2010 UCLA Baseball Outlook
Feb. 3, 2010
UCLA looks toward the 2010 season with excitement, knowing that its potential on the mound could not only push the Bruins toward a Pac-10 Conference title, but also a deep run through the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore right-handers Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole will be counted upon to lift UCLA this spring, and a core group of returning position players - headlined by seniors Blair Dunlap and Justin Uribe - will be expected to help energize an offense that lost several of its most potent weapons to the MLB Draft last June.
While the Bruins' strength should be on the mound, the team's offense has the speed, patience and ability to help UCLA make a push toward its fourth NCAA Regional appearance in five seasons. The Bruins missed out on the postseason in 2009, ending the year with a 27-29 record despite finishing third in the Pac-10 Conference for the fourth consecutive season. The Bruins' streak of three NCAA postseason berths was snapped before the program saw seven of its eight MLB Draft selections (five juniors, two seniors) leave for minor league baseball in June.
Several of UCLA's most productive players from last spring return in 2010, giving the Bruins plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/4
Weekend Starters Returning/Lost: 2/1
UCLA will look no further than Bauer and Cole to lead the staff. After earning Louisville Slugger National Freshman Pitcher of the Year accolades last season, Bauer looks to improve upon one of the Bruins' most successful freshman campaigns in program history. The right-hander from Valencia, Calif., went 9-3 with a 2.99 ERA, registering 92 strikeouts and 27 walks in a team-leading 105.1 innings. Equally remarkable, he graduated from Hart High School one semester early to enroll at UCLA for the 2009 winter quarter.
'Trevor had as good a season as any freshman in the country,' Savage said. 'We expected him to be good, but to put together a freshman season like that is a remarkable achievement. We'll look for him to become a more complete pitcher. Like Gerrit Cole, he's a guy who wants to pitch deep into ballgames.'
Cole arrived at UCLA after having been selected as a first-round Major League Draft selection by the New York Yankees in June 2008. He pitched in the starting rotation all season, posting a deceptive 4-8 record while collecting a 3.49 ERA and a team-leading 104 strikeouts in 85.0 innings.
'Gerrit is a power pitcher who has a very advanced three-pitch mix,' Savage said. 'We are going to work to cut back on his pitch count so that he can last deeper into games. He has the competitive fire and the tools to be one of the top pitchers in the Pac-10.'
Rob Rasmussen and Garett Claypool have both experienced success as starting pitchers at UCLA, and the expectation is no different in 2010. Rasmussen missed nearly his entire freshman season after a line-drive comebacker fractured his left foot in 2008. As a sophomore last spring, he opened the season in the starting rotation before Bauer was inserted in the weekend lineup. Rasmussen, hailing from nearby Arcadia, Calif., had among the most successful summers of any pitcher in the Cape Cod League in 2009, being selected to start in the league's annual All-Star Game in Boston's famed Fenway Park.
'When you have as strong a summer as Rob did in the Cape Cod League, that should translate to some big numbers at your school,' Savage said. 'He has all the pitches and the right makeup to excel as a starter. He's worked extremely hard on his mental game, and we're really excited to see what he brings to the mound this year.'
A freshman All-American in 2007 and a 32nd-round draft selection by the Oakland Athletics in 2009, Claypool returns as UCLA's most experienced pitcher, having thrown 125.0 innings in three seasons. The native of West Hills, Calif., has been most sensational in midweek starts throughout this career. One of four seniors on the roster in 2010, Claypool could be expected to contribute as both a starter and reliever.
'Getting Garett back is huge for this program,' Savage said. 'You're talking about a guy who brings senior leadership and an unmatched work ethic to the ballpark. He is very familiar with our program and knows the gameplan. We hope to keep him as a starter, but we may need him to come out of the bullpen for us on the weekends, too.'
Other pitchers expected to make a significant impact, most likely in relief, include left-handers Matt Grace, Matt Drummond and Mitchell Beacom and right-handers Erik Goeddel and Dan Klein. Grace made 22 appearances in 2009, tops among UCLA's returning arms. Drummond had a strong sophomore season in 2008 before being sidelined with an injury in 2009, and Beacom had several dominant relief outings as a redshirt freshman last spring, notching 14 strikeouts in nine innings out of the bullpen.
