Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar carry weight of MLB draft projections and Gators’ own lofty expectations into season

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Brady Singer has pitched on college baseball’s biggest stage, proven himself in Omaha, Neb., while helping Florida to the College World Series championship last year.

But still, there’s something about the start of a new spring, something about taking the mound on Friday night and setting the tone for the team and the season.

Especially this season.

“I didn’t sleep last night, so I don’t know what tonight brings,” Singer had said Thursday before practice. “But no, that just means I’m excited.”

With good reason. Singer is coming off a sophomore season in which he posted a 3.21 ERA and 129 strikeouts with 32 walks over 126 innings. That included two strong College World Series performances, holding Louisville to 1 run with 9 strikeouts and LSU to 3 runs with 12 Ks over 7 innings.

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And the hard-throwing righty is projected by Baseball America to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft this summer, of which he is frequently reminded.

“I feel like it’s kind of all over social media sometimes, I try to keep that away from my day. But no, it’s cool,” Singer said. “Does it mean anything? Probably not. The draft’s still five months away or however long it is. It’s going to take care of itself, and I’m just going to go out and try to have a good year and help our team.”

For that matter, the Gators look to have one of the best weekend rotations in the country period with fellow junior righty Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.08 ERA, 84 Ks in 2017) projected as the No. 8 pick on that same list and flame-thrower Tyler Dyson (4-0, 3.23 ERA) one of the most intriguing sophomores in the country.

Opening series

Who | No. 1 Florida vs. Siena

Friday | 6:30 p.m.

Saturday | 4 p.m.

Sunday | 1 p.m.

*All games at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville

This isn’t new territory for the Gators, as coach Kevin O’Sullivan has built the program into a perennial national contender by reloading on the mound year after year.

Last season, Alex Faedo led the charge with Singer and Kowar rounding out the weekend rotation. Faedo had his own lofty draft expectations hanging over him all spring as well, but he seemed unfazed while posting a 2.26 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 123 2/3 innings on the way to earning the CWS’s Most Outstanding Player honors. He was drafted 18th overall by the Detroit Tigers.

Not all potential first-round draft picks deal with that pressure as well.

“I think he was one of the best guys to do it, dealing with the draft and stuff like that. It was definitely cool to see him dealing with it. He never talked about it, never said anything about it,” Singer said.

O’Sullivan concurs, and he’s talked to both Singer and Kowar about how to handle those same pressures this year.

“I talked to both Brady and Jackson about it a lot in the fall. I encouraged them to try to take a page out of Alex’s book, so to speak,” he said. “… It’s not easy, it’s not easy, but I thought he handled it as good or better than anybody we ever had. You know, I hope that Brady and Jackson both will try to, which I would anticipate, will handle it the same way. And it is what it is. It comes down to performance. Their stuff is certainly good enough from a stuff standpoint, fastball, movement, breaking ball, change-up, history. I mean, a lot of this stuff has already been set in stone. The biggest thing right now is going out and performing consistently — not great, but just consistently week in and week out. And when you do have a rough outing, be able to bounce back the next weekend and put it behind you.

“Obviously performance [matters] and the other part is analytics, a lot of that stuff goes into the draft now, but in my opinion a lot of the hard part is already done. Now is just about going out and performing.”

Florida baseball-Florida Gators-Jackson Kowar-2018-draft projections
Junior right-hander Jackson Kowar will be Florida’s Saturday starter this season.

Singer and Kowar are roommates, albeit with differences on the mound and away from the field.

Both have spent the fall and preseason working on their third pitch with Singer developing his change-up and Kowar working on his slider in hopes of becoming even more baffling for hitters.

And they’ll have each other to lean on and push themselves throughout this spotlight season.

“When we recruited them both, Jackson had the plus change and Brady had the plus slider. And ironically Jackson had to work on the breaking ball and Brady had to work on the change-up and they’ve been roommates since Day 1,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re both different, but they’re a lot alike in certain ways. But, you know, Brady’s more into hunting and fishing and that type of thing, and Jackson’s into obviously other things. They complement each other really well, they get along really well. I can’t speak for them, but they act like they’re best friends, which has been cool. …

“I think they both push each other, and I think there’s a healthy competition there. Like I said, we’re very fortunate to have them both here. It’s not every year you’ve got two guys who are projected to go that high in the draft, so we’ll see.”

Indeed, the season is only just beginning. The scouts will get plenty of opportunity to make their evaluations.

Sitting in the dugout Thursday on the eve of the season opener, Singer looked calm and confident despite the nervous energy that had kept him awake the night before.

And by all accounts from his teammates, he’s as locked in as ever heading into his first start Friday night in this season of great expectations  — for both himself and this Gators team.

“I have the seen the best version of Brady Singer,” Florida second baseman Blake Reese said. “I live with him, we’re roommates, I really like what I see out of him. He works his tail off. He is one of the first people here every single day. He’s in the training room getting treatment, stretching out. He’s actually out here taking groundballs all the time. He probably takes more groundballs than some of our infielders at this point. I think he’s doing a great job of leading by example, and he’s certainly earned everything that he has coming to him.”

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