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Florida baseball season preview: Infield

DaltonGuthrie

-Photo by Jordan McPherson

The third part of our four-part series breaking down the Florida Gators baseball team takes a look at the infield. Florida lost just one mainstay from last year’s group in first baseman Peter Alonso, who was drafted by the New York Mets in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Junior SS Dalton Guthrie

Career stats: .296 batting average, 3 home runs, 48 RBI, .976 fielding

Outlook: For the second straight season, Guthrie should be the go-to guy at shortstop and will likely hold down the leadoff spot in the batting order for the third year in a row. The right-handed contact hitter has a knack for getting on base (166 career hits, .364 on-base percentage) and easily sets the tone for the team on both offense and defense. In the field, Guthrie is laser-focused at shortstop, making nearly impossible grabs for groundballs through the left side seem routine and making routine plays look like a run-in-the-mill practice session.

Junior C Mike Rivera

Career stats: .258 batting average, 12 home runs, 95 RBI, .995 fielding

Outlook: Rivera is the epitome of defense and clutch hits. In his first two seasons, the two-time All-SEC second-team member has committed just four errors in the field and has caught 29 runners attempting to steal on him. He also has a knack for getting hits with runners in scoring position, which has resulted in the media giving him the nickname (and subsequent hashtag) RBIvera. And as much as he hates to admit it, Rivera also has a knack for hitting for power, logging 12 home runs and 23 additional extra-base hits (20 doubles; three triples) during his first two seasons. In a pinch, the 5-10, 205-pound junior can also move to third base, which he played in high school and while he was a member of the Team USA U-18 team.

Junior C/1B JJ Schwarz

Career stats: .311 batting average, 25 home runs, 133 RBI, .994 fielding

Outlook: In addition to rotating with Rivera at catcher, Schwarz, the power-hitting righty who leads the team in career batting average will also see time at first base in order to free up the DH spot for some of the other quality bats his roster has to offer. Schwarz played occasionally at first base in 2016 and has rotated at the position throughout both fall and spring practices. He said his confidence playing defense there is between a 7 and 8 even though he still gets spooked every now and then when a lefty flares a ball straight at him. “I was thinking about putting my chest protector on under my jersey to protect from body balls,” Schwarz said, “but that was a no-go.”

Junior 1B/3B Christian Hicks

Career stats: .135 batting average, two home runs, 10 RBI, .983 fielding

Outlook: Hicks has been a backup for the bulk of his UF career, logging just 16 starts and 74 at-bats over his first two seasons. That’s likely to change this season with the 6-4 left-handed hitter expected to be a part of Florida’s first-base rotation this season. Hicks’ small sample size  at the plate is not the best (just 10 hits to 18 strikeouts), but the junior has had a more-or-less solid outing during fall and spring. Hicks has shown a knack for power and has had an affinity for getting line drives into the outfield. Plus, getting another lefty bat in the lineup wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Sophomore 2B Deacon Liput

Career stats: .270 batting average, 3 home runs, 36 RBI, .982 fielding

Outlook: Liput jumped in as a freshman and made a solid impact as the starting second baseman. He opened his career by successfully reaching base in his first 21 games before going on a hot-and-cold streak during conference play. Liput can hit for power (three home runs, four triples), has the ability to get the ball in play on all sides of the field and has the speed to be a force on the basepaths (13 stolen bases in 17 attempts). In the field, Liput committed just five errors last season.

Sophomore 3B Jonathan India

Career stats: .303 batting average, 4 home runs, 40 RBI, .933 fielding

Outlook: After a slow start to his freshman year, India managed to become one of the top freshman infielders in the country by season’s end. The Coral Springs native and American Heritage alum closed the 2016 season by recording a hit in 15 of the final 18 games. He also committed just two errors in the field during the final 10 games. India also has the capability of playing either middle infield spot, if needed.

Junior C Mark Kolozsvary

Career stats: .257 batting average, two home runs, 6 RBI, .986 fielding

Outlook: Kolozsvary has played been the third wheel in the catcher spot to classmates Schwarz and Rivera, but the junior could see some work at the backstop early in the year during midweek games or as a designated hitter. Kolozsvary has been a favorite to watch during intrasquads because of his power and his consistency at the plate.

Freshman 1B Keenan Bell

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Bell will serve as part of the first-base platoon along with Schwarz and Hicks. The 6-0 freshman from Jacksonville is a left-handed hitter with the ability to hit for power. He is also a prime candidate for the DH spot when Schwarz is at first base.

Senior UTIL Ryan Larson

Career stats: .260 batting average, one home run, 39 RBI, .983 fielding percentage

Outlook: Larson spent his first three years in the outfield, occasionally as a starter, mostly as a defensive substitute late in games. For the majority of fall and spring practice, though, Larson played second base. He will likely serve as a backup either way, but his versatility provides Florida with some additional depth that could be helpful during the season.

Freshman 1B/3B/RHP Garrett Milchin

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Milchin has the potential to play at either of the corner infield spots, but it’s hard to determine if he’ll be able to break through the platoon at first base. He also missed about a week of practice recently after getting hit in the hand with a fastball while on the mound. He should be cleared to play for the William & Mary series, but just how much he’ll be able to go is still an uncertainty at this point.

Freshman INF/RHP Austin Bodrato

Career Stats: N/A

Outlook: Like Milchin, Bodrato can play either corner outfield position, but will likely serve as a backup/pinch-hitter early. He also has a chance to play a role in the bullpen.

Sophomore UTIL Blake Reese

Career stats: .286 batting average, 0 home runs, 1 RBI, 1.000 fielding

Outlook: Reese is going to be the team’s starting center fielder (more on that in Thursday’s breakdown), but the sophomore could slide back to shortstop or 2nd base in a pinch.

 

The four-part series will conclude on Thursday with a look at the Gators' outfielders.

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