Klein enters the 2010 campaign penciled in as the team's closer. A highly-touted quarterback and pitcher at Servite High School, the redshirt sophomore overcame a shoulder injury before having a dominant fall for UCLA. Goeddel made nine appearances in relief as a redshirt freshman, overcoming an elbow injury that kept him off the mound in 2008.
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 1/1
Starters Returning/Lost: 1/0
UCLA enters the 2010 season with a more experienced and deeper staff behind the plate than it did one year ago. Sophomore Steve Rodriguez made 34 starts at catcher as a freshman in 2009 and is expected to lead the group behind the dish this spring. In addition, the Bruins welcome freshmen Trevor Brown and Tyler Heineman. Brown is a former batterymate of Bauer, as both played for Hart High School's varsity team in 2008. He served as Hart's starting catcher as a junior and senior, securing first-team All-Foothill League honors in 2009. Heineman arrives in Westwood after having excelled as a four-year varsity letterwinner at Windward School (Los Angeles). Heineman was named a first-team All-CIF selection and the Delphic League MVP as a senior.'Steve got much stronger in the offseason and should be much more offensive than he was one year ago,' Savage said. 'We like our depth behind the plate with Trevor Brown and Tyler Heineman, and I think you could see all three guys competing for playing time.'
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 5/5
Starters Returning/Lost: 1/3
The Bruins' infield features depth at each position, as competition for playing time and starting spots may be on the table during the non-conference portion of UCLA's schedule. At third base, UCLA is encouraged by the additions of sophomore transfer Dean Espy and freshman Cody Regis. Espy batted .363 as a freshman at South Mountain Community College (Phoenix) one year ago and brings a savvy, veteran presence to the hot corner for the Bruins. Regis, a left-handed hitter from Glendora High School, had among the most productive campaigns for UCLA during its fall practices and should push for playing time at third base, shortstop or second base.
'We're very balanced around our infield, starting at third base with Dean and Cody,' Savage said. 'Those are two exciting players, particularly from the offensive standpoint because Cody hits left-handed and Dean hits right-handed. Dean is a veteran guy, having been a polished player at a top junior college for one season.'
UCLA is equally encouraged by its two primary options at shortstop - junior Niko Gallego and sophomore Adrian Williams. Gallego batted .273 in 55 starts at shortstop last spring and boasted a .300 batting average playing in all 27 Pac-10 contests. After spending the summer playing in the Cape Cod League, Gallego returns to the field this spring having played in 74 collegiate contests. Williams is expected to push for more playing time at shortstop and second base in 2010. Hailing from Moreno Valley, Calif., Williams has displayed terrific hands on the infield as a very smooth defender.
'Niko and Adrian have become more comfortable at shortstop and each guy is that much more experienced this season,' Savage said. 'They both went out and had productive summers - Niko playing in the Cape Cod League and Adrian competing in the Northwoods League. They have both gotten stronger in the weight room, and we're excited to see them have strong seasons in 2010.'
With the departure of four-year senior Eddie Murray, who started 49 games at second base in 2009, the Bruins will look for sophomore Tyler Rahmatulla and senior Blair Dunlap to fill the vacancy. Rahmatulla played in 35 games around the infield as a freshman last spring, and Dunlap has worked to make the transition from center field to second base, a position he played at Santa Margarita High School. UCLA's most veteran player, Dunlap had a strong junior campaign in 2009, batting .301 while leading the Bruins in hits (68), doubles (17) and stolen bases (15).
'Both Tyler and Blair are very offensive players, and our hope is to have both guys in the starting lineup,' Savage said. 'Blair is going to be one of our leaders, especially on the offensive end, and we're thrilled to have him back with us for his senior season. Tyler got some playing time in 2009, but we look for him to bring a more consistent game as a sophomore.'
UCLA lost its primary two first basemen - Cody Decker and Casey Haerther - from the past three seasons, but will look toward senior Justin Uribe to make a smooth transition from the outfield to first base. Uribe, who has played at first base in summer leagues and at Foothill High School, enters the season as one of UCLA's most experienced hitters. He has batted above .280 in each of three seasons, highlighted by a career-high .318 average last spring.
'Justin has really taken to playing first base,' Savage said. 'He's a great hitter and takes pride in his defense around the bag. We have depth at the position with Matt Mosher, another left-handed batter who can really hit. Matt could see some playing time, if not at first base, then certainly off the bench in a pinch-hitting role.'
