All of this is unfamiliar.
The hype. The heightened expectations. The banner — 2017 National Champions — engraved into the backdrop of McKethan Stadium. And it should feel unfamiliar, because for Florida’s baseball team, it is.
The Gators won their first national title in their 106-year history last season, and entering 2018, the team carries the blessing and burden of being called defending champions as well as a preseason No. 1 ranking. But coach Kevin O’Sullivan, entering his 11th year as UF’s skipper, doesn’t believe his team will be defending anything when it opens at home at 6:30 p.m. Friday against Siena.
“I don’t really see us defending a national championship,” he said, “and I don’t wanna keep saying it every time I get interviewed. We’re not. We’ve got 16 new players.
“We’ve got enough coming back, but we’re not the same team.”
The most prominent loss was on the mound when Alex Faedo was selected 18th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers. Florida also lost starting catcher Mike Rivera, frequent designated hitter Mark Kolozsvary, starting shortstop Dalton Guthrie and several others. But the “enough” that’s coming back starts with UF’s pitching, which should make the Gators contenders once again.
Florida will feature one of the most touted weekend rotations in college baseball, starting Friday when Brady Singer takes the mound. Singer is a junior rated as the No. 1 draft prospect in amateur baseball by Baseball America, and he says he’s improved from last season. That starts with adding a changeup to his two-pitch slider-fastball arsenal.
“I think our rotation is going to be one of the best,” he said.
He’s complemented by his roommate and fellow junior Jackson Kowar, who’s rated as the nation’s 8th-best amateur baseball prospect. Like Singer, he spent the offseason developing his third pitch — a slider — to add to his two-pitch fastball-changeup sequence.
“Just being a complete pitcher with three pitches is something we really focused on this fall,” Kowar said. “I’m kind of excited about that being able to help me get through a lineup two or three times.”
Sophomore Tyler Dyson completes Florida’s weekend trio, and O’Sullivan said he’s made the most progress of just about anyone he’s ever seen. He also picked up a third pitch in the offseason, and he can now throw out of the windup as well as the stretch.
“Him, Brady and Jackson,” first baseman Keenan Bell said, “it’s not a good day if you have to face them.”