Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 13 UCLA
2017 Record: 30-27 (19-11 in Pac-12); reached regionals. Final ranking: NR. Coach (Record at school): John Savage (449-328-1, 13 years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: RHP Kyle Molnar (112), LHP Justin Hooper (180), RHP Jon Olsen (187).
The good news: UCLA bounced back in 2017 from a disappointing 2016 to finish third in the Pac-12 Conference and return to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins return an exciting, young group of hitters from that team, led by sophomore infielders Ryan Kreidler, Chase Strumpf and Michael Toglia. Outfielder Garrett Mitchell was the third highest ranked player on the BA500 to make it to school, and he gives the UCLA lineup another dynamic, toolsy player to build around. The pitching staff still looks formidable, especially in the rotation. Jon Olsen is coming off a solid summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Kyle Molnar, a 2016 Freshman All-American, is back after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery and Jake Bird figures to add a veteran presence as he returns for his senior season.
The bad news: While the rotation still looks strong, even after ace Griffin Canning moved on to pro ball, UCLA will need to sort out its bullpen after Scott Burke and Moises Ceja graduated and Justin Hooper suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery. Finding enough pitching has never been a problem for coach John Savage, and freshmen righthanders Zach Pettway and Holden Powell, part of UCLA’s 16th ranked recruiting class, can immediately take on bullpen roles. Sean Bouchard and Brett Stephens, two of UCLA’s top hitters last season, also need to be replaced. The Bruins are never going to be an overly offensive team, but after hitting .258 as a team last year, it needs some of its budding stars to make a jump.
Returner to know: Jake Bird, RHP: Bird got off to a strong start in 2017 before a shoulder injury sidelined him for a month and kept him out of the rotation for another month after he returned to action. He had some draft buzz before his injury and now figures to be one of the top seniors in the country. He can be a steadying presence in the rotation thanks to his experience, and provides another high-end arm, as his fastball sits in the low 90s and he mixes in a hard slider.
Path to Omaha: It starts with pitching and defense at UCLA and this year’s Bruins are strong in both areas. If Molnar recaptures the form he showed before his injury and a couple of the young hitters breakthrough, UCLA figures to be one of the best teams on the West Coast. The Bruins haven’t won a regional since 2013 (when they went on to win the national title), but this year’s team has the pieces to end that skid.
2019 Preseason Top 25 Capsule No. 1 Vanderbilt
Top-ranked Vanderbilt returns a loaded lineup with eyes on Omaha, which includes both J.J. Bleday and Stephen Scott.
C Daniel Rosica, R-Jr. .271/.366/.333 | 96 AB | 1 HR | 14 RBI
1B Michael Toglia, So. .261/.382/.483 | 176 AB | 8 HR | 33 RBI
2B Chase Strumpf, So. .239/.315/.399 | 188 AB | 7 HR | 30 RBI
3B Jack Stronach, So. .231/.318/.352 | 91 AB | 1 HR | 18 RBI
SS Ryan Kreidler, So. .241/.327/.351 | 174 AB | 4 HR | 25 RBI
LF Jake Pries, So. .224/.348/.379 | 58 AB | 4 HR | 22 RBI
CF Daniel Amaral, Jr. .282/.364/.330 | 206 AB | 1 HR | 21 RBI
RF Garrett Mitchell, Fr. HS – Orange, Calif.
DH Kyle Cuellar, So. .319/.412/.425 | 113 AB | 1 HR | 2 RBI
RHP Jon Olsen, Jr. 7-1 | 2.86 ERA | 85 IP | 80 SO | 0 SV
RHP Kyle Molnar, R-So. Did not play – injured
RHP Jake Bird, Sr. 5-5 | 2.75 ERA | 56 IP | 42 SO | 0 SV
RP Brian Gadsby, Jr. 3-4 | 5.09 ERA | 35 IP | 17 SO | 1 SV
RP Nick Scheidler, So. 2 -4 | 5.28 ERA | 31 IP | 25 SO | 0 SV