Thoughts of the Day: May 31, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:

GATORS WILL HOST A REGIONAL Florida was already a lock to host an NCAA regional prior to the SEC Tournament, but the Gators’ (38-20) strong showing in Hoover raised a few eyebrows. Prior to the tournament, the Gators were projected a 13 or 14 national seed. Did Florida’s 3-1 record in Hoover impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee enough for a seeding in the 10-12 range? We find out at noon today when the committee announces the seedings and assigns teams to the 16 regionals.


D1baseball.com projects the Gators as a No. 14 seed, hosting Miami (32-19) as the No. 2 seed in the region with Fairfield (37-3) as the No. 3 and Jacksonville (16-32) as the No. 4. Florida would face JU in the first round with Fairfield playing Miami. The Gators went 1-2 against Miami in the first series of the season back in February. They were 3-1 against Jacksonville. D1baseball has Texas as the No. 3 seed so that’s where the Gators would head if they win the regional.


Baseball America also has the Gators as a No. 14, but projects Miami, Arizona State (32-20) and UCF (31-30) as the other three teams. Florida would face UCF in the first round. Baseball America has Tennessee as the No. 3 seed so the Gators would go to Knoxville if they won the regional.


The four-team regional setup should bode well for Florida, which got three consecutive quality starts in Hoover from Tommy Mace, Hunter Barco and Franco Aleman. A team that goes 3-0 at the regional advances so you have to like the Gators’ chances to advance if Mace, Barco and Aleman pitch as well as they did in Hoover. If the Gators have to go to a fourth starter, it appears Brandon Sproat has nailed down that job.


At the completion of the regionals the NCAA will announce eight super regional sites from the 16 regional host sites.


WALTON GOT THE MOST OUT OF A FLAWED ROSTER

Anyone who knows Tim Walton will attest the work began to fix what went wrong in 2021 the moment the locker room emptied at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium following Florida’s 6-0 loss to Georgia in the NCAA super regional. It’s not that the Gators under-achieved. How can you under-achieve when you win the SEC regular season championship, an NCAA regional and host a super regional? But, this was a flawed team and Walton would be the first to admit it. This wasn’t smoke and mirrors, but for UF to go 45-11 required Walton pushing the right buttons all season long.


The Gators had three good pitchers but lacked a Stacey Nelson or Hannah Rogers or Lauren Haeger that could take the ball and blow three strikes by a hitter in a critical situation. Eliazbeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo and Katie Chronister are very good pitchers but they don’t dominate when they’re facing SEC teams. Offensively, there were only three hitters with serious home run power, not enough consistent singles hitters and there was very little speed.


Walton had to rely on outstanding defense that rarely made errors and instinctively knew what to do in every situation, pitchers who compensated for a lack of velocity by keeping the ball low to induce ground balls and hitters like Hannah Adams and Charla Echols who were at their best late game when the Gators desperately needed a big hit. It was good enough to get the Gators to the super regional but there was always that concern what would happen if two of the three factors that got UF there didn’t come through. And, that’s what happened against Georgia. Georgia hitters feasted on low velocity pitches that were too high in the strike zone and other than Kendyl Lindaman, no one else in the lineup was able to hit the ball.


So where does Walton go from here?


Hightower and Lugo will be returning as will lefties Rylee Trlicek and Haley Pittman. Hightower and Lugo aren’t going to overpower anyone. Trlicek pitched very little this year and Walton shut down Pittman, who was overused in high school and in travel ball. Walton signed Lexi Delbrey of Bainbridge, Georgia, the No. 7 rated recruit in the country and considered one of the two or three best pitchers. She regularly throws high 60s, lows 70s and knows how to bear down and get a strikeout when necessary. She figures to be the ace of the staff from day one.


Offensively, the Gators should improve with the added offensive punch of Reagan Walsh, one of the nation’s top power hitters from Torrance, California, outfielder Kendra Falby, a leadoff hitter with serious speed who plays for the Canadian (she has dual citizenship) national team, and Skylar Wallace, an Alabama transfer who couldn’t play in 2021 because of SEC rules that prevent intra-conference transfers. Wallace was a member of the US national under-19 team. She is a slick fielding shortstop with gap power who hit .448 for the US team that won the under-19 Women’s World Cup. Walsh probably plays third with Wallace at shortstop, Hannah Adams remaining at second and Charla Echols moving over to first base. That will be a very solid infield with plenty of punch. An outfield of Falby, Cheyenne Lindsey and Avery Goelz should be outstanding defensively and very good offensively. Julia Cottrill is probably the best defensive catcher in college softball right now. Walton thinks she is on the verge of putting up huge power numbers at the plate.


Walton’s 2022 recruiting haul includes catcher Sam Roe (Niceville) and outfielder Kaila Pollard (Riverside, CA), two of the top four prospects in the country.


GATORS AND THE MLB DRAFT

The once 40-round Major League Baseball Draft has been shortened to 20 rounds and with the cutbacks in the number of minor league teams, it is expected that once past the first couple of rounds, more emphasis will be given to college players than ever before. There will also be less bonus money paid out so players who aren’t taken early will have less incentive to sign, another reason why college players will be taken more readily since 21-year-olds will have fewer options and be more likely to take whatever money is offered. Kevin O’Sullivan has signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and the shortened draft could help immensely.


Perfect Game, which has a rather good track record pinpointing which rounds players will be selected, sees current Gators Jud Fabian going No. 26 in the first round to Minnesota, Tommy Mace going No. 41 to Baltimore and Nathan Hickey going No. 51 to Milwaukee. Of Florida’s high school signees, PG has RHP Chase Petty (6-1, 190, Somers Point, NJ, Mainland HS) going No. 14 to San Francisco, Andrew Painter (RHP, 6-7, 225, Pompano Beach, FL Calvary Christian) going No. 16 to Miami, CF Jay Allen (6-3, 190, Fort Pierce, FL John Carroll) going No. 31 to Miami.


