The Florida Gators are set to host a Regional for the third year in a row. Is this the year they can advance out of it? (Photo and graphic from In All Kinds Of Weather.)
The 2023 NCAA Baseball Tournament is upon us, and as one of the best teams in the country all year, the Florida Gators get to host their own Gainesville Regional. Should Florida win its Regional, it will host the winner of South Carolina’s Columbia Regional in the Super Regionals next week. That Regional consists of South Carolina, Campbell, NC State and Central Connecticut State.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Florida Gators have been bounced out of their own Gainesville Regional in each of the last two seasons. Nothing is guaranteed, and the Gators would love nothing more than to write a positive Regional story for once in the 2020’s to join all those from the 2010’s.
For those unfamiliar with how the NCAA Baseball Tournament works, it’s a four-team field in each Regional, double elimination. Each Regional 1-seed plays the Regional 4-seed, while 2 and 3 square off. The winners face each other in the 1-0 game, while the losers face off in the 0-1 game. The loser of the 0-1 game is done. The winner of the 1-0 game moves to the Regional final, where they’ll face the winner of the 1-1 game. However, the team that’s 2-1 would have to beat the 2-0 team twice in a row to advance, while the 2-0 team gets two shots to beat the 2-1 team. That’s the advantage of going 2-0.
So: let’s learn more about the field in Gainesville this weekend.
Regional 1-seed: Florida Gators (host)
Record: 44-14 (20-10 SEC)
National ranking: #2 (RPI: #4)
Starting pitchers: Brandon Sproat, Hurston Waldrep, Jac Caglianone
Best relief pitchers: Cade Fisher, Ryan Slater, Brandon Neely
Offensive weapons: Jac Caglianone, Wyatt Langford, Josh Rivera, Michael Robertson, Cade Kurland
Notable results: 2-1 vs. #9 Miami, 4-1 vs. #6 Vanderbilt, 0-3 vs. #15 South Carolina, 2-1 vs. #12 Kentucky, 3-1 vs. #16 Alabama
Scouting report: Florida started the season strong by winning its opening series for the first time since 2020, beat Miami two out of three and never looked back. The Florida Gators boast one of the most powerful lineups in all of college baseball, hitting 2.05 home runs per game- 2nd-best in college baseball- and while the pitching staff isn’t quite elite, Florida has more than enough horsepower on the mound to to get the job done. Even if the pitching isn’t great, Florida boasts a slugging percentage of .557 and should be able to outduel most opponents in the friendly confines of Condron Ballpark. The Florida Gators are the overwhelming favorite to advance out of the Regional.
Regional 2-seed: Connecticut Huskies
Record: 43-15 (15-5 Big East)
National ranking: #9 (RPI: #22)
Starting pitchers: Stephen Quigley, Ian Cooke, Jack Sullivan
Best relief pitchers: Zach Fogell, Justin Willis
Offensive weapons: Dominic Freeburger, Ben Huber, Korey Morton, Luke Broadhurst, Jake Studley
Notable results: 2-2 vs. Ohio State, 3-3 vs. Xavier, 3-0 vs. Florida Atlantic, 1-1 vs. Boston College, did not play a single top-16 seed
Scouting report: What happens when the team with the #78 strength of schedule takes advantage of it? You get a team like UConn, with great stats, a great ranking, and a team that might be in for a culture shock when it faces a team unlike any it’s faced all year. The Huskies do have some bats, the most dangerous of which belongs to Freeburger and his .349 batting average, but there’s a steep drop-off with the bottom four members of the lineup. And the Huskies’ pitching has been suspect all year, with a 4.84 team ERA in a baseball-dry Big East that only placed one other team in the NCAA Tournament. UConn can hit, but it’s difficult not to like Florida’s chances in a shootout simply because the Gators have more proven firepower- and that’s assuming UConn’s .305 team batting average can even translate into success against above-average SEC pitching.
