Florida Baseball: Beginners guide to the 2023 Gators ahead of the CWS

Florida batter BT Riopelle reacts after he hit a three-run walk-off homer during the second round of the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met Wednesday, May 24, 2023. Florida scored four runs in the bottom of the 11th to win the game 7-6.
Florida batter BT Riopelle reacts after he hit a three-run walk-off homer during the second round of the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met Wednesday, May 24, 2023. Florida scored four runs in the bottom of the 11th to win the game 7-6. /

Florida baseball has made it to the Men’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and will open their quest to be national champions this Friday against Virginia at 7 PM.

And while Florida Gator fans have come out in force this season to support the program, including record-setting attendance during the Super Regional round, perhaps you are a fan that hasn’t been able to watch the team much this season but would like to be up to speed heading into the World Series.

We here at Hail Florida Hail are here to help catch you up with anything you may need to know ahead of Friday’s game.

Florida Baseball: How does the College World Series work?

Eight teams will be making the trek to Omaha and are still in the running to be National Champions:

  • Florida
  • Virginia
  • TCU
  • Oral Roberts
  • Wake Forest
  • Stanford
  • Tennessee
  • LSU

Those eight teams are broken into two brackets, and Florida will be joined by Virginia, TCU, and Oral Roberts. Wake Forest, Stanford, Tennessee, and LSU are in the other bracket, and the only way Florida baseball could play any of those four is if they make the finals.

For the first phase of the World Series, it is double elimination. If you lose the first game, you are still alive, but the road back is difficult, as a team would have to win four in a row to advance out of the bracket. Likewise, if you win the first game but lose the second, the road back is slightly less daunting, but you would need to win three straight games to advance.

The two surviving teams from the two brackets will then meet up for a best-of-three series to determine the National Champion.

Who is this Jac Caglianone guy I keep hearing about?

Jac-tani plays first base and is also Florida’s third starting pitcher. His pitching can be up and down, but he is must watch TV when he is up to bat.

This season Caglianone set the single-season home run record for the Florida Gators with 31 home runs in 65 games played. He has a .336 batting average, .766 slugging percentage, and an OPS (which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 1.168. Mind you, an OPS over .800 is considered good.

He’s also one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is the Heisman Trophy of baseball.

So he is our best player, right?

That’s actually debatable. Left fielder Wyatt Langford is a projected top-five pick in the upcoming MLB draft, and we made the argument earlier this season that he probably deserves a spot among the Golden Spikes nominees ahead of Caglianone.

Langford has a batting average of .373 and an OPS of 1.267.

He has 18 home runs on the season and an on-base percentage of .498.

He’s also really good in left field and has several web gem worthy moments

In addition, one could also argue Josh Rivera is Florida’s best player. The shortstop has had a breakout season and isn’t far behind Langford with a .362 batting average and 17 home runs.

He is also a stud in the field with a very strong arm that can turn sure base hits into out.

Who are some other fun players to watch?

You will, for sure, on the TV broadcast, hear the story of BT Riopelle brought up. The senior catcher has made it clear that he is done with baseball once this season ends, and his intention is to start a day job in the world of finance.

His batting average is a bit low at .250, but he is a home run threat every time he steps to the plate and has caught fire since the SEC tournament.

Second baseman Cade Kurland is another fun story. The freshman out of Tampa graduated early and reclassified so that he could join the Gators this season. He’s put together a .300 batting average out of the lead off position and also has 16 home runs.

What has to happen for the Gators to win it all?

Keep in mind this is baseball, so anything could happen. One drawback for Florida baseball heading into the College World Series is that while they are fourth in the country in home runs, Charles Schwab Field (formerly TD Ameritrade Park Omaha) is not a home run friendly ballpark. Some of the key home runs Florida has relied on this season might just be warning track outs in Omaha.

It’s with that in mind that starting pitchers Brandon Sproat and Hurston Waldrep, in addition to Caglianone, will need to pound the strike zone themselves. Both Sproat and Waldrep are projected first-round picks in the MLB Draft and have been fantastic since the SEC Tournament, including Waldrep throwing eight shutout innings against South Carolina during Super Regionals to help the Gators advance.

The real key, however, is going to be out of the bullpen. Early in the season, Florida blew some massive leads to USF and to Jacksonville as Kevin O’Sullivan was trying to figure out his bullpen.

He seems to have settled on a couple of key arms he can trust. Look for Brandon Neely and Ryan Slater to be two bullpen guys the Gators lean on heavily in addition to Cade Fisher and Philip Abner.

If the pitching can hold up, Florida has shown all season the offense will eventually get it into gear.

And while the opening game against Virginia isn’t technically a must-win, as we mentioned above, the road back if you drop the opening game is a long one.

If Florida baseball can get on a roll, it’s going to be a fun tournament to watch.