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2002 SEASON PREVIEW
Gators begin first season under Pat McMahon

Everything's new in Florida baseball. New coaching staff, new game times, new baseball camps, new uniforms, new logos. Newfound respect.

New head coach Pat McMahon has brought a newfound spirit and energy to the program. In only his first five months in Gainesville, McMahon has already made a significant impact as the Gators completed a spirited four-week fall baseball practice schedule on November 3rd. It held its first annual Gator Baseball "Home Run Derby" and raised over $3,000 to benefit the Children's Miracle Network at Shands Children's Hospital. McMahon also initiated two new fall events- a first-ever Parent's Weekend and a "Meet the Players" evening for fans. In addition, he made several outstanding changes to the uniforms the Gators will wear as he brought back the traditional interlocking "UF" and introduced orange jersey tops. McMahon also made changes on the infield landscape and to the schedule, moving game times up a half-hour to accommodate families and children. He has initiated several new baseball camps for youngsters including a Thanksgiving Camp, Winter Holiday Camp and Father-Son Camp. And most importantly, he has used his in-state contacts to shift the program's recruiting focus back to the state of Florida while inking eight of his nine fall signees from within the state.

All accomplished in just five months despite a six-week summer stint as head coach of the USA Baseball team. But McMahon is just getting started.

"We will always do things in a first-class manner with high principles," said McMahon, who will wear jersey number 26 to honor Florida's all-time winningest baseball coach Dave Fuller. "We will commit to excellent performance. We will work hard to be the very best we can be. And we will work as hard as we can to do the little things well because those things become big things. Those are the things I feel are extremely important along with great work ethic, integrity and doing things the right way."

The coaching staff of McMahon and assistants Ross Jones (pitching) and John Cohen (hitting) shift its attention to the 2002 season where the Gators return 23 letterwinners from a team that finished 35-27 (16-14 in the SEC). Florida advanced to both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regionals for the program's 24th and 19th times respectively and won 24 of its last 38 games after battling back from an 0-6 SEC and 11-13 start. In addition, the Gators return eight seniors, six position starters and two starting pitchers.

"The experience of our returning players will be important," McMahon said. "They have SEC experience and leadership is very important. As you go through a season, experience becomes a wonderful teacher. We need to maintain consistent performance. We need to practice and play as hard as we can to represent the University of Florida in a first-class manner and compete with class. We want to do all the things we can do to be the best team we possibly can."

"We have eight seniors and we put a lot of emphasis on senior leadership this fall," McMahon said. "They've been through the rigors of a full season. Every game from day one is important. We want to improve as the season goes on and improve in all facets of the game. With a coaching change, that can be a little difficult on the upperclassmen. But we expect a lot from our seniors and we want all of our players to handle the season and all its demands the right way."

Six position starters return to lead the Gators. All South Region selection Matt Goss returns to his post in centerfield. The senior hit .356 and the led UF with 11 home runs, 54 RBI and a .587 slugging percentage in 2001. Junior catcher Brian Rose returns behind the plate. Rose led all SEC catchers last season as he threw out 25 runners attempting to steal and contributed .290 hitting and 43 RBI. Senior second baseman Mark Kiger (.314, 31 RBI, 19 SB) is back in the infield and could see action at either shortstop or second base, senior powerhitter Ryan Shealy (16 HR in 114 career games) returns at first base and junior infielders Pat Osborn (.282, 5 HR, 38 RBI) and Aaron Sobieraj (.274, 25 RBI) are both back with infield experience. Senior Aaron Davidson (.319, 6 HR, 30 SB) will see action at either second base or designated hitter and three other players- outfielder Ben Harrison, OF/INF Matt Maley and transfer catcher Mario Garza (Stanford) all have significant collegiate experience.

