Florida’s last three seasons, including this current one, have been some of the best in the school’s 103 years of baseball.
And the MLB is taking notice.
Kevin O’Sullivan’s club saw eight of its players get selected in the 2017 MLB Draft, a list headlined by stars Alex Faedo and JJ Schwarz. It’s the third straight year Florida has had eight or more players drafted.
Faedo went first, number eighteen overall in the first round to the Detroit Tigers- three years after the Tigers selected him in the 40th round coming out of high school- and he was picked during the Gators’ 3-0 victory in the decisive Game Three of Super Regional, mere minutes before he came in and validated that selection by mowing down the Deacons in the 8th and 9th innings to book passage to Omaha. Faedo, of course, has been a fixture in the Gators’ rotation all three years, and he’s continued to improve throughout his career. This year, he’s struck out 135 batters in 109 innings pitched- eighth most in the nation- and commands a more than respectable 2.55 ERA.
Shortstop Dalton Guthrie went next, in the sixth round to the Phillies. His stats are solid, if not overwhelming- he’s a lifetime .290 hitter with a .360 on base percentage- but his remarkable defensive skills have drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter and has saved countless runs and extra bases in key situations throughout his career. His patience at the plate and refusal to get overeager and try to pull every pitch or send it into the bleachers as many college players do will serve him well in pro ball, too.
Catcher Mike Rivera was selected moments later by the Cleveland Indians in the sixth round. He’s battled injury throughout his career and has grown a reputation for being a patient spray hitter at the plate and a bull behind it. Credit always goes to the pitchers who make the big pitches, but some rightfully belongs to Rivera who calls them. Most enticing about him is his never say die attitude and his long history of coming up big in clutch situations that comes hand in hand with it. If he can stay healthy and on the field, time could prove this to be the steal of the draft.
Mark Kolozsvary became the next Gator off the board when the Reds took him in the seventh round. Being a catcher on a team with JJ Schwarz and Mike Rivera on it normally wouldn’t bode too well for a player, but Kolo has made the most of the limited opportunities he’s gotten, producing 26 RBI in the 35 games he’s started at various positions. The draft is all about potential, and the Reds think they may have found a relatively untapped gold mine.
The other four Gators picked went on the final day of the draft. Seldom used relief pitcher David Lee went in the 27th round to the Pirates, and he was followed by fellow reliever Frank Rubio going to the Giants two rounds later. The Gators’ penultimate selectee was draft eligible sophomore Deacon Liput (to the Dodgers), who’s had an underwhelming 2017 campaign so far but leads Florida with twelve swiped bases on the year and broke through with a two run homer and a .417 average in the three game Super Regional series win over Wake. He’ll almost certainly return to school for at least one, maybe two more years.
Last but not least was JJ Schwarz, taken in the 37th round by the (nearly) hometown Tampa Bay Rays. He’s taken a beating from fans for not being able to match the ridiculous output he posted as a freshman, and it’s true that he’s looked less than good at the plate at times the last two seasons. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a Gator baseball player who came through in the clutch more than JJ Schwarz. The list of moments includes a Grand Slam- capitalized intentionally- against FSU in game three of the 2016 Super Regionals, three homers in the previous year’s two game Super sweep of the Seminoles, and most recently, the two run homer to drive the dagger into the Deacons’ series on Monday. And the kicker: despite the fact that many Gator fans continue to grumble about how far he’s fallen off, he still leads a College World Series bound team in both homers (12) and RBIs (53) on the season as a junior. He, too, would be better served coming back next year, as he’s still got plenty of room to improve. But in the (unlikely) event that Schwarz does leave, I’m prepared to say goodbye with nothing but fond memories and call him one of the greatest Gator baseball players of all time.