You can follow college baseball managing editor Kendall Rogers on Twitter @KendallRogersPG and can join the Perfect Game College Baseball Facebook page. Fans also can subscribe here to receive the college baseball ultimate ticket.
Right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson turned down $2.1 million from the Padres as the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft last summer. Now he’s only the No. 3 starting pitcher for the top-ranked Florida Gators.
Let that sink in a bit. There’s no doubt Whitson is arguably the most talented pitcher on the Florida pitching staff. But unlike most freshmen of his caliber, Whitson hasn’t just waltzed into the UF program and taken everyone by storm. Instead, he has accepted his role as legitimately the Gators’ No. 3 starter.
Whitson’s placement is no joke. It’s reality, and it’s legitimate. And it’s a perfect example of why the Gators have the nation’s best pitching staff.
“It’s a fun situation to sit back and watch all of our arms go out there and pitch,” Whitson said. “We have a lot of leaders, and I know when I go out there, I always have guys that can back me up. There’s no pressure at all to perform.”
For those familiar with the talented arms on the Florida pitching staff, it’s no surprise they’re experiencing success this season. But just how dominant the Gators have been is a surprise.
The Gators had an ultra talented pitching staff last season, but had issues at times as with other staffs around the country. They finished the 2010 campaign with a 4.13 ERA and Alex Panteliodis, who now serves as the Gators’ midweek starter, was the Friday starter at the end of the season.
Also worth noting, starters Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall had ERAs of 4.03 and 3.04, respectively. Nick Maronde had a 6.15 ERA, Tommy Toledo a 4.39 ERA, Anthony DeSclafani a 7.08 ERA and Greg Larson a 5.70 ERA. On top of that, Austin Maddox served only as a position player last season and had no role as a pitcher.
What a difference a year has made for the Gators.
The pitching staff is ranked No. 14 nationally in team ERA and has a 2.26 ERA after sweeping a pair of midweek contests from Winthrop. The staff also is ranked No. 30 nationally in strikeouts per nine innings, No. 42 in hits allowed per nine innings and is No. 1 in walks allowed per nine innings, walking just 1.49 batters per game.
“I never really had expectations for this pitching staff,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I knew we had a chance to be good. But the big key for this staff and team is to improve as the season progresses. I want our staff to be good at the end of the year, but right now, I’m extremely proud of our pitching staff.”
As impressive as Florida’s numbers are as a whole, the individual breakdowns make their dominance more impressive.
Left-hander Brian Johnson finished his freshman campaign last season with a decent 4.03 ERA. But after being the most impressive pitcher during fall workouts, he has taken a giant step forward as a sophomore. He’s throwing 89-93 with his fastball and has a fantastic 1.53 ERA. It also is worth noting opponents are hitting just .168 against him.
Right-hander Hudson Randall was a Freshman All-American last season for good reason. He had a fantastic 3.04 ERA and pitched like a veteran in his first season. However, he has been even better this season with a 0.85 ERA in five starts. Randall only is 88-91 with his fastball, but is displaying impeccable command.
Then there’s Whitson who fills out the rotation. Whitson topped out at 97 mph at LSU last weekend, threw a slider 86-87 mph and had a newly developed changeup that sat 82-84 mph. He also has a physique that certainly attracted scouts last summer.
Amazingly, Randall, the lowest ranked prospect of the three, has earned the most praise from opposing hitters.
“I thought all their guys threw well against us, it’s hard to lose when you have a rotation and pitching staff like that,” LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook said. “In my opinion, Randall is the most impressive arm they’ve got. He spotted up three pitches against us and got ahead of every guy. He had a fantastic cutter, too.”
The starting rotation only is the tip of the iceberg for the Gators.
The bullpen also is doing an exceptional job with Anthony DeSclafani, Nick Maronde, Tommy Toledo, Greg Larson, Austin Maddox and Steve Rodriguez leading the charge.
DeSclafani was 93-95 mph with his fastball against LSU last weekend and has a 1.12 ERA in 16 innings, Maronde was 94-96 against the Tigers and has a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings, Toledo has a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, Larson has a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, Maddox was 94-96 against LSU and has a 1.12 ERA in eight innings and Rodriguez, who has a 3.18 ERA in 11 1/3 innings, didn’t enter any of three games against the Tigers.
As good as the starting rotation is, the bullpen might just be equal.
“With the arms we have in the bullpen, as a starter, you just go out there and do the best you can, knowing that you have a lot of help out there in the bullpen,” Whitson said. “It makes you feel good when you’re throwing and are in a comfort zone because you have plenty of help.”
Mahtook, who started all three games for LSU against Florida, said the UF pitching staff rivals that of Vanderbilt, which has a 2.42 ERA. The Gators, he said, don’t make mistake pitches, are well coached and keep the ball down in the zone.
Mainieri, meanwhile, took his praise for the Gators pitching staff a step further.
“Florida has the best pitching staff that I’ve seen not only this season, but also that I’ve seen in my coaching career in terms of overall quality arms,” he said. “They have a plethora of outstanding arms and maybe no one will consistently hit them this year.”
And if a team is lucky enough to beat Randall or Johnson to start the weekend, they’ll head into the series finale knowing they have to get past a pitcher that turned down $2.1 million to pitch at Florida.
Good luck to the Gators' remaining opponents.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org