Pitching will be an important focus for the Gators as UF loses five key contributors from its 2001 squad. Senior Keith Ramsey put together an outstanding 2001 season as UF's closer. He went 4-3 and led the Gators in saves (9), appearances (31) and ERA (2.24). He is expected to move into the starting rotation. Junior RHP Alex Hart (3-4, 5.88 ERA) and senior LHP Jimmy Ramshaw (5-3, 5.80 ERA) both return in their starting roles. Several others will be expected to step forward.

"Obviously pitching will be a huge emphasis as it is a crucial factor on any ballclub and we have yet to define roles," McMahon said. "We have a chance to hit real well and be a decent offensive ballclub. The depth of the outfield should be a strength, but we have some questionable areas and we've had some off-season injuries to key players. How those players respond will be critical."

Florida must make up for the loss of three position starters including outfielder Jason Dill (.403, 24 RBI), shortstop Kevin Estrada (.351, 35 steals) and outfielder Peter Nystrom (.353, 48 RBI). Also departed include starting pitcher Keith Brice (2-6, 7.64 ERA) and relief pitchers Kenny Birch (1-0, 4.80 ERA), Eddie Rojas (10-1 in his career), Joey Simon (17-8 in his career) and Jay Belflower (5-3, 7.23 ERA) who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks following the 2001 MLB Draft.

"We've been extremely pleased with the work ethic," McMahon said. "The team has committed itself to our off-season weight training and our developmental throwing plan. They're also understanding our team concept- I becomes 'G', with 'G' meaning Gators. That's a critical issue because the players need to accept their roles on the club. Our goal for the season is to improve on a day-by-day basis. We have very high expectations and we want to surround ourselves with people who expect nothing but the best on and off the field. This fall, we had the highest grade point average in Gator baseball history as 16 guys achieved a 3.0 or better. That was a great start academically."

2002 POSITION BY POSITION ANALYSIS

CATCHER
Junior Brian Rose returns to the Gators after starting all 62 games in 2001. A Johnny Bench Award "Watch List" nominee, Rose finished with a splendid 2001 campaign defensively as he led the SEC in runners thrown out attempting to steal with 25 and finished with only six errors in 432 opportunities (.986 fielding percentage). On offense, Rose hit .290 and contributed 43 RBI from his No. 9 position in the lineup. He also earned co-MVP honors at last year's team banquet.

"Brian's leadership behind the plate will be critically important to our pitching staff," McMahon said.

Junior Mario Garza will provide depth at catcher. A left-handed hitter from Melbourne, Garza transferred to Florida after lettering two seasons at Stanford. He displayed strong hitting during fall drills. Also contributing behind the plate are junior college transfers Joe Mercadante and Matt Cresap along with true freshman Chris Craine.

FIRST BASE
Powerhitter Ryan Shealy is back for his fourth and final year at Florida. Shealy, a six-foot-five, 239-pound senior, started 43 games (30 at 1B) last year, went on a team-high 19-game hit streak and hit .291 with five home runs and 28 RBI. In his three-year career at Florida filled with nagging injuries, Shealy has started 94 times and hit 16 home runs in 114 games. He completed a tremendous fall and figures to have a big season.

"We hope Ryan Shealy will have a big year for us," McMahon said. "He worked extremely hard in the off-season and has done a great job of leading with his work ethic."

Several other players could see action at first base including freshman Wes Swackhamer, sophomore Jamie Keel and juniors Pat Osborn and Mario Garza. Junior Aaron Sobieraj also started 13 games at first base last season.

SECOND BASE
Returning starter Mark Kiger heads a list of seven players vying for playing time at second base. Kiger, who led all SEC second basemen last year in fielding percentage (.970), hit .314 with 31 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 2001. He has a reputation for playing hard on every pitch and provides pop at the plate and speed on the bases. In two years, Kiger has started 115 games at UF, is a career .314 hitter with 10 home runs, 88 RBI and 41 stolen bases. He will start at either second base or shortstop and bat near the top of the lineup.

Senior Aaron Davidson also returns to the squad after starting 57 games last year including nine at second base. In 2001, Davidson became just the eighth player in UF history to steal 30+ bases in a season as he hit .319 with six home runs and 39 RBI.

