I recently attended scout day for the University of Florida and while the Gators still have a lot of talent on campus, they lost some major talent in the 2012 draft. Between departing upperclassmen and recruits that signed out of high school, the Gators lost 11 players in the top three rounds of the draft (Michael Zunino, Lance McCullers, Lewis Brinson, Brian Johnson, Nolan Fontana, Jesse Winker, Max White, Steven Rodriguez, Austin Maddox, Avery Romero, Jonathan Sandfort) along with two top notch college players that received six figure bonuses (Preston Tucker, Hudson Randall) and two solid senior signs (Daniel Pigott, Greg Larson).
Even with all that talent departing or not making it to campus, Florida has two potential high first round picks in their Friday and Saturday starters, junior right-handers Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson. Depending on the schedules of Ole Miss righty Bobby Wahl and Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek, the scout day intersquad matchup of Crawford and Whitson may end up being the best pitching matchup in the SEC this season.
Crawford came out of nowhere last season hitting 98 mph often and flashing a plus slider while he slowly integrated a changeup as the season wore on. All systems were go in his two-inning outing, as all three pitches and his location were crisp. Crawford sat 92-94, hitting 95 with above-average two-seam life, backing it up with an 84-86 mph slider with three-quarter break and sharp, late darting action, flashing 65 potential (on the 20-80 scouting scale). His 84-86 mph changeup has improved and turned over consistently, flashing plus potential to give Crawford three plus pitches, among the best stuff in the draft class.
Crawford had a slight wrist cock last year that was more accentuated in this outing, similar to Aaron Crow as an amateur at Missouri. This slows Crawford’s arm slightly, making it later to catch up with his body, at least a slight concern mechanically, but technically fixable. More worrisome is that Crawford gets both elbows above his shoulder at foot plant, similar to Mark Prior. That doesn’t mean Crawford is destined to get hurt but it’s something that I know more than just a few teams consider a mechanical red flag. It isn’t just a predictive thing, either, as these issues, along with a short stride, cause timing issues that affect Crawford’s command at times.
Whitson has a durable, athletic 6’4, 225 pound frame with a little projection remaining, a clean arm action, and a big fastball that hit 95 multiple times, so it’s easy to see why he went 9th overall to the Padres in the 2010 draft. Whitson worked 92-95 in his two-inning appearance with some life down in the zone and solid location. He backed it up with an 85-87 mph slider with 11-to-5 shape and occasional late bite that was easily above average and may be plus in time but his feel waned for the pitch as he’d get around it at times. Whitson’s changeup was 83-84 mph and while he relied mostly on the slider, his changeup was a little crisper and showed plus potential with sink, fade and consistent fastball arm speed.
There is some effort at release and a couple minor inefficiencies in Whitson’s delivery, but nothing that isn’t fixable. His glove hand hangs low, around his thigh and instead of pitching into a stiff front arm, his glove acts as a counter weight to his throwing arm—a problem Taijuan Walker also has that affects command, particularly when fatigued. There’s been some mystery about Whitson’s sophomore year and scouts aren’t clear about what arm troubles he did or didn’t have last season. What scout day helped prove is that Whitson is free and easy with velocity once again, after pitching just 3.1 innings on the Cape and looking stiff in intermittent appearances last season.
Junior lefty Daniel Gibson will step into the big shoes Rodriguez and Maddox left to be filled in the bullpen, bringing a three-pitch mix that give him solid pro potential. Gibson worked 90-92 and would cut or sink his heater, backing it up with an average 81-83 mph changeup that his feel came and went for but has sink and fade when he can command it. Gibson also throws a cutter-type slider at 82-83 mph that is very effective against left-handed hitters with solid-average potential due to occasional depth and bite.
Sophomore Johnny Magliozzi was draft-eligible as a freshman but his bonus demands priced him out of the draft. The squatty righty has a torque-heavy delivery with some effort but sat 90-92 mph with a solid curveball and changeup. Magliozzi’s 74-78 mph curve had lots of depth and flashes occasional power for solid-average potential while his 77-78 mph changeup has very good deception and depth with occasional fade for above-average potential. He doesn’t have a lot of plane and has fringy command so relief is likely Magliozzi’s future, but three potential 50 or 55 pitches give him a solid pro future.
Two underclassmen arms rounded out the game and impressed. 6’6, 220 pound freshman righty Tucker Simpson worked 89-93 and threw an above-average changeup at 77 mph with great deception and depth. Sophomore righty Ryan Harris lit up the radar guns, working 92-96 mph and flashing an 81-82 mph curveball with solid-average potential. The 6’2, 200 pound Harris short-armed his hook and lacked feel for the pitch early, but broke off a few crisp ones before his outing ended. His velo spike comes from a torque-heavy delivery that puts stress on his shoulder by having his arm lag well behind his body and this contributes to his below-average command.
The Gators don’t have much to offer in the way of draft-eligible hitters. The three best hitting prospects are sophomores: infielders Josh Tobias and Casey Turgeon and catcher Taylor Gushue. Tobias plays third base and has good bat speed with some pop and a gap-to-gap approach. He may be able to play second base but defers to Turgeon, a Fontana-type who may be able to play a solid shortstop but defers to slick-fielding newcomer, freshman Richie Martin. Gushue deferred to Zunino by playing 1B/DH last season as a freshman, after enrolling early by skipping his senior year of high school. The switch-hitting Gushue is a real prospect due to his youth, potential average power and defensive tools that should let him stick behind the plate as a pro.