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 2/3
Starters Returning/Lost: 1/2
Among UCLA's most notable additions in 2010 are its four left-handed-hitting freshman outfielders - Beau Amaral, Jeff Gelalich, Dennis Holt and Cody Keefer. Those four newcomers combined with the return of juniors Chris Giovinazzo and Brett Krill and sophomore Marc Navarro have the Bruins excited about their potential in the outfield. Two of the team's most offensive outfielders from one year ago - Dunlap and Uribe - have moved to the infield, opening up space for several freshmen to compete for playing time.
Krill added to his strong 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame in the offseason and proved to be one of UCLA's top power-hitting threats in fall practice. The native of Laguna Niguel, Calif., has played in just 22 games the past two seasons, but a big season from Krill could help spark the Bruins' offense.
'If you want to talk about one of our team's greatest strengths, then you've got to talk about Brett Krill, who we feel will come into his own this year,' Savage said. 'Both physically and mentally, Brett is ready for a breakout season. He had a great summer, and he's equally excited to get his junior season underway.'
Giovinazzo showed that he was one of the team's best athletes last season. He batted .286 with 11 extra-base hits and figures to have an even more productive campaign as a junior. Navarro was the Bruins' primary pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement and could push for time in the starting lineup as a redshirt sophomore.
'Chris is certainly one of the most polished and talented athletes in our program,' Savage said. 'He has added strength in the offseason and can really build off his successful sophomore season. Marc brought great value to our team off the bench in 2009, and was one of our team's better hitters in the fall.'
Amaral, Gelalich and Keefer were each selected in the 2009 MLB Draft and enter their freshmen campaigns with high aspirations. The son of former UCLA standout and major leaguer Rich Amaral, Beau is a left-handed hitter who could vie for the lineup's leadoff spot as the team's fastest runner. Gelalich was a two-sport star at Bonita High School, excelling on the football field and baseball diamond before choosing to solely concentrate on baseball. A talented hitter, Gelalich possesses a very strong arm and could emerge as a regular starter in either of the corner outfield spots. Keefer had a strong summer in 2009, batting .292 in 39 games with the Wenatchee AppleSox of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League.
'Those three freshmen are very talented left-handed hitters who have helped generate a lot of competition in the offseason, particularly in the outfield,' Savage said. 'They are athletic, quick defenders who can go get the ball in any of the three outfield positions. We look for each of them to push for starting roles from day one.'
Known for playing among the nation's most challenging schedules each season, UCLA's 2010 slate is equally difficult. While the Bruins have added several more home games, the program is excited about playing in three in-season tournaments, including games at Dodger Stadium and in the Whataburger College Classic, at the home to the Houston Astros' double-A affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks (Corpus Christi, Texas). In all, UCLA will play 33 games at home, 19 on the road, and four at neutral sites. The Bruins' 27-game Pac-10 slate, in addition to a strong selection of non-conference midweek games, should help prepare the team for a deep postseason run.
'I think the first thing you'll notice when looking at this team's schedule is that we play more games at home than we have in the past,' Savage said. 'We're going to welcome some great teams from some power conferences, including the Big 12, the SEC and the Big West, to Jackie Robinson Stadium this spring. We have played well at home, but when you play 33 regular season games at home, you have to become a dominant team in your own park.'
After opening the season playing in the third annual Urban Invitational, the Bruins will help host the first annual Dodgertown Classic, with the pinnacle game to be played Sunday, Feb. 28, against USC at Dodger Stadium. UCLA follows that weekend by hosting Nebraska for the first time in program history. The team's weekend in Corpus Christi includes games against Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Mississippi State and Oklahoma. After back-to-back home series against Cal Poly and Oral Roberts, the Bruins will open Pac-10 play with a three-game home set against Stanford.
UCLA's conference slate at home will also feature three-game series against Oregon, Arizona State, USC and Washington State. The Bruins will hit the road in Pac-10 play to face Oregon State, Arizona, Washington and California. As has been the custom, UCLA's schedule will be lined with Tuesday games against local non-conference foes, including Long Beach State, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside.
'We like our schedule, and we're excited to get the season going,' Savage said. 'Our fans are going to see great opponents rolling into Jackie Robinson Stadium, and I think they will also recognize that our team will bring an exciting brand of baseball to the ballpark each day.'