The Florida baseball team was expected to struggle early on because of the sheer number of freshmen and newcomers on the roster.
It’s no secret that the University of Florida has a top-notch athletics department, and the …
“Growing pains” is the sentiment that coach Kevin O’Sullivan continues to echo.
UF has struggled, posting a 6-4 record through a week and a half. And 11 freshmen — 15 players overall — have already made their debuts as Gators. But those two statements are not necessarily directly correlated.
Florida’s best hitter turned 19 on Sunday, the same day he hit his first career home run in a series-clinching win over Miami. Freshman Kendrick Calilao leads the Gators in nearly every offensive category: batting average (.355), triples (2), RBIs (9), total bases (20), slugging percentage (.645) and on-base percentage (.476).
Calilao is also tied with fellow freshman Cory Acton for the team-lead in walks (7). Acton drew four walks against UCF and singled in his only at-bat of the night. Acton has now reached base safely in nine consecutive at-bats. This streak brought his on-base percentage up to .410, the third-best on the team behind Calilao and sophomore Brady McConnell (.432).
The other consistent freshman in the lineup is early enrollee Jud Fabian. He is tied for the team lead in doubles (3) and is third in RBIs (5). But he's also second on the team in strikeouts, which leads to an issue that plagues the Gators, more so the veterans than the freshmen.
UF has struck out 92 times this season, a shade over a third of its total outs have come on strikeouts.
Sophomore Brady Smith leads the team with 12 strikeouts and is hitting a lowly .050. Smith singled in his first at-bat of the season against Long Beach State and is hitless in 19 at-bats since then. Junior Austin Langworthy has struck out 10 times and was in the leadoff spot up until the second game of the Miami series, when he was replaced by McConnell (who has also struck out 10 times).
Langworthy has the second-worst batting average on the team (.158) among qualified hitters (at least two at-bats), only better than Smith. Wil Dalton, another junior, is not hitting much better (.172).
Common advice from coaches is to “act like you’ve been here before.” The reality is, the older players have not only been here before but have played in the SEC Tournament and College World Series.
The youth has been the primary target of the blame so far, but it’s actually the struggles of the older players at the plate that is detrimental to the offense.
The freshmen on the pitching staff have seen more highs and lows.
Early enrollee Nolan Crisp is Florida’s most reliable arm out of the bullpen. Crisp hasn’t allowed a run, and has earned five saves in five appearances. He may even surpass Florida’s single-season saves leader, Michael Byrne, who recorded 19 in 2017. Just two of the 20 batters Crisp has faced have reached base. He has five strikeouts in six innings.
Freshman David Luethje has not given up a run out of the bullpen in 7.1 innings.
Nick Pogue, Kris Armstrong and Ben Specht, all freshman relief pitchers, have stumbled at times, but like O’Sullivan said, that is to be expected.
Junior Tyler Dyson hasn’t given the youthful bullpen much help so far. One of the most experienced pitchers on the team has not set the tone for the team in consecutive disappointing Friday night starts. Dyson failed to surpass four innings on the mound against Long Beach State or Miami.
The freshmen are not only holding their own, but also carrying Florida through 10 games. It’s up to the experienced players to remember that they actually have been here before and to start playing like it.
Kyle Wood is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @Kkylewood and contact him at [email protected]