2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 22 UCLA
Last season: 37-20 (18-12 in Pac-12); reached regionals
Final Ranking: No. 24
Coach (record at school): John Savage (589-382-1, 17 years)
The good news: UCLA is extremely talented. It just brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, led by pitchers Thatcher Hurd, Gage Jump, Alonzo Tredwell and Ethan Flanagan, outfielders Malakhi Knight and Nick McLain, and shortstop Cody Schrier. The lineup projects to have at least three true freshmen in it and any number of newcomers could hold major roles on the pitching staff, including Jump, who gained a leg up on a spot in the weekend rotation with his performance in the fall. It will also be helped by the return of third-year sophomore righthander Jared Karