2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 21 UC Santa Barbara

Last season: 13-2
Final ranking: NR
Coach (record at school): Andrew Checketts (289-180-3, 9 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: RHP Michael McGreevy (No. 112), LHP Rodney Boone (No. 164)

The good news: On paper, UCSB has the best weekend rotation of any team on the West Coast aside from UCLA. Third-year sophomore righthander Michael McGreevy and third-year sophomore lefthander Rodney Boone have been productive for two seasons now, and redshirt junior lefthander Zach Torra was dominant, with 39 strikeouts in 25.1 innings after arriving from the junior college ranks last season. After serving as a valuable reliever in 2019, McGreevy successfully jumped to the rotation in 2020 and put up a 0.99 ERA in 27.1 innings. Now, he’ll look to take the next step and front the rotation. The bullpen should also be a strength with the return of fifth-year senior righthander Conner Dand, fourth-year junior righthander Conner Roberts and fourth-year junior righthander Christopher Troye, who is back from Tommy John surgery and running his fastball up to 97 mph.

The bad news: The Gauchos turned over nearly all of their lineup going into 2020, and the season being canceled in March meant that the coaching staff didn’t get much time to get it all sorted out. The result was a lineup that hit just .237/.330/.360 as a group, leaving the same offensive question marks going into 2021. If UCSB is going to reach its potential, which is significant, it will have to be more productive. Checketts hopes some of that improvement comes from better health. Fifth-year senior shortstop McClain O’Connor and fourth-year junior center fielder Jason Willow were both banged up last year and third-year sophomore infielder Bryce Willits is now eligible after transferring from Saint Mary’s and healthy after labrum surgery. The Gauchos should be able to bank on the production of fourth-year junior second baseman Marcos Castanon, who will be in the mix for Big West player of the year if he can repeat his performance from 2020 over a full season. 

Player to know: Michael McGreevy, RHP.

McGreevy had an extremely successful freshman season in 2019, serving as a reliever who could throw multiple innings or close games out. Then, in 2020, not only did he show that he could handle being a full-time starting pitcher, but he showed an improved ability to dominate, going from 7.91 strikeouts per nine innings to 8.56. If the jump in his stuff is any indication, another step forward is in the cards for 2021. In the past, McGreevy would throw his fastball between 89-92 mph and would touch 93. This fall, he was throwing it 92-95 mph, and he also showed off a better slider. 

Path to Omaha: The UCSB program has reached a point where it doesn’t take great imagination to envision the Gauchos in Omaha, and that’s true of this team as well. The pitching staff is excellent on a national level, and in a Big West largely devoid of explosive offenses, that will go a long way in the regular season. To succeed outside the confines of the conference and get to the College World Series, however, UCSB will have to hit much better than it did a year ago. Given the level of pitching talent on the roster, it won’t have to be an elite lineup, but it will have to be more productive.

2021 Lineup
C Mason Eng, R-So. .400 .500 .467 15 0 3
1B Kyle Johnson, R-So. .208 .333 .396 53 2 7
2B Marcos Castanon, R-Jr. .288 .354 .525 59 4 17
3B Leo Mosby, Fr. HS — San Diego
SS McClain O’Connor, R-Sr. .238 .324 .381 63 1 12
LF Christian Kirtley, R-So. .255 .364 .473 55 2 10
CF Jason Willow, R-Jr. .213 .288 .234 47 0 2
RF Mason Marquez, R-So. .147 .171 .206 34 0 4
DH Bryce Willits, R-So. Did not play — redshirt
RHP Michael McGreevy, R-So. 2 0 0.99 27 26 0
LHP Rodney Boone, R-So. 2 1 2.53 21 31 0
LHP Zach Torra, R-Jr. 3 0 0.36 25 39 0
RP Conner Dand, R-Sr. 0 0 1.23 7 6 2
RP Conner Roberts, R-Jr. 4 1 2.04 18 24 0

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