Junior Aaron Sobieraj (70 career starts/.329 career average) could also see action at second base. Among the newcomers are junior Matt Cresap and freshmen Jon Tucker, Stephen Barton and Ben Zeskind.

SHORTSTOP
Florida must replace departed 2001 starter Kevin Estrada. Over the last two years, Estrada started 101 consecutive games at shortstop for the Gators and last year led UF in hits (88), stolen bases (35) and batted .351 with 41 RBI.

Replacing Estrada's production will be a difficult task, but Florida has seven players to help fill the void led by two veterans- senior Mark Kiger and junior Pat Osborn. Both started at infield positions last season- Kiger at second base and Osborn at third base (58 games). Also expected to play shortstop include Aaron Sobieraj and redshirt freshman C.J. Smith along with newcomers Jon Tucker, Ben Zeskind and Matt Cresap.

THIRD BASE
Two key players who have combined for 112 third base starts over the last two seasons return as experienced third basemen- juniors Aaron Sobieraj and Pat Osborn. Osborn started 56 games at third last season while hitting .282 with five home runs and 38 RBI. Osborn, who had off-season surgery, could start at either third or shortstop. As a freshman in 2000, Sobieraj emerged as the Gators' third baseman while hitting .361 with 16 doubles and 25 RBI in 37 starts. An injury limited his playing time in 2001 but he still started at five different positions, played in 40 games and hit .274. Both players should see extensive action at one of the four infield positions.

Also factoring in at third base are sophomore Matt Maley, redshirt freshman C.J. Smith along with junior Bobby Hicks and freshmen Daniel Brooks and Ben Zeskind.

OUTFIELD
Florida returns four experienced players in the outfield including players who have combined for 155 career starts. In centerfield, senior Matt Goss returns for his final collegiate season. A hard-working, talented all-around player, Goss is a career .326 hitter with 140 hits, 20 doubles, 19 home runs, 91 RBI and 26 stolen bases. He is attempting to become just the sixth player in UF history to record 20+ home runs, 100+ RBI and 30+ stolen bases in a career. In addition, the senior has made several spectacular defensive plays in the outfield. He led the Gators last season in home runs (11), RBI (54), slugging percentage (.587), hit .356 and stole 15 bases before being selected to the All South Region team.

Senior David Klebonis also returns to the mix with three years of experience. The two-time SEC Academic honor roll selection provides solid hitting and could see action in right or left field. Sophomore Ben Harrison (.270, 4 HR, 24 RBI) provided a glimpse of his potential after playing 35 games in his first collegiate season in 2001 and sophomore Matt Maley, a 37th round draft pick in 2000, possesses a strong arm and is a solid all-around player.

Also looking for playing time in the outfield include newcomers Bobby Hicks, Jake Riordan, Wes Swackhamer, Jeff Corsaletti, Stephen Barton and Daniel Brooks.

DESIGNATED HITTER
Florida has several options at designated hitter depending on the fielding lineup. Aaron Davidson gives the Gators speed and tough hitting. He started 35 games last year at DH. When not playing first base, Ryan Shealy is an option. Outfielders Ben Harrison and left-handed bats Mario Garza (catcher) and Wes Swackhamer (1B/OF) are also options.

PITCHING
Florida returns 11 pitchers to the mound in 2002 but also lost eight hurlers with experience. Two of its three weekend starters return in senior LHP Jimmy Ramshaw and junior RHP Alex Hart along with 2001 closer Keith Ramsey but the Gators must replace starter Keith Brice and four middle relievers- Kenny Birch, Eddie Rojas (10-1 in career), Joey Simon and Jay Belflower, who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks following the 2001 MLB draft.

"Obviously pitching will be a huge emphasis as it is a crucial factor on any ballclub," McMahon said. "We have yet to define roles. We have to be strike zone dominant and be able to make plays behind them. We have a lot of pitchers in terms of numbers but we need several to step forward. Those who compete on the mound, hold runners, field their position and step forward with consistency will get the ball."

