2019 Preseason Top 25 Preview: No. 25 UC Irvine
Last Year: 32-24 (13-11 Big West); missed NCAA Tournament.
Final Ranking: NR.
Head Coach (record at school): Ben Orloff (first year).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: SS Christian Koss (No. 78).
The Good News: First-year head coach Ben Orloff inherited a good returning core of players that he was instrumental in recruiting as the top assistant under former head coach Mike Gillespie. That group of returners is led by All-American righthanded pitcher Andre Pallante and shortstop Christian Koss. Junior college transfer Tanner Brubaker will add a big arm to the weekend rotation, joining Pallante and sophomore Trent Denholm, who is coming off a big summer in the Cape Cod League. Seniors Taylor Rashi and Jordan Bocko should bring much-needed experience at the back of the bullpen. Koss will anchor the defense in the middle of the diamond. Offensively, the Anteaters will look to outfielders Mikey Fila and Jake Palmer and third baseman Brandon Lewis to provide the production.
The Bad News: With the retirement of Gillespie, the Anteaters will need to replace his experience and success in the dugout, which will be no easy task considering his track record. Finding consistency on defense will be something UCI will have to improve on after fielding .972 last season. Having Koss back at shortstop is a strong start, but the rest of the infield will have to be solid around him. The biggest concern for Irvine is that for a team that has the potential to advance to the NCAA Tournament, it must overcome the fact that not one player on the roster has postseason experience. In the always difficult Big West Conference, the Anteaters will have to overcome that inexperience down the stretch.
Player To Watch: Mikey Filia, OF.
The redshirt junior is a speedy outfielder with a good arm, and he is primed to have a breakout season offensively for the Anteaters. After spending the majority of last season as a part-time player, Filia finished the season hitting .289/.348/.301. He had just 83 at-bats, but the bulk of them came in the final 15 games of the year. He showed significant progress as an offensive player at the end of last year, which Irvine hopes will carry over into this upcoming season.
Path To Omaha: Irvine will need many players to take a step forward and rely on the strength of its pitching staff. The continued success of righthanders Trenton Denholm and Louis Raymond as starters will allow Orloff to keep the back end of the bullpen strong with Rashi and Bocko. The strength of the bullpen and good defense late in games will be crucial. Over the last five seasons, 43 percent of Irvine’s games have been decided by one or two runs and in such close games the importance of pitching and defense is amplified. Offensively, the team looks balanced, and like his predecessor, Orloff will run an offense that will keep pressure on opposing teams. Irvine is primed to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and will go as far as its pitching staff carries it.
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|1B||Andre Antone||R-Fr. (Did not play -- redshirted)|
|3B||Brandon Lewis||Jr. (Transfer -- Pierce (Calif.) JC|
|DH||John Jensen||Jr. (Transfer -- Santa Barbara (Calif.) JC|
|RHP||Tanner Brubaker||Jr. (Transfer -- Saddleback (Calif). JC)|