ESPN sees Painter going No. 17 to Cincinnati and Fabian No. 21 to the Chicago Cubs. ESPN’s top 100 prospects rate the following Gators or signees: 15. Painter, 25. Mace, 32. Petty, 34. Fabian, 49. Allen, 59. Jac Caglianone, LHP (6-5, 210, Tampa, FL Plant), 72. Phil Abner, LHP (6-1, 220, Charlotte, NC Charlotte Christian) and 94. Hickey.


MLB.com’s mock draft sees Fabian going No. 15 to Milwaukee, Painter No. 16 to Miami, Petty No. 18 to St. Louis and Mace No. 28 to Tampa Bay. MLB.com’s top 100 draft prospects rate the following Gators or signees: 17. Fabian, 18. Painter, 25. Petty, 34. Mace, 37. Allen, 61. Caglianone, 98. Michael Robertson, CF (6-1, 175, Venice, FL), 107. Abner, 135. Hickey and 145. Jack Leftwich.


Prospectslive.com has a list of the top 450 draft prospects that it updates regularly. Here are where the current Gators and signees rank: 14. Petty, 22. Painter, 41. Fabian, 43. Mace, 50. Allen, 56. Hickey, 59. Caglianone, 109. Ty Evans, OF (6-2, 205, Lakeland, FL Lakeland Christian), 135. Abner, 144. Corey Robinson, OF (5-11, 170, Port Orange, FL Spruce Creek), 157. Robertson, 159. Leftwich, 169. Rene Lastres, C (6-3, 205, Hialeah Gardens, FL Calvary Christian), 177. Brandon Neely, RHP (6-2, 205, Port Orange, FL Spruce Creek), 196. Pierce Coppola (6-8, 215, Verona, NJ), 199. Jacob Young, 259. Jake Fox, 2B/SS (6-1, 180, Lakeland, FL Lakeland Christian), 270. Kris Armstrong, 285. Christian Scott, 298. Franco Aleman, 345. Ben Specht, 397. Deric Fabian (6-3, 180, Ocala, FL North Marion), 413. Jorge de Gotti, SS (6-1, 180, Miami, FL Belen Jesuit Prep).


OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC Alabama: Alabama (50-7) advanced to the Women’s College World Series by taking out Kentucky twice. The Crimson Tide is the No. 3 seed and will face Arizona in the first round.

Arkansas: Arkansas (46-10) is all but guaranteed to be the No. 1 national seed after a week in which they knocked off Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee on their way to the SEC Tournament championship. Baseball America projects Oklahoma State, UNC-Wilmington and Jacksonville in the Fayetteville regional. D1baseball.com projects the Razorbacks will be joined by Arizona State, Pittsburgh and Norfolk State … The Razorbacks were eliminated in their softball super regional by Arizona.

Georgia: Georgia will face Oklahoma State in the first round of the Women’s College World Series … D1Baseball.com projects the Bulldogs among the first five teams out in the NCAA Tournament.

LSU: D1Baseball.com has the Tigers in their last five in for the NCAA Tournament, the No. 3 seed in the Ruston regional. LSU is not in the 64-team field for Baseball America … The Tigers lost both games of their softball super regional to Florida State.

Mississippi State: Despite going 0-2 in Hoover, Both D1Baseball and Baseball America project the Bulldogs as the No. 8 national seed. D1baseball.com has the Bulldogs hosting Florida State, South Alabama and Southern University in the Starkville regional. In the Baseball America bracket, MSU hosts Georgia Tech, Oregon State and Southern U.

Missouri: The Tigers lost two out of three in their softball super regional to James Madison of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Ole Miss: D1Baseball.com projects the Rebels as the No. 10 national seed, hosting Southern Miss, Presbyterian and North Carolina. Baseball American projects Ole Miss as the No. 11 seed, hosting Southern Miss, North Carolina and Bryant.

South Carolina: South Carolina (33-21) will be a regional host. Will the Gamecocks be the top seed in their region? Baseball America projects South Carolina as a regional host with Old Dominion the top seed joined by the Gamecocks, Virginia and Samford.

Tennessee: The Vols are projected as the No. 3 seed nationally by Baseball America and the No. 4 seed by D1baseball.com. Baseball America projects the Vols will be joined by Charlotte, Campbell and Southeast Missouri State in the Knoxville Regional … Defensive back/wide receiver Kenney Solomon has entered the NCAA transfer portal. He is the 35th UT player to transfer out.

Texas A&M: Three hot names for the vacant baseball HBC job: Tony Vitello (Tennessee), Jim Schlossnagle (TCU) and Cliff Godwin (East Carolina).

Vanderbilt: The Commodores are projected as the No. 2 national seed by Baseball America, joined in Nashville by Maryland, Wright State and Presbyterian. Vandy is the No. 4 national seed by D1Baseball.com, hosting Georgia Tech, Campbell and Southeast Missouri State.


ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: The hottest rumor going Memorial Day weekend is that LSU will try to make Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan an offer he can’t refuse to replace the retiring Paul Manieri. Scott Woodward, the LSU athletic director, once lured Chris Peterson to leave the safety of Boise State for Washington. As the AD at Texas A&M he hired Jimbo Fisher with a 10-year, $75 million contract. He just hired Kim Mulkey as the new LSU women’s basketball coach for seven years at $22.5 million. She was making more than $2 million at Baylor. O’Sullivan is four years into a 10-year, $1.25 million per year deal. Woodward has shown a willingness to write big checks. If he offers O’Sullivan double what he’s making now, will Scott Stricklin be willing to match the offer?

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