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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Florida Gators

Another college team you can follow this coming spring.

Austin Langworthy, Florida Gators outfielder
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

While some might argue for the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, or Pac-12 Conference, my lean is toward the Southeastern Conference as the best baseball conference going. The loop regularly sends more than one team to the College World Series. In recent memory, the SEC’s most reliable school has been Florida, and 2019 shouldn’t be much different. This is a requested look at the 2019 Gators.

The Gators lost four hitters and three regular pitchers to the draft. Hence, they reloaded. Their outfield in 2019 will be keyed by Wil Dalton, who mashed 19 homers and 18 doubles in 2018. When do you draft that? (Semi-rhetorical question.) His SEC OPS as a sophomore was .880, hence the story is incomplete. Nelson Maldonado and Austin Langworthy complete as good of an outfield as the league has. Which other players that deserve draft attention, will be determined through the season.

The rotation in Gainesville this spring will be younger that usual, but still qualified. Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace will figure to be atop the rotation the next two years, as neither is draft-eligible in June. Tracking the pair the next two seasons would allow you a shot at addressing their possibilities as pros. Their most likely June draft arm is junior Tyler Dyson, who could get some first day (rounds one and two) with an uncustomary dearth of big pitching names in 2019.

To be entirely honest, draft consideration is a bit of any sort of “watching college games,” regardless the sport. I remember that some thought Larry Bird was far too slow to ever be an NBA star. They were forgiven their missed assessments. Overnight, armchair football executives were assessing Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Notre Dame footballers as pros, It’s never been the point that, from one viewing or another, a novice fan can determine anything about a player’s development years down the line. However, having an opinion should be encouraged.

If you were to watch three innings of a Jack Leftwich start (for instance) against Long Beach State or Miami, anyone who would expect you to immediately have a scout’s perspective on his future career would likely be drinking from the high octane pump. These columns, though, are about educating you on an important aspect of baseball pipelines. You can block yourself off from the college game. I think you might learn more from a competitive college game than an exhibition in Mesa designed to prepare players for the grind. I’d much rather learn, even if it means teaching myself.

Any team in the SEC, PAC 12, Big 12, or ACC is worth tracking. If you have a college you track in basketball or football, and (apparently) who doesn’t, baseball isn’t an illogical reach. No, it isn’t necessary to watch all 56 games to follow, as I rarely watch a Chicago Cubs game. Knowing who’s on the squad, and how they’re doing is normally enough, much like how many would monitor the Cubs pipeline. Read an article or two per week, track the statistical updates, and hope for post-season success.

If watching or listening to an hour of a game along the line is outside the realm of possibility, track a player or two that seems to get mentioned on a few Cubs mock drafts. To an extent, it’s about banter. However, it’s intended to be a bit of banter from a degree of awareness. Discussing which of three players you’d prefer long-term from a draft perspective can be very educational.

If you happen to catch Dyson on the bump through the season, attempt to look at him as a 20-year-old with no professional seasoning. Assess whether you like his delivery and the movement on his pitches, separate from if he records routine contact. Does he over-react to getting squeezed by blue? Does he play decent defense? And, if he gets lit up, remember the name of the offender.

Will hitters Keenan Bell or Blake Reese be useful additions to a pro pipeline? Will Kirby McMullen step forward out of the pen? Florida will be a tough beat. They’re a bit akin to Alabama in football. If you want your team to be really good five of every six seasons, Gainesville is a good option. The teams that rub out the Gators need to show talent to do so. They went 49-21 in 2018. That seems a reasonable over/under in 2019, as well. Following the Gators even passively will get you used to draft names for this and future June selections.