Los Angeles Regional Preview

Los Angeles Regional
Jackie Robinson Stadium, Los Angeles (Host: UCLA)

No. 1 UCLA (39-17, 21-9 in Pac-12)
19th appearance (fourth straight), at-large, third place in Pacific-12 Conference
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Nick Vander Tuig (No. 145), RHP Adam Plutko (No. 179), RHP Zack Weiss (No. 381), SS Pat Valaika (No. 448), RHP Ryan Deeter (No. 452), OF Brenton Allen (No. 484)

No. 2 Cal Poly (39-17, 17-10 in Big West)
Second appearance (last in 2009), at-large, tied for second place in Big West
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Chase Johnson (No. 183), RHP Reed Reilly (No. 191), 3B Jimmy Allen (No. 300), OF David Armendariz (No. 345), RHP Michael Holback (No. 382)

No. 3 San Diego (35-23, 15-9 in WCC)
Eighth appearance (second straight), automatic, West Coast Conference tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: 3B Kris Bryant (No. 3), RHP Dylan Covey (No. 133), RHP Michael Wagner (No. 192), RHP Trevor Bayless (No. 471)

No. 4 San Diego State (31-29, 15-15 in MWC)
10th appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Mountain West Conference tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Philip Walby (No. 282), C Jake Romanski (No. 485)

Adam Plutko

Adam Plutko (photo by Larry Goren)

UCLA had a steady season, winning all but three of its weekends, not getting swept and taking six straight series before dropping its final set at Stanford. The Bruins excel at run prevention, ranking 16th in the nation in ERA (2.79) and seventh in fielding percentage (.980), helping them yield just 3.2 runs per game (11th in the nation). The deep, talented pitching staff has a pair of rock-solid workhorses in junior righties Adam Plutko (7-3, 2.60) and Nick Vander Tuig (10-4, 2.30), two flyball pitchers who excel at commanding their fastballs and keeping hitters off balance with good changeups and adequate breaking stuff. Neither has overpowering stuff—both pitch in the 88-91 range and touch 92—but both are proven winners with fierce competitive streaks and loads of big-game experience. The same is true of sidewinding closer David Berg (6-0, 0.70, 18 SV, 64-7 K-BB in 64 IP), whose incredibly resilient arm has helped him make 91 appearances so far in his two-year career. The Bruins complement the sinker-specialist Berg with four traditional power righties in James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss, Cody Poteet and Ryan Deeter. The bullpen lacks a go-to lefty, as the staff’s primary southpaw is No. 3 starter Grant Watson (7-3, 3.50), who was much better in the first half of the season than in the second half. UCLA’s defense has good athletes all around the diamond, led by ultra-dependable shortstop Pat Valaika. UCLA’s weakness is its offense, which ranks 259th in the nation in batting (.249) and 206th in scoring (4.8 runs per game), though the Bruins have consistently turned in more competitive at-bats in the second half. UCLA’s hitters do see a lot of pitches and make opponents work, but no regular is hitting better than .290 (Kevin Kramer), and only Valaika (five homers) has hit more than three long balls. The primary speed threat is center fielder Brian Carroll (29 steals in 36 tries), but as a team the Bruins have stolen just 64 bases in 105 tries (an ugly 61 percent success rate).

calpolyCal Poly built a strong at-large resume by winning quality nonconference road series against San Francisco, Washington and Kansas State, then going 17-10 in the Big West. The Mustangs look like the most complete team in this regional, with a balanced offense, a reliable rotation, a good bullpen and steady defense. The lineup has a pair of energetic, athletic table-setters in switch-hitting second baseman Denver Chavez (.362/.425/.461, 17-for-18 in stolen base attempts) and center fielder Jordan Ellis (.329/.365/.452, 6 3B). The middle of the lineup has real power thanks to physical underclassmen Nick Torres (.336/.369/.530, 7 HR, 47 RBI) and Brian Mundell (.266/.345/.474, 10 HR, 38 RBI). Juniors David Armendariz (.278) and Jimmy Allen (.281) have had quiet years but have good swings, plenty of athleticism and fine defensive skills in left field and at third base, respectively. Freshman Peter Van Gansen is a smooth playmaker with good instincts, range and arm strength at shortstop, and Chavez is a nice double-play partner. On the mound, Poly has a tenacious senior ace in righty Joey Wagman (12-3, 3.11), who makes up for his below-average stuff with command, guile and competitiveness. Sophomore lefty Matt Imhof (7-3, 2.52) has good deception, a fastball that reaches the low 90s and an improved breaking ball. No. 3 starter Bryan Granger (5-4, 5.37) has been up and down, but he also has good stuff, with a fastball that can reach 92 and a decent slider. The Mustangs lean heavily upon righthander Reed Reilly (2.05 ERA, 14 SV, 67-18 K-BB in 57 IP) in the bullpen; he thrives by pitching off his swing-and-miss fastball, which has good life and has reached 94. Michael Holback (3-1, 3.66) gives the bullpen another power arm, capable of reaching 93 and flashing a true out pitch in his curveball.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant (Photo by Robert Gurganus)