Ramsey, who put together one of most successful relief seasons in UF history, will move to into the starting rotation. The lefthander led the Gators in saves (9), appearances (31), earned run average (2.24) and tied for the team lead in strikeouts (56 in 52.1 IP). After earning Alasport.com All SEC second team honors, Ramsey was drafted in the 11th Round and offered a contract by the Cincinnati Reds but elected to return to the Gators for his senior season.

Last year both Hart and Ramshaw completed rehab for elbow injuries which required Tommy John surgery. With every start in 2001, both pitchers gained strength and confidence as the duo combined for an 8-7 record, 128.0 innings and 97 strikeouts. Hart enters his junior season after pitching into the fifth inning in his last five starts while opponents hit only .239 against him last season. Ramshaw (5-3, 5.80 ERA in 2001) pitched into the sixth inning in nine of his 14 starts and tied for the team lead in strikeouts (56) in 2001. His most spectacular outing was a career-high nine-strikeout, 8.0 inning shut out at Vanderbilt. He also completed an impressive fall and enters the season with a 6-4 career record with 71 strikeouts in 90.0 career innings pitched.

Several other Gators return to the squad. Junior RHP Ben Hedgecock (six APP in 2001) completed an impressive fall along with senior RHP Kevin Coleman, sophomore LHPs Matt Bomeisl (13 APP), sophomore RHP Scot Drucker (2-0, 6.41 ERA) and sophomore LHP Tom Potter (5 APP). Two Gators- Pat Rumble and Ryan Sadowski return from off season elbow injuries along with sophomore RHP Mike Mlotkowski. Aaron Sobieraj, who saw mound action in as a freshman in 2000, could also be a factor.

Florida also welcomes seven newcomers including Tulane transfer Matt Foster (9-4, 3.51 ERA in 2001), junior college transfer Jamie Goldfarb and five freshmen- Dave Bartelt, Tommy Boss, Connor Falkenbach, Ryan Kennedy and Mike Pete. The Sarasota native Foster helped lead Tulane to a CWS appearance last season.

PRESEASON PLAYING CHART
This chart depicts who will play at each position. It is not intended as a depth chart. Players in italics are returning starters.
CATCHER
Brian Rose
Mario Garza
Joe Mercadante
Chris Craine
Matt Cresap
FIRST BASE
Ryan Shealy
Mario Garza
Wes Swackhamer
Jamie Keel
Pat Osborn
Brian Rose
SECOND BASE
Mark Kiger
Jon Tucker
Aaron Sobieraj
Aaron Davidson
Stephen Barton
Matt Cresap
Ben Zeskind
SHORTSTOP
Mark Kiger
Pat Osborn
Aaron Sobieraj
Jon Tucker
C.J. Smith
Matt Cresap
Ben Zeskind
THIRD BASE
Pat Osborn
Aaron Sobieraj
Matt Maley
C.J. Smith
Daniel Brooks
Bobby Hicks
Ben Zeskind
LEFTFIELD
David Klebonis
Matt Maley
Wes Swackhamer
Jeff Corsaletti
Bobby Hicks
Stephen Barton
Daniel Brooks
CENTERFIELD
Matt Goss
Ben Harrison
Jeff Corsaletti
Jake Riordan
Wes Swackhamer
RIGHTFIELD
David Klebonis
Wes Swackhamer
Ben Harrison
Matt Maley
Bobby Hicks
Jeff Corsaletti
DESIGNATED HITTER
Aaron Davidson
Ryan Shealy
Wes Swackhamer
Ben Harrison
LHP
Keith Ramsey
Jimmy Ramshaw
Matt Bomeisl
Tom Potter
Ryan Kennedy
Mike Pete
Jamie Goldfarb
RHP
Alex Hart
Ben Hedgecock
Kevin Coleman
Scot Drucker
Mike Mlotkowski
Pat Rumble
Ryan Sadowski
Matt Foster
Tommy Boss
David Bartelt
Connor Falkenbach
 
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