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Baseball Preview: Florida

A red-hot Florida team rolls into Columbia this weekend as the Tigers prepare to fight for their SEC tournament life

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAR 06 Florida at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Missouri Tigers are reeling after being swept at the hands of an underwhelming Ole Miss team last week. Now they’ll face a Florida team with enough offensive firepower to frighten any team in the country but has experienced some injuries on the mound. The Gators will roll into Columbia winners of 7 of their last 8 and 5 in a row.

Pitching

Friday nights were a death sentence for opposing teams when facing the Florida Gators earlier this year. Hunter Barco, a top MLB draft prospect, was mowing down hitters left and right with his explosive fastball and wipeout slider from the left side. However, a month ago, Barco was shut down due to elbow soreness, and the Gators were left with a major hole in their weekend rotation.

Filling in for Barco in the role of Friday night starter is sophomore right-hander Brandon Sproat. It’s been an up and down year for Sproat on the mound, but he’s coming into this weekend off two great starts against Kentucky and Mississippi State. In those outings he combined to go 11.1 innings with 2 ER and 10 Ks. For the year he has a modest 4.26 ERA in 61.1 innings with 59 K’s.

If you just were to look at his arsenal on the mound, Sproat immediately jumps off the page. He has a huge fastball that can reach 98 mph, but will usually sit 94-96. Meanwhile, he also mixes in a good slider and a changeup. As a hitter he’s tough to hit because of how overpowering he can, and with his recent performances, Sproat should walk into Taylor Stadium ready to carve up the Tigers.

Branndon Neely may be just a freshman, but he’s playing a big role for the Gators early in his career. With Barco’s injury, Neely has had to slide into a weekend rotation spot for Florida, and he’s done so very admirably. Against the best competition, he’s put forth his best efforts throwing 7 innings of 1-run ball against and another 6.1 innings of 1-run ball against Vanderbilt. On the year, Neely has a 3.45 ERA in 44.1 innings with 50 K’s.

Compared Sproat, Neely has much less explosive stuff on the hill. He’s going to sit in the high 80s to low 90s with his heater, with a breaking ball and changeup. Don’t expect the changeup to feature much to righties, but like most college pitchers it’ll be one his best put away pitches to lefties.

Sunday will be the Tigers best chance to win a game. Nick Pogue will get the start, just second SEC start of the year, and he brings in a 4.96 ERA. He won’t be asked to go very long in the game either having only 16.1 innings on the year. His longest start of the season came last weekend against Mississippi State when he went 5 innings and allowed 1 ER.

Similarly to Neely, Pogue is going to sit high 80s and low 90s with his heater, with a standard breaking ball and changeup. Nothing really stands out about his stuff, as he really only throws Fastball-Slider to righties and Fastball-Changeup to lefties. He’s also struggled with walking hitters at times this year. The Tigers should look to jump on Pogue early and get to the Gator bullpen.

Here’s what the rest of the Gator arms have done this year:

via FloridaGators.com

Hitting

When you talk about this Florida offense, one name has stood above the rest for the last three years, CF Jud Fabian. A 2nd round pick in last year’s MLB Draft, Fabian elected to return to college for another year, and he’s still raking. On the year he’s slashing .259/.436/.647 with a team leading 19 HR. He’s also second on the team in OPS and HR while playing stellar defense. Even with all this success, Fabian is hitless in his last 3 games so he is indeed human.

via OleMissSports.com

When you look at Fabian, one thing is clear, he loves to pull the ball. Almost all of his hits are to the left side, and he’s trying to get the head out in front of every pitch he sees. With that tendency, however, Fabian is very susceptible to off speed pitches, specifically right-handed changeups. If it’s a fastball, Fabian will crush it, but if the Tigers can feed him off-speed pitches, they should be able to keep him slumping.

Look at Fabian’s nuclear power here:

While Fabian may be the biggest name in the lineup, this Gator lineup is full of intimidating bats, and none more so than LF Wyatt Langford. Hitting in the leadoff spot for Florida, Langford is far from your typical leadoff hitter. He leads the team in RBI and is second in HR with 16. Oh, and he’s slashing .355/.437/.689 to lead the team in OPS while playing gold glove caliber defense.

One way that Langford differentiates himself from a guy like Fabian is his ability to use all fields. He also loves to jump on the first pitch. If you try to sneak a cookie over, that ball will find Langford’s barrel. There’s not really a specific pitch that Langford struggles against as he has no problem hitting fastballs and off-speed, but if you do get him to two-strike counts, one of his few weaknesses is sliders away. Nevertheless, Langford will undoubtedly be one of the biggest problems the Tigers will prepare for this weekend.

A guy like 2B Sterlin Thompson would be hard to ignore in most lineups, but I’m a sucker for homers so I’m going to pick C BT Riopelle as our 3rd hitter to highlight. Hitting right behind Fabian, Riopelle provides more than just protection for Fabian. On the year, he has 14 HR and 45 RBI all while slashing .304/.368/.609 from the cleanup spot. Earlier this year he went yard three times against Vandy.

Riopelle is one of those high power, high strikeout hitters that are flooding baseball right now. Like Fabian he’s a dead pull hitter, but unlike Fabian, he struggles to draw walks. For a guy that strikes out as much as he does, that’s concerning. Even so, with a bat as explosive as Riopelle, Missouri pitchers are going to be shaking in their boots thanks to the devastating 1-4 in the Gator lineup.

Here’s the rest of the Florida hitters numbers this year. Take a peak at Sterlin Thompson if you aren’t scared enough already:

via FloridaGators.com

Game Schedule

Friday | 6 pm | SEC Network +

Saturday | 2 pm | SEC Network +

Sunday | 1 pm | SEC Network +