2017 College Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 19 UC Santa Barbara

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index 19. UC Santa Barbara 2016 Record (Ranking): 43-20-1 (5). RPI: 18. Coach (Record at school): Andrew Checketts (180-107-3, 5 years) Postseason History: 11 regionals (active streak: 2), 1 CWS trip (active streak: 1), 0 national titles. Undeterred after seeing a program-record 10 players drafted in 2015, including No. 4 overall pick Dillon Tate, UC Santa Barbara took a significant step forward in 2016. In what was expected to be a rebuilding year, the Gauchos instead reached the College World Series for the first time ever and won over Cho-maha with their Cinderella run. The bulk of that team is back this year, and coach Andrew Checketts said they are using last year’s success as motivation. “To have that experience from the returners has been a pretty good motivating factor,” he said. “They want to experience that again. We’re really trying to focus on getting better and avoid reminiscing a lot.” While the Gauchos have 19 lettermen back from last year’s team, they will have to replace ace Shane Bieber, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Indians. Though Tate was a higher draft pick, Checketts said Bieber will be harder to replace because of his steadiness and ability to consistently pitch deep into games. Pitching, however, has never been a problem for UCSB under Checketts, who began his coaching career as a pitching coach. In his five seasons at UCSB, the only year the Gauchos had an ERA over 4.00 was his first. Weekend starters Noah Davis and Joe Record return, as does closer Kyle Nelson. Davis will be asked to take over the role of Friday starter, though he has been unable to pitch since the CWS due to a broken toe he suffered last season. The injury was originally diagnosed as turf toe and he pitched through it in the NCAA tournament. When he continued to be bothered by it after sitting out the summer, further tests revealed the full extent of his injury. “Noah was good last year, but he needed to improve to step into Friday,” Checketts said. “He missed a lot of that work and opportunity to develop. We’re hoping maturity and added strength from getting older will help.” In addition, UCSB has a host of promising young pitchers who have the talent to succeed, several of whom were a part of the 19th-ranked recruiting class this fall. Those pitchers must still prove they are ready to handle important roles on staff. “This year I think we have more depth overall,” Checketts said. “We have 10 guys who have a chance to be pretty good. We just have so many unknowns on what roles guys fit into. Once we sort that out, I’ll feel more comfortable.” While the pitching staff is still finding its way, UCSB’s offense is more established, particularly in the infield. First baseman Austin Bush, shortstop Clay Fisher and catcher Dempsey Grover all return, while J.J. Muno will move from second to third base. Fisher is one of the best defenders in the country and participated in USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team trials last summer. With a solid spring, he is positioned to be the highest drafted UCSB position player since shortstop Chris Valaika went 84th overall in 2006. This year’s recruiting class brought in Colton Burns, a junior college transfer, and freshman Armani Smith, who have the versatility to play second base or the outfield, while also adding speed and athleticism to the lineup. “I really like our position players,” Checketts said. “I feel like we’re athletic, we’re physical, we’re definitely a lot more toolsy than we were last year.” UCSB has grown as a program in the last few years, hosting a regional in 2015 and reaching the CWS last year. But Checketts knows past successes won’t be enough to keep the Gauchos competitive in the rugged Big West Conference. With that in mind, the Gauchos are firmly focused on 2017 and continuing to build on the program’s momentum. “It would be really easy to talk about last year all the time,” Checketts said. “We tried to address that early on that it’s about this year and this team.”

C Dempsey Grover, R-Jr. .273 .386 .381 2 29 6
1B Austin Bush, Jr. .265 .346 .465 11 49 0
2B Armani Smith, Fr. HS—Martinez, Calif.
3B J.J. Muno, R-Jr. .294 .370 .450 5 31 17
SS Clay Fisher, Jr. .285 .332 .377 1 24 14
LF Michael McAdoo, So. .191 .307 .243 0 19 3
CF Colton Burns, Jr. TR—JC of the Canyons (Calif.)
RF Landon Silver, Fr. HS—Huntington Beach, Calif.
DH Sam Cohen, So. .357 .379 .679 1 11 1
Pos. Name, Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Noah Davis, So. 7 4 4.46 83 63 0
RHP Joe Record, R-Jr. 6 5 3.91 90 63 0
RHP Chris Clements, Jr. 0 0 10.13 13 13 0
RP Kyle Nelson, Jr. 7 2 2.18 74 87 10

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