Let's take a look at the Florida Gators all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most successful programs.
Here is how we picked the team: We only considered the players' college careers. Their achievements in professional baseball did not come into play. There was also consideration given to their positional fits and how well they fit into a batting order we made that could provide a combination of a high batting averages, speed and power.
Florida is a program rich in its history of high-profiled MLB Draft talent. Gainesville is one of the premier pitching factories in the nation while lineups of yesteryear feature some of the more prolific hitters of SEC lore. Simply put, it was no easy task selecting the Gators all-time nine, but it was certainly fun.
David Eckstein, second base (1994-97)
Bernie Parrish deserves a shout out here. The future NFL Pro Bowler hit .433 for Florida in 1958 en route to earning the first All-American honors in Gainesville. But this Gators all-time lineup is stacked with the program’s best at scoring runs and Eckstein is right there at the top. His 222 runs scored are third all-time. While Eckstein was never going to be a power threat, he racked up the hits and hurt you on the base paths with his 93 stolen bases, second in Florida lore. Eckstein’s speed and ability to make contact seems like a good mix to lead things off.
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4. Texas Tech
5. Oregon St.
6. North Carolina
11. Florida St.
14. East Carolina
15. Mississippi State
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Mark Ellis, shortstop (1996-99)
Nolan Fontana’s superior defense certainly gets some consideration, but Ellis’ name is everywhere in the Florida record books. He’s first all-time in runs scored, second in doubles, and in the top 10 in home runs, RBI, total bases, and sacrifice bunts, which is perfect with Eckstein in front of him in this fictional lineup. There are a few names to choose from at shortstop, especially with Mark Kiger’s unreal 2002, but Ellis gets the nod for his overall portfolio.
Brad Wilkerson, outfield (1996-98)
Wilkerson begins a run of three-straight no-brainers in the Florida lineup. The only question is where you hit them.
Where do we start with Wilkerson? He was an All-American for three years in a row. He found himself on the Golden Spikes watchlist two years in a row. He was the 1998 NCBWA national player of the year. And now he’s a College Baseball Hall of Famer. If that’s not enough for you, then we can throw in his .381 batting average, tops in Florida history, and the fact that he’s also still the all-time leader in walks (224) and on-base percentage (.531) which led to an unthinkable 159 straight games in which he reached base, spanning from Feb. 1996 to March 1998. Oh yea, he was quite the pitcher as well. Wilkerson isn’t simply a Florida legend, he’s one of college baseball’s all-time greats.
Mike Zunino, catcher (2010-12)
While Wilkerson was getting inducted to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012, Zunino threw together arguably the single greatest season in Gator history. Zunino had a big 2011, winning the SEC Player of the Year Award and finishing as a semifinalist or finalist for the Dick Howser, Johnny Bench, and Golden Spikes Awards. In 2012, he fell short of the SEC Player of the Year, but took home all three of the other honors, and added on the Baseball America College Player of the Year for good measure. Zunino has single-season and career records all over the Gators record books and his spot in Florida lore is about as secure as it comes.
Matt LaPorta, first base (2004-07)
Florida baseball has four SEC Players of the Year honors in its history, and LaPorta accounts for two of them. He has the most career home runs with 74, and the single-season mark as well with 26. LaPorta also hit a home run in five straight games — three of which were two-homer games — between March 24 and April 1, 2007, a feat no Gator has yet to repeat. Never mind the fact that he has a .400 season under his belt, LaPorta is here for the long ball.
Pat Osborn, third base (2000-02)
Austin Maddox deserves some recognition. Problem is, where do you put him? The third baseman, first baseman, catcher, DH, reliever posted a 1.86 ERA and 17 saves on the bump and was the 2010 Freshman of the Year, putting up solid offensive numbers at the plate. Jonathan India’s monster 2018 is worthy as well.
Osborn gets the nod, however, behind a huge 2002 season that still is tops in the record books. His .414 average, 17 home runs (tied with Maddox) and 76 RBI are all single-season highs for a Florida third baseman. Osborn’s 104 hits that season are tied for most no matter what the position was. Osborn left his mark in the record books and is deserving of the start.
Last summer, the #Gators had 3⃣ First Round @MLB draft picks for the first time in school history!— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) January 24, 2019
Over the last seven years, the #Gators have had 🔟 First Round draft picks. 😎 pic.twitter.com/wOucGyAyAY
Preston Tucker, outfield (2009-12)
Tucker was the Gators first SEC freshman of the year back in 2009, so he started his legacy right off the bat, a pun certainly intended in Tucker's case. Over the next three seasons, Tucker found his way onto the Golden Spikes watchlist each year. Tucker was an RBI machine during his tenure in Gainesville and left as the program’s all-time leader with 258. His 57 home runs rank second and his 70 doubles rank first in the annals of Gators lore. The 2009 and 2011 Regional Most Outstanding Player racked up plenty of accolades and stats in his four years roaming the outfield for Florida.
Ben Harrison, outfield (2001-04)The final outfield spot is always a tough one. Allen Trammell has to get some consideration; his .425 batting average the best single-season mark in program history. Brian Duva and his 103 career stolen bases may have been nice atop the order as well. Harrison Bader and his 2015 Dick Howser semifinalist campaign could have made this lineup as well. Ultimately, we went with Ben Harrison.
Harrison shined in the 2004 Regional, taking home Most Outstanding Player honors and he remains in the top five all-time in home runs and RBI, and top 10 in runs scored. That’s enough to get the final nod in the outfield.
Logan Shore, starting pitcher (2014-16)
This was a daunting task. Even if we picked a closer, Michael Byrne, Darren O’Day, and Josh Fogg present way too many options. For the weekend rotation, you have to consider Brady Singer, who took home honor after honor in 2018. He earned the Dick Howser Award, national player of the year and SEC pitcher of the year trophies and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes. Of course, there’s Brian Johnson, winner of the 2012 John Olerud that would be fun to have in the weekend rotation as well. Oh, and let’s not forget Alex Faedo, who would earn our Saturday spot in the rotation. That’s not even mentioning names like A.J. Puk and even Wilkerson.
But Friday night honors go to Shore. Shore began his career as the SEC freshman of the year and ended it as the SEC pitcher of the year. In between, he racked up the second most wins in program history with 30, and a 2.41 ERA which is third overall in the aluminum bat era. This spot can be debated again and again without any clarity coming from it. It gets tougher as the Gators will likely add some more names into the mix in the very near future.
Head coach: Kevin O’Sullivan
What do you need to say about O’Sullivan? With another stacked roster, his Gators are sitting on the cusp of their fifth straight trip to Omaha. He led Florida to its first national championship in 2017 and has won five SEC championships and two SEC tournament championships in his 11 full seasons as skipper. Florida has been to seven College World Series under his tutelage and he continually pumps out MLB talent. O’Sullivan is as easy a choice as they come.