2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 2 UCLA

Image credit: Matt McLain (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Last season: 13-2 (0-0 in Pac-12)
Final ranking: No. 4
Coach (record at school): John Savage (552-362-1, 16 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: SS Matt McLain (No. 8), C Noah Cardenas (No. 65), RHP Jesse Bergin (No. 81), RHP Nick Nastrini (No. 95), 1B J.T. Schwartz (No. 140)

The good news: UCLA returns every pitcher except closer Holden Powell from a team that had a 1.88 ERA last season, including all three members of the weekend rotation in fourth-year junior righthander Zach Pettway and third-year sophomore righthanders Jesse Bergin and Nick Nastrini, plus a quality fourth starter in second-year freshman righthander Jared Karros. The loss of Powell at the back end of the bullpen is significant, but with fifth-year senior righthander Kyle Mora, fourth-year junior righthander Michael Townsend and third-year sophomore righthander Sean Mullen back in the fold, plus the addition of true freshman righthander Max Rajcic, UCLA will be fine when it comes to closing games. Offensively, the Bruins bring back arguably the most dynamic position player in college baseball in third-year sophomore shortstop Matt McLain. He’ll make the lineup go. 


The bad news: Led by McLain, the UCLA lineup will be plenty deep, but it’s not clear if there’s a true middle-of-the-order bopper in the mix. The Bruins may not need that aspect of the game to be successful and score a bunch of runs, but it sure is nice to have as a failsafe. Just ask the 2019 Bruins, who were able to lean on Michael Toglia for the occasional three-run homer. McLain has more power than his stature would suggest, so maybe he makes a run at double-digit homers. Third-year freshman first baseman J.T. Schwartz has the frame and strength to be that kind of guy, but to this point, he’s been more of a line-drive hitter. Second-year freshman Michael Curialle also has raw power, but he has just 10 games of experience so it’s difficult to project how much of that power he will get to in games. UCLA is a national title contender as it is, but if one or more players become traditional power threats, it would add another dimension to the Bruins. 

Player to know: Michael Curialle, SS/OF.

Curialle will have a lot on his shoulders in 2021. Naturally a shortstop, and perhaps the shortstop of the future after McLain is drafted, he’s the favorite to take over for first-round pick Garrett Mitchell in center field this season. Those are big shoes to fill, but he has the speed for the position and a plus arm that is strong enough for him to play right field as well. His numbers from 10 games last season, including a .325/.357/.525 line, and plus raw power suggest that he could be ready for a breakout season at the plate. 

Path to Omaha: UCLA has had some College World Series-caliber teams in recent years, but it hasn’t made the trip since it won it all in 2013. The pitching staff, with experience and high-end potential in equal measure, is exactly the type of pitching staff you would look to build in order to get to Omaha. The lineup isn’t filled with mashers, but the depth, athleticism and positional versatility is impressive and they should score more than enough to get the job done. If the Bruins play up to their potential and then get over the final postseason steps, which have tripped them up recently, they’ll end the season playing for a national title. 

2021 Lineup
C Noah Cardenas, R-So. .237 .367 .289 38 0 10
1B J.T. Schwartz, R-Fr. .328 .380 .391 64 0 8
Kevin Kendall, R-Jr. — DNP (Injured)
3B Mikey Perez, R-So. .333 .476 .455 33 0 6
SS Matt McLain .397 .422 .621 58 3 19
LF Kyle Cuellar, R-Sr. .341 .451 .537 41 2 9
CF Michael Curialle, R-Fr. .325 .357 .525 40 2 9
RF Jarron Silva, R-Jr. .276 .382 .379 29 1 8
DH Jake Moberg, R-So. .265 .391 .265 49 0 6
RHP Zach Pettway, R-Jr. 3 0 1.05 26 29 0
RHP Nick Nastrini, R-So. 2 1 4.60 16 19 0
RHP Jesse Bergin, R-So. 4 0 1.27 21 27 0
RP Kyle Mora, R-Sr. 0 0 0.96 9 15 0
RP Sean Mullen, R-So. 0 0 0.93 10 10 0

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