Regional 3-seed: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 39-21 (12-12)
National ranking: NR (RPI: #41)
Starting pitchers: Mason Molina, Trendan Parrish, Zane Petty
Best relief pitchers: Ethan Coombs, Brandon Beckel, Ryan Free
Offensive weapons: Gavin Kash, Nolen Hester, Gage Harrelson, Hudson White, Kevin Bazzell
Notable results: 2-1 vs. #11 Oklahoma State, 1-1 vs. #8 Stanford
Scouting report: This ain’t the Texas Tech of the 2010’s. There’s no Josh Jung or Grant Little in this lineup. However: Texas Tech is still a Tim Tadlock team, and that means they’re going to be very sound fundamentally, hit the baseball hard, and not have a true glaring weakness. The strength of the Red Raiders is clearly their offense, with Nolen Hester and Kevin Bazzell both hitting well above .350 for the season. Texas Tech also has three other bats above .315 on the year, and they’ve done it all in the always-tough Big 12. As is the case with UConn, though: Texas Tech’s pitching situation is suspect. And though they do have some power in their lineup, they don’t have anywhere near the power that Florida does. Anything can happen, of course, but with a team ERA of above 5.0 on the season and a slightly less deep lineup than the Gators, you have to place your money on Florida if the 2018 (and 2016) College World Series rematch comes to pass in Gainesville.
Regional 4-seed: Florida A&M Rattlers
Record: 29-28 (18-12 SWAC)
National ranking: NR (RPI: #156)
Starting pitchers: Hunter Viets, Caleb Granger, Zach Morea
Best relief pitchers: Grant Harrison, Tre Simmons, Raylan Wagner
Offensive weapons: Ty Jackson, Ty Hanchey, Sebastian Greico, Jared Weber, Janmikell Bastardo
Notable results: 0-1 vs. Auburn, 0-1 vs. Florida, 0-3 vs. Eastern Illinois, 1-2 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 0-3 vs. Mercer
Scouting report: Florida A&M is objectively not a very good baseball team. With a record of one game over .500 against the 100th toughest schedule in college baseball and an RPI of #156, the Rattlers’ team ERA of 6.99 looks even worse than that horrid stat would without any context. The Rattlers do hit the ball fairly well, coming in with a .297 team batting average, but have little to speak of in the sense of hitting for power. (For context: Florida has nearly twice as many home runs as an SEC team than FAMU has as a SWAC team). Barring naptime in the late afternoon heat or a complete meltdown on the mound, Florida- which already beat this team 17-7 in a game where the Gators exclusively used their bullpen- should be able to cruise in its opener.
Florida Gators key
The closest thing to a weakness this team has is Caglianone on the mound; he’s been very up and down this season after recovering from Tommy John. When he’s on, he’s tremendously effective and virtually untouchable; when he’s not, the results can be frightful, most recently his failure to get out of the second inning against Vandy this past week in the SEC Tournament. Get #GoodCags on the mound, and Florida is all but guaranteed to advance. And even if you don’t get #GoodCags as a pitcher, if his bat and the bats of his teammates come alive, it’s nighty-night for the other three teams in this Regional anyway.
Florida Gators strategy
Interesting question. Do you throw Caglianone against a terrible FAMU team that Florida hammered without even needing one of its three starting pitchers earlier this year? If you do, you’d be doing so on slightly short rest, but you’d also be saving your two co-aces in Sproat and Waldrep for the 1-0 game and 2-0 vs. 2-1 game against UConn or Texas Tech… assuming things don’t go horribly wrong and you don’t get #BadCags in a seismic Friday shocker. Or do you keep your guys on their schedule, throw Sproat against FAMU, use Waldrep to get you to the final on Sunday and bite your nails that you get #GoodCags on Sunday? I’ll be fascinated to see what Kevin O’Sullivan chooses to do here.
There’s no way you can say any team other than Florida is the favorite to advance out of this Regional. It’s not a close call. At the same time, the Jekyll & Hyde routine Caglianone has displayed on the mound does give me pause from saying it’s a sure thing. And if Florida loses a game that any of these three guys start, all hell breaks loose and it’s all hands on deck with a bullpen game to save the season. But the first sentence here is the most important. This is Florida’s Regional to lose.
Chances for each team to advance out of this Regional:
Florida Gators: 84%
Connecticut Huskies: 7%
Texas Tech Red Raiders: 9%
Florida A&M Rattlers: <0.1%