San Diego had a rollercoaster season, highlighted by a series win against Oregon State in late March. After the Toreros lost a home set against San Francisco a month later, it looked like they were in danger of missing the WCC tournament, but they finished strong while teams like Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount sputtered. USD took advantage of its opportunity in the conference tournament, beating USF 2-0 in the title game behind a three-hit shutout from freshman lefty Troy Conyers in his first career start. Another freshman lefty, P.J. Conlon (9-0, 1.65), emerged as the staff ace in the second half, locating an 85-88 fastball and a quality 72-75 curveball effectively. Junior righty Michael Wagner (2-5, 4.57), a sinkerballer with a good slider and changeup, started the year atop the rotation but struggled, eventually winding up back in the bullpen, where he is an asset. He ranked second in the nation with 19 saves last season. Fellow Jr. RHP Dylan Covey (4-4, 5.22) also struggled for much of the season but has been better down the stretch; his 90-93 fastball and pair of power breaking balls give him a chance to dominate when his command is sharp. Of course, San Diego’s biggest asset is college baseball’s premier slugger, Kris Bryant (.340/.500/.860), whose 31 home runs are a BBCOR-era record, 11 more than any other player in the nation this year. Bryant takes walks, runs the bases well, plays a solid third base and has a knack for delivering huge hits in big spots. Catcher/outfielder Austin Green (.290/.337/.457, 5 HR, 35 RBI) has come on very strong down the stretch, teaming with burly first baseman Connor Joe (.321/.396/.482, 7 HR, 40 RBI) and veteran catcher/DH Dillon Haupt (.281/.368/.537, 11 HR, 49 RBI) to give Bryant solid protection. Defense is USD’s bugaboo; the Toreros are fielding just .956 (250th in the nation), with 45 of their 100 errors coming from the three players who have spent time at shortstop, Logan Davis, Chris Woolley and now Andrew Daniel.

San Diego State started the season with a bang, sweeping USD to spoil the grand opening of the Toreros’ new Fowler Park, then sweeping Seton Hall two weeks later. Of course, the Aztecs have also been swept four times over the course of a topsy-turvy season, but they rebounded from a regular season-ending sweep against New Mexico by winning the conference tournament, capped by back-to-back wins against the Lobos. Suddenly, freshman third baseman Ty France has become a force in the middle of the lineup, going 16-for-21 in the MWC tournament with nine runs and eight RBIs. The Aztecs also have a pair of seniors who are tough outs in second baseman Tim Zier (.346/.412/.427) and catcher Jake Romanski (.299/.394/.367). That duo, along with surehanded shortstop Evan Potter and lightning-fast center fielder Greg Allen, make the Aztecs very strong up the middle. Senior righthander Ryan Doran (8-3, 2.63) emerged as SDSU’s most consistent starter and will get the nod Friday against UCLA. With an 82-87 fastball, a slow curve and a serviceable 76-78 slider, Doran lacks the arm strength of Michael Cederoth (3-8, 4.15) or Philip Walby (5-3, 3.77), but he competes and locates. Cederoth can run his fastball into the high 90s and flashes a wipeout breaking ball, while Walby can reach 96 but has inconsistent secondary stuff and doesn’t hold his velocity deep into games. Both are exciting talents, but neither is a finished product. The strong bullpen has an unflappable freshman closer in undersized righty Bubba Derby (4-3, 3.79, 10 SV), who pitches in the low 90s and has a swing-and-miss curveball in the mid-70s. Slider specialist Ethan Miller (5-3, 3.40) is a solid setup man.