Two University of Florida baseball players have put their professional baseball careers on hold and will be returning to the Gators for the 2010 campaign. Outfielder Matt den Dekker (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) and left-hander Kevin Chapman (Coral Springs, Fla.) did not sign professional contracts by the designated Major League Baseball deadline and will re-join head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s club. Of the school-record 10 Gators drafted in June, eight inked deals, while another 12 signees were selected over the three-day event. In fact, Florida had the second-most players drafted in the country.
Seven talented Gator signees who were drafted are set to begin their first seasons in Gainesville: left-hander/first baseman Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.), right-hander Michael Heller (Bradenton, Fla.), catcher Michael Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.), infielder Bryson Smith (Watkinsville, Ga.), catcher Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.), right-hander Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) and left-hander Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.).
den Dekker had been tabbed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 16th round with the 475th selection. A member of the SEC’s All-Defensive Team for the past two seasons, the center fielder batted .296 with 37 runs batted in and was second on the the Gators in both runs (63) and stolen bases (17-for-18). A member of the NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team, den Dekker was ninth player in school history to join the 20 home run-100 RBI-30 stolen base club. Chapman was selected in the 50th round by the Chicago White Sox with the 1,513th choice. The lefty pitched 11.1 innings last spring and was 1-0 with a 2.38 earned run average.
A first-team all-state recipient in Class 4A from Cocoa Beach High School who was the All-Space Coast Most Valuable Player, Johnson was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 27th round at No. 817. An Honorable Mention pick in Class 3A, Heller went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 29th round with the 865th choice, while first-team all-state Class 5A honoree Zunino was chosen by the Oakland Athletics in the 30th round with the 873rd pick. Smith, who was named National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Player of the Year at Young Harris College, went in the 30th round to the Cleveland Indians at No. 905. The infielder put together a school-record .467 batting average to win the batting crown in the ABCA’s East Central District, while ranking second nationally with 90 RBI, third in the country with a school-record-tying 21 home runs and 13th nationally with a .551 on-base percentage.
A trio of signees was chosen on the final day of the selections, Maddox (37th round, Tampa Bay Rays, 1,129th), Randall (46th round, Kansas City Royals, 1,382nd) and Rodriguez (48th round, Houston Astros, 1,451st). Maddox earned a spot on Baseball America’s High School All-America Team, was first-team all-state in Class 1A and the Florida Times-Union All-First Coast Player of the Year after hitting .554 with 33 RBI, 23 runs and 11 doubles at Eagle’s View Academy. In his four-year high school career, he led the Warriors to two state championships and four final fours. Randall was named to Louisville Slugger’s High School All-America Team while playing at Dunwoody High School in Georgia, while Rodriguez was first-team all-state in Class 3A and made the Miami Herald All-Dade Team while pitching for Gulliver Prep.
In O’Sullivan’s second season at the helm, the Gators were 42-22 overall and claimed the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title for the first time since 2005, finishing one game behind eventual national champion LSU and Ole Miss. UF reached the 40-win plateau for the 18th time in school history and the first time in four years.
The Orange and Blue made its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance and earned the eighth national seed, hosting two rounds of postseason action at McKethan Stadium, where the club registered a 30-10 (.750) mark. Florida went 3-0 to sweep the Gainesville Regional, edging Bethune-Cookman (8-7) and then overpowering Miami (Fla.) twice (8-2 and 16-5) to advance to the NCAA Super Regional for the third time in school history, all in the past six years. It marked the first time that the Gators had eliminated the Hurricanes from NCAA play. In addition, Florida claimed the regular-season series from Sunshine State rival Florida State, highlighted by a 5-4 win in Gainesville on St. Patrick’s Day and a 10-2 triumph in Tallahassee on April 14.
UF finished among the top 15 within each of the collegiate baseball polls: No. 12 in Baseball America, No. 13 in Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/ESPN and No. 14 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). The squad compiled a 3.05 grade point average and will be welcoming its second-consecutive top-five recruiting class to campus.
The Gators return a solid nucleus that includes two-time first-team All-SEC infielder Josh Adams (Jacksonville, Fla.), 2009 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year first baseman Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.), SEC All-Tourney and NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tourney choice outfielder Jonathan Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and the sophomore quartet of pitchers Anthony DeSclafani (Freehold, N.J.), Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky.), Alex Panteliodis (Tampa, Fla.) and Tommy Toledo (Tampa, Fla.).