Six former Florida baseball players appeared on Major League Baseball Opening Day 25-man rosters this week: Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani(Cincinnati Reds, 2009-11), infielder Cole Figueroa (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2007-08), right-hander Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles, 2003-06), infielder Ryan Raburn (Colorado Rockies, 2000), catcher David Ross (Chicago Cubs, 1998) and outfielder Preston Tucker (Houston Astros, 2009-12).
In addition, six other former Gators are on 40-man rosters – LHP Kevin Chapman (Houston Astros, 2007, 09-10), OF Matt den Dekker (Washington Nationals, 2007-10), INF Nolan Fontana (Houston Astros, 2010-12), LHP Brian Johnson (Boston Red Sox, 2010-12) and C Mike Zunino (Seattle Mariners, 2010-12). The Gators’ 11 Major League players are the most in the Southeastern Conference.
DeSclafani was 9-13 in 31 starts and 184.2 innings for Cincinnati last season. Chosen by Toronto in the sixth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft with the 199th selection, the right-hander was 13-9 with a 5.36 ERA in 68 appearances, including 19 starts, at Florida. Over 149.1 innings, he totaled 115 strikeouts and collected three saves. DeSclafani was part of back-to-back Gator SEC Championship teams in 2010 & 2011 that advanced to the NCAA College World Series in both seasons.
Figueroa made the Opening Day roster of the Pirates after seeing action in two games for the New York Yankees last season. Chosen by the San Diego Padres in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB Draft with the 195th selection, Figueroa batted .340 over his two seasons in the Orange and Blue, with 109 runs, 107 RBI, 24 doubles and 20 homers and he was 27-for-33 on the basepaths. In 2007, he was named a first-team Freshman All-American by Baseball America and Rivals.com, was chosen to Louisville Slugger’s Freshman All-American Team by Collegiate Baseball and was one of three Gators on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
’Day appeared in 68 games for the Baltimore Orioles last year and was 6-2 with a 1.52 ERA. Named to the American League All-Star Team for the first time, the righty registered 82 strikeouts in 65.1 innings of action with six saves and opponents batted just .198 against him. The reliever ranks third in appearances (117), fourth in saves (20) and tied for eighth in victories (23) on the Gator career pitching lists.
Not only did he pace the team in lowest ERA three-consecutive seasons, O’Day was the Orange and Blue’s leader in saves during two of his last three campaigns, highlighted by the 2005 SEC title and a runner-up showing at that season’s NCAA College World Series. A finalist for the prestigious H. Boyd McWhorter SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award in 2006, he was a two-time Academic All-American in 2005 and 2006, was a member of the SEC Good Works Team and was chosen to the league’s Academic Honor Roll on three occasions.
Raburn saw action in 82 games for Cleveland last year, tallied 29 RBI, scored 22 runs, contributed 16 doubles, belted eight homers and a .301 clip. He was a member of the 2000 Gator squad that was the runner-up at the NCAA Waco (Texas) Regional.
Now in his 15th Major League season, Ross played in 72 games last year and hit .176 with nine RBI, nine doubles, six runs and one homer for the Chicago Cubs. Ross batted .332 with 69 RBI, 21 doubles and 19 round-trippers in helping the Gators to the 1998 SEC Championship and a berth at that season’s College World Series.
In 2013 while with the Boston Red Sox, he joined six other former Gator players who have earned World Series rings – David Eckstein (2002, 2006), Witt “Lefty” Guise (1940), Steve Lombardozzi (1987), Randy O’Neal (1984), Lance Richbourg (1924) and Al Rosen (1948).
Called up last May, Tucker hit .243 in 98 games for Houston, with 35 runs, 33 RBI, 20 walks, 19 doubles and 13 homers. Chosen by the Astros in the seventh round of the 2012 MLB Draft with the 219th selection, Tucker departed Gainesville as the school’s all-time leader in games played (265), games started (259), total bases (596), at bats (1,035), hits (341), RBI (258) and doubles (70).
He helped the Gators to three consecutive NCAA College World Series appearances (2010-12) and back-to-back SEC Championships (2010-11). The Tampa native was an All-American in 2011 and 2012 and was a three-time All-SEC selection, earning first-team accolades in 2011 and 2012 after being a second-team pick in 2010.
In ’09, Tucker became the first player in school history to earn the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Freshman Hitter of the Year Award and he shared the SEC Freshman of the Year honor with LSU pitcher Matty Ott.
He was the Most Outstanding Player of the Gainesville Regional, was a unanimous selection to the league’s All-Freshman Team and was chosen as a Freshman All-American by Baseball America, Louisville Slugger, Rivals and the NCBWA. In his final season, Tucker powered UF’s offense with a .393 (11-for-28) performance in NCAA play and became the first Gator to achieve Regional All-Tournament status all four years of his career. He is the lone UF player to earn Most Outstanding Player recognition twice (2009 & 2011). In 30 career NCAA Tourney games, Tucker batted .368 (46-for-125) and holds school records in career at bats (125), hits (46), RBI (31), runs (29), homers (11) and doubles (10). — UF sports information department