Who Won, Who Lost: Florida Headlines Big Winners ListAnalysis
Kevin O’Sullivan could almost sense it, but didn’t want to jinx himself.
As the third and fourth rounds of the Major League Baseball draft went by, the Florida coach was watching the draft coverage and checking texts about his still undrafted weekend starters in righthanders Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich.
One text arrived: “Sully, you gotta feel good about getting Mace and Leftwich back for another season at this point, right?”
Sully responded: “Still another round to go. Let’s wait and see how the fifth round goes.”
He was taking no chances. He didn’t want to anger the baseball gods.
As the final few names of the fifth round scrolled across the screen, there were good college pitchers such as Texas righthander Bryce Elder taken by the Braves. But missing from the chyron were Mace and Leftwich.
Florida had done the unthinkable. They got Mace and Leftwich back for another season on a team that already was expected to be loaded and in contention for the No. 1 spot in the preseason. Those two returning is merely icing on the cake as the Gators move into a sparking new $60 Million ballpark in a few days.
“Well, you know, a lot of these deals are done ahead of time, and as the draft went on, after a certain number of picks, I had a pretty good idea of who was going to come to school and who wasn’t,” O’Sullivan said. “To be really honest with you, I didn’t have a whole lot of say in Jack and Tommy’s situations, but obviously, I couldn’t be happier that they’re coming back.
“I’m really excited,” he continued. “The thing I’m most excited about is that they feel really comfortable with their decision to come back to our program. And I’m really looking forward to the challenge of helping them improve in the spring and making them a great success story 12 months from now.”
Though Leftwich returning to Gainesville for another season is just mildly surprising, Mace not getting selected in the top three rounds, at least, indicates he might’ve had a lofty asking price. There’s no doubt he’s a top two-round talent, standing 6-foot-6, 215 pounds with an electric arm that will bump 94-96 mph on occasion, along with a nice cutter at 86-88 mph and a quality slurve at 78-81 mph. Mace has been inconsistent at times in the past, but it’s easy to buy in on the potential. The same goes for one second rounder in the draft in Texas A&M righthander Christian Roa, who went to the Reds a little earlier than expected.
As for Leftwich, he’s like Mace in the sense that he needs to be more consistent. And like Mace, he can get his fastball up to 94-95 mph on occasion, while also showing good feel for a 79-82 mph slider. What’s important for Leftwich moving forward is developing a go-to third offering with his changeup. The changeup still isn’t where it needs to be, but if it is in 2021, there’s zero doubt he’s a top two-round type of talent like his cohort in crime in Mace.
Combine those two with returning freshman Hunter Barco and Christian Scott, and the Gators have some extremely talented arms to rely on as headliners in a few months. Those guys are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to premier arms on this pitching staff.
UF didn’t just score in the draft by welcoming back Mace and Leftwich. It also came out on the positive side with its prep players. The Gators lost Zac Veen and Coby Mayo to the draft, but both departures from the signing class were fully expected by O’Sullivan and Co. They’ll welcome Sterlin Thompson, Mac Guscette, Colby Halter, Timmy Manning and Wyatt Langford, among others, to campus this fall. All are considered prep stars and guys who can make an immediate impact.
Moving forward, there’s so much reason for excitement inside the Gators program. Florida has a premier weekend rotation coming back, the bullpen is loaded with a stable of ridiculous arms and the position player group is mighty impressive as well with Jud Fabian, a likely top-five pick in next year’s MLB draft, leading the charge.
We’ll see how things stack up in a few months, but it would be a surprise at this point if we have anyone but the Gators leading our Preseason Top 25 Rankings in January.
Florida was a big winner this week, and the fun is just getting started.
“We had a really good team this past spring, but we went through the first five rounds and didn’t have anyone drafted,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m hoping they all have a chip on their shoulder going into the fall. There’s obviously a reason we got off to a good start in 2020. We were really talented, but it also was a very tight-knight group. The camaraderie amongst the players in the program on and off the field was pretty impressive.
“That’ll be my main emphasis to this group going into the fall, too,” he continued. “There are a lot of good pitchers and players on this team, but what they need to remember if how last year’s team came together. They need to be the same way. The key will be making sure this crew puts the team first, and well ahead of their individual success.”
In addition to the throng of high school prospects who decided to join the Gators, Zac Veen and Coby Mayo being the exceptions, the Gators came out of the five-round draft in excellent shape. For much of Day Two, we were expecting weekend starters and righthanded pitchers Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich to come off the board, especially Mace. However, that never happened and the duo now return to Gainesville for another season alongside superb young pitcher Hunter Barco. In addition to those guys, UF will return Christian Scott and an abundance of other talented arms, while also welcoming youngsters Timmy Manning, Chase Centala and Blake Purnell to the mix. UF was going to be in the discussion for No. 1 in 2021 even without Mace and Leftwich. Now, it would be a shock if we decide on anyone else but the Gators for No. 1 going into 2021. What a coup for coach Kevin O’Sullivan as his program moves into a new ballpark.
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