The final order of Gator baseball for the 2022 season was to see a few of its players find new homes in the pros. And a few did.
In total, four Gator baseball players were selected in the 2022 MLB Draft. Three Gators were taken on the first day of the draft (Sunday), which was the most of any school.
Here’s a quick rundown of the Gator draftees, and a quick analysis of what each franchise is getting in their Gator draftee:
Round 1, pick 31: OF Sterlin Thompson, Colorado Rockies
Thompson becomes the highest-drafted outfielder ever to come through the illustrious Gator baseball program, and Florida’s 17th first round draft pick ever. And for good reason.
Highlighted by a walk-off two-run homer against rival FSU, Thompson exploded onto the scene in Gainesville in 2022 with a terrific .354 batting average, a .443 on-base percentage, and a .563 slugging percentage. He doesn’t bring an overwhelming amount of power, but he brings more than enough to make pitchers pay for mistakes, particularly on the inner half of the plate. And he belted 11 homers, 16 doubles, and two triples last year to prove it. He’s also very disciplined and patient at the plate, and not likely to swing at too many bad pitches.
Thompson also brings impressive versatility in terms of where he can be situated in the field. He probably belongs in right field, but he has experience at shortstop and second base in his background, and his speed and general IQ for the game would make him a strong backup option in the middle infield in a pinch.
Overall, Thompson is an excellent prospect. The learning curve in the minors is almost always a multi-year process, but expect to see this now-former elite college baseball player in the big leagues before too long.
Round 2, pick 44: LHP Hunter Barco, Pittsburgh Pirates
Barco was the unquestioned ace of the Gator baseball pitching staff this last season until he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. No need to worry, Pittsburgh fans: once that arm heals and Barco gets his form back, you’ve got a star in the making.
The Bolles (Jacksonville) product pitched a little less than half a season in 2020 before it was shut down due to COVID, throughout the 2021 season, and a little more than half a season in 2022 before he felt that pop in his elbow. So we’ll call it about two full seasons that he pitched for the Gators. And during those two full seasons, Barco was masterful, striking out 189 hitters and compiling an ERA of 3.18. On top of all the stats, Barco is a fireplug, the kind of guy who’s confident in his abilities and then goes out and proves it.
As of now, Barco weaponizes three pitches and has a fourth he can go to if he really needs to. His fastball can consistently hit 95 mph and can sometimes even touch 98, and his curveball can throw hitters off balance because it’s undetectable coming out of his hand. But his real haymaker pitch is his slider, which falls off a table maybe a foot and a half before it reaches home plate. It’s downright nasty. And if all else fails, Barco can dig into his arsenal and get a big out with his change-up. Oh, and he can control them all extremely well- command was rarely an issue for him at Florida.
It’s going to take time for him to recover from Tommy John, and get back to his top form. But once he does, the Pirates will have an absolute gamer in their farm system- and before too much longer, in the majors.
Round 2, pick 67: OF Jud Fabian, Baltimore Orioles
Fabian was actually selected in the MLB Draft even higher a year ago, when Boston took him #40 overall. But no matter. Not only did coming back to school for another year and sliding down 27 slots not cost him financially thanks to Gator Collective, Fabian made some history in his last hurrah before turning pro.
The Ocala native became the second Gator baseball player to hit 20+ home runs in back-to-back seasons in school history. All in all, Fabian blasted 56 round-trippers in just 2.33 seasons (counting the shortened COVID season as 1/3 of a season) with the Gator baseball program, and didn’t make a single error in 155 fielding chances in center field.
Fabian’s skills as an outfielder are unquestioned. He quickly became adept at making the impossible catches seem routine, combining blazing speed with a quick first step and top-tier ball-tracking abilities. And his arm is pretty strong, too. His potential at the plate is also unquestioned; when he’s seeing the ball well, he can both hit and hit for power as well as anybody in the sport. It’s the consistency at the plate that raises some eyebrows. Fabian was very streaky at the dish in 2022 for the Gators; he’d go on stretches where it felt like he couldn’t miss the baseball with the fat part of his barrel if he tried, and other stretches that saw him do little else than strike out and make soft contact.
But the upside with Fabian is inarguably enormous, and Baltimore obviously believes in him enough to use a second-round pick on him. Here’s hoping the minor leagues teach him consistency at the plate, and he gets his shot in The Show.
Round 3, pick 90: RHP Brandon Sproat, New York Mets
Sproat has to be considered an anomaly in the very interesting case study in what happens when you suddenly take away a team’s best pitcher and tell the #2 guy in the rotation, “OK, here’s the ball. You’re our ace now.” The majority of the time, it’s probably not going to work out too favorably. But with Sproat- who had been doing fine before the injury to Hunter Barco, but not overwhelmingly incredible- Florida’s rotation almost didn’t miss a beat.
Sproat was absolute dynamite for the Gators after Barco went down, going 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his final six starts. For perspective, for the whole 2022 season, Sproat was 9-4 with a 3.41 ERA. Not bad, certainly, but nowhere close to the pace he was on once he was thrown into the fire by May.
Initially known as a flame-thrower but raw with control problems, Sproat came to Florida, fine-tuned his game, and snuck his way into the third round. He’s now got four trustworthy pitches in his arsenal: a fastball that can touch triple figures, a curveball that really moves, a slider that falls off a table, and a change-up that looks the same coming out of his hand as the fastball. His command of these four pitches still needs work, but it’s certainly better than it was when he first came to Florida, or even a year ago.
If Sproat can continue to improve that command and continue to fool hitters with his off speed stuff once they’ve caught up to his 100+ mph fastball, he might just enjoy a nice career in the bigs.