The Go Joe Bruin UCLA Baseball 2017 Preview


After a phenomenal 2015 season, UCLA Baseball entered last year anticipating a rebuild; what they got instead was more of a demolition. The task for the Bruins in 2017 is to regroup and resume their winning ways.

The precipitous drop from first in the country to tenth in the conference was the result of departing talent (such as pitching stars James Kaprielian and David Berg) as well as key injuries to returning players (eg., Darrell Miller and Nick Valaika). In their absence, Head Coach John Savage was forced to rely on role players, first-time starters, and freshmen.

The result was an inexperienced squad that hit .250/.352/.337 and scored 270 runs while allowing opponents to hit .312/.351/.389 and gave up 312 runs. Thus a season record of 25-31 (12-18) and no playoffs.

Heading into this season, the pitching staff largely consists of returning guys, minus the curveball stylings of Grant Dyer, while the position players have undergone another significant bout of turnover.

Here are the last three years’ lineups (including projected starters for this year) for comparison purposes:

 1B Luke PersicoSean Bouchard Sean Bouchard
 2BTrent ChattertonBrett Urabe Kyle Cuellar (f)
SSKevin Kramer Trent Chatterton Nick Valaika
3BChris KeckLuke Persico Jack Stronach (f)
 RFBrett StephensEric FiliaJake Pries
CF Christoph Bono Christoph Bono Daniel Amaral
LF Ty MooreBrett Stephens Brett Stephens
 CDarrell Miller Daniel Rosica Gavin Johns
DH Kort Peterson Kort Peterson Zander Clarke (f)
SP1 James Kaprielian Griffin Canning Griffin Canning
SP2 Grant Watson Grant Dyer Jake Bird
SP3 Cody Poteet Kyle Molnar Justin Hooper
SP4 Griffin CanningJake Bird Jon Olson
RP Davig Berg Brian Gadsby Brian Gadsby

The offense is a complete unknown quantity. The lineup collectively has only 186 starts over the last two years, out of 1,053 opportunities. Other than Bouchard and Stephens, it’s an inexperienced group without a consistent track record from which to draw projections of what this year’s performance might look like.

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Until earlier this week, the smart take on this Bruins team was that they would have to rely on strong pitching.

With Griffin Canning on national award watch lists and Kyle Molnar looking to continue his breakout effort from last year, UCLA looked to ride this pair of horses back to the postseason.

However, we found out midweek that Molnar will be sidelined this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and will return in 2018.

That tests the depth of an already shaky pitching roster, forcing Savage to rely on Bird, Olson, and Hooper – all guys who underwhelmed in limited opportunities last year.

The Bruins had been picked to finish fifth in the conference, behind only Arizona, Washington, Stanford, and Oregon State. projected the Bruins to make the postseason as a regional three-seed, meaning they would be somewhere in the 33-48 range, nationally. All this is up in the air now that Molnar’s departure means question marks on both offense and defense.

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Hopefully they can surprise us and make the postseason. But either way, consider this season as an opportunity to watch next year’s players round in to form and the last chance to see Griffin Canning as he makes his case for a professional career. Go Bruins.