isn’t a spot for them in 2023.

[autotag]Jac Caglianone[/autotag]: Another Tommy John return story for the Gators. Expected to make his UF debut next year, Jac Caglianone, a two-way player out of Pace High in the panhandle, broke out for the Gators down the stretch. Sully talked with him about his recovery and saw how he was taking swings in the cages and decided to give him a shot in the lineup. It worked out beautifully.

Caglianone made his debut in the Tennessee series and went big fly in his second game with Florida. We could see some plus power from him in next year as he finished the season with seven homers in just 104 at-bats (114 plate appearances). He’s listed as a first baseman and came in as the highest-rated player at that position in the country by Perfect Game. It’s a no-brainer to stick him there next year with the space freed up.

[autotag]Xavier Isaac[/autotag] and [autotag]Landon Moran[/autotag] are the two first-base commits in Florida’s 2022 haul. [autotag]Erik Blair[/autotag] also played some first base for American Heritage-Plantation, but he’s likely to pitch for UF, according to his coach Mike Macey. Then again, he did hit over .400 for a team that was considered among the best in Florida.

Second Base

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

[autotag]Sterlin Thompson[/autotag]: I debated putting Thompson with the outfielders because his skill set projects to an MLB corner outfielder, probably right, and that’s where he played for the first half of the year. But, Thompson finished the season playing the right side of the infield and flashed some leather in the process.

Where he really shines is at the plate, though. Thompson finished one-thousandth of a point behind Wyatt Langford for the team lead in average (.354) and he finished the season with an OPS of 1.006. An extra-base hitting machine, Thompson pumped out a team-high 16 doubles, two triples and 11 homers. Walks (37) could be up a little more, but his strikeout numbers (47) aren’t terrible either, so MLB teams shouldn’t fear a lack of discipline.

He’s the Gators’ best shot at a first-round pick in many’s eyes and is ranked No. 27 among eligible prospects by MLB.com. He’s only a sophomore but will be 21 on June 26 making him eligible for the pros. Keep an eye on wherever he lands, though. Thompson could be a fun one to watch in the pros.

[autotag]Colby Halter[/autotag]: Of course, Thompson had to take over the second base spot, and that was held down by none other than Halter, who shifted over to third to stay in the order. He started the season off on a 14-game hitting streak and hit safely in 20 of the Gators’ first 22 games. A second-half slump dropped his batting average from being consistently in the .300s to .240 by the season’s end.

He should take back the starting second base role next year, assuming Deric Fabian returns to third base.

Third Base

Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union

[autotag]Deric Fabian[/autotag]: The younger brother of Jud Fabian, Deric Fabian started the season off as the Gators’ starting third baseman. A regular in the lineup for most of the year, Fabian only played three games in May and finished the year with a .218 batting average.

Conference play got the better of him and Sully moved the infield around to get more offense in the lineup. Still, 142 at-bats in 46 games is some solid experience in his freshman year, and Fabian should be the everyday guy at third in 2023 with second base freed up for Halter.

[autotag]Jorge de Goti[/autotag]: The Belen Jesuit (Miami) product appeared in just six games for the Gators in his freshman year, splitting time between third and second base. He should see a more active role in the infield rotation next year, especially if someone slumps hard to start the year. Is first collegiate hit came against Florida A&M on March 2 and his second hit came in May against USF.

The Gators aren’t bringing in a ton of talent at his positions, so there’s time for him to develop and earn a spot.

Shortstop

Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News

[autotag]Josh Rivera[/autotag]: The IMG Academy product is about as slick as they come at the most important position on the infield. His bat could use a little pick-me-up, but a .254 batting average and .962 fielding percentage were enough to lock up the spot all year for O’Sullivan’s squad.

Rivera is an interesting case when it comes to the draft. He was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 22nd round back in 2019 out of high school and was ranked No. 57 among college draft prospects heading into the year. While he wasn’t one of the big names at Florida, everyone in the conference knows what he adds to the team and it’s hard to imagine his stock falling after this year. That said, another year at UF would do him good, especially with no clear successor on campus just yet.

I say just yet because shortstop [autotag]Cade Kurland[/autotag] out of Berkeley Prep in Tampa is planning on reclassifying and joining the Gators a year earlier than expected. He rewrote the record books in high school as a five-year player who started in the seventh grade. If you don’t know his name yet, now would be a good time to learn it.

Outfield

Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News

[autotag]Jud Fabian[/autotag]: Turning down that second-round offer from the Boston Red Sox didn’t go exactly as planned, but Jud Fabian is still headed to the MLB and should make plenty of noise over the next few years. We talked about the 1-for-30 slump and disappointing offensive numbers in the intro, but the power tool is still there.

Fabian drove 24 balls out of the yard this year, second in the SEC only to the next man on this list. Strikeouts dropped a bit and walks went up, which is what MLB scouts wanted to see from him, so seeing Fabian go in the second round again feels likely. He finished the season batting .239 with 55 RBIs.

[autotag]Wyatt Langford[/autotag]: How the SEC coaches managed to leave Langford off the All-SEC First Team is a mystery. He led the Gators in batting average (.355), on-base percentage (.447), slugging percentage (.719), at-bats (256), runs (73), hits (91), triples (3), home runs (26), RBIs (63) and total bases (184). With guys like Fabian and Thompson hitting after him, that’s quite impressive.

Langford stepped into the leadoff spot after Halter started to slump and the leadoff homerun started to become expected from the former catcher. His story is as good as they get in college baseball and he’s sure to be the name everyone is watching next year on the Gators. He’s turned into an above-average left fielder too, and there’s little reason to move him.

[autotag]Ty Evans[/autotag]: After Thompson moved to second, Sully brought in Ty Evans to give the team a little defense help. He got it done with the bat too, moving into the four-hole at one point during the NCAA regionals. He finished the year with a .242 average in just under 100 at-bats. He drove five balls out as well, so the power could just be coming along for the freshman. There’s no reason not to expect him in right field again next year.

[autotag]Tucker Talbott[/autotag]: After two years of no action, Talbott finally got his first taste of college baseball appearing in seven games for the Gators over the season. He notched six hits in 19 at-bats but most were against weaker competition. With Jud Fabian’s spot opening in center field, Talbott can compete for a spot in the outfield or go the transfer route after three years with little to show.

[autotag]Matt Prevesk[/autotag]: Prevesk might be a better option to make the lineup, though. He got work in the early part of the season as a pinch hitter and returned and even made two appearances in May. That designated hitter spot could be an option too.

[autotag]Corey Robinson[/autotag]: Sully used him mostly in a pinch-running role this year and as a defensive replacement in the outfield. He scored nine runs and stole two bases on as many attempts. Plus speed should give him a shot at taking over center, but 15 at-bats isn’t much experience to work with next season.

[autotag]Michael Robertson[/autotag]: Ranked the fourth-best outfielder in Florida as a senior in high school, Robertson has a shot to jump into the lineup next year. He didn’t play at all in 2022 but slashed .477/.583/.616 as a senior with plenty of extra-base power.

Incomers Erik Blair and Chris Arroyo can also play in the outfield for the team if needed.

Likely to depart

This list is by no means definitive, but after going through all 36 players on the Gators roster, here’s who seems most likely to head to the pros or to move on from the program:

  • Jud Fabian

  • Sterlin Thompson

  • Brandon Sproat

  • Kendrick Calilao

  • Kris Armstrong

  • Garrett Milchin

  • Nick Pogue

  • Hunter McMullen

Way-too-early look at the 2023 lineup

Lineup (Starter, backup, emergency):

C

BT Riopelle, Luke Heyman, Salvador Alvarez

1B

Jac Caglianone, Xavier Isaac, Landon Moran

2B

Colby Halter, Jorge De Goti

3B

Deric Fabian, Jorge De Goti

SS

Josh Rivera, Deric Fabian, Cade Kurland

LF

Wyatt Langford, Tucker Talbott

CF

Corey Robinson or Michael Robertson

RF

Ty Evans, Tucker Talbott

DH

Matt Prevesk, Tucker Talbott

Starting Rotation:

No. 1

Hunter Barco

No. 2

Brandon Neely

No. 3

Pierce Coppola

 

Conclusion

Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News

Well, if you read this much, first off, thank you. Second, let us know what you think of the team’s performance in 2022 in the comments.

Florida baseball isn’t the most popular sport in Gainesville, but the team is just as fun to watch as the football or basketball teams, especially in recent times. Some veterans should move on and open the door to new blood (more on that soon!), and 2023 could be a strong one for UF on the diamond if everyone stays healthy.

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