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2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 10 UCLA

Pettway_Zach(CourtesyofUCLAScottChandler).jpg
Zach Pettway (Photo courtesy of Justin Chandler, UCLA)

Last season: 52-11 (24-5 in Pac-12); reached super regionals.
Final ranking: No. 6.
Coach (record at school): John Savage (539-360-1, 15 years).

Top 100 draft prospects: OF Garrett Mitchell (No. 8).

The good news: The Bruins last year held the top spot in the rankings much of the year and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were upset at home in super regionals by Michigan, providing a disappointing end to their national championship dreams. But UCLA is back in good shape in 2020. Righthanders Zach Pettway, Nick Nastrini and Sean Mullen were all sidelined by injuries at times during the 2019 season but are back healthy now and make up what could be the best rotation in the Pac-12. All-American closer Holden Powell returns to lock down the end of games. In shortstop Matt McLain and center fielder Garrett Mitchell, the Bruins have two of the toolsiest players in the conference and maybe the nation. And UCLA brought in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country, a group that is full of physical, projectable players who will add dynamism to both the lineup and pitching staff.

The bad news: UCLA lost 11 players from last year’s team to the draft, a group that included top-five rounds picks first baseman Michael Toglia, ace Ryan Garcia and double-play combination Ryan Kreidler and Chase Strumpf. With so many players selected, the Bruins inevitably have a lot of holes to fill. In addition to Garcia, a first-team All-American, the Bruins must also replace righthander Jack Ralston in the rotation. That appears daunting, but the Bruins have never had a shortage of talent under the mound on Savage and, if they this year have better luck with health, that will be true again in 2020. More worryingly, the five everyday players UCLA lost combined to hit 49 of the team’s 67 homers and finding a replacement for that thump in the lineup will be important. This year’s lineup may rely more on its speed and athleticism to manufacture runs, while playing to its strength of pitching and defense.

Player to know: Matt McLain, SS.

An unsigned first-round pick in 2018, McLain stepped right into UCLA’s lineup in center field. Lauded for his hitting ability in high school, he struggled against college pitching and struck out 64 times while producing a .631 OPS. But he got back on track over the summer in the Cape Cod League and is now going to be asked to play a larger role offensively for the Bruins while also moving to shortstop. For UCLA to be successful in 2020, it’s likely going to need a big year out of McLain.

Path to Omaha: UCLA has the talent to reload and again contend for the Pac-12 title. To get to CWS, it’s going to require its young players to step up as they take on bigger roles in 2020. If the rotation proves it’s up to the task, the Bruins should be able to ride their pitching and defense to a lot of wins. Taking the next step will require some inexperienced hitters emerging to fill the void left in the lineup, be it a newcomer like Michael Curialle or someone like JT Schwartz, who missed last year due to injury.

Jeff Criswell Billmitchell

2020 College Baseball Top 25 Chat (2/17/20)

Our first Top 25 chat of the season has plenty to focus on, including an impressive start to the season by Michigan, Ole Miss and more.

LINEUP
POSName, YearAVGOBPSLGHRRBIAB
CNoah Cardenas, So..375.476.500318136
1BJT Schwartz, R-Fr.Did not play -- Injured
2BKevin Kendall, Jr..258.331.298013124
3BJake Moberg, So..143.250.2140314
SSMatt McLain, So..203.276.355430217
LFEmmanuel Dean, Fr.HS -- Anaheim Hills, Calif.
CFGarrett Mitchell, Jr..349.418.566641258
RFPatrick Caulfield, Jr.Transfer -- Santa Barbara (Calif.) JC
DHMichael Curialle, Fr.HS -- San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
PITCHING
POSName, YearWLERAIPSOSV
RHPZach Pettway, Jr.224.5563600
RHPNick Nastrini, So.101.3720280
RHPSean Mullen, So.100.00660
RPKyle Mora, Sr.332.0956671
RPHolden Powell, Jr.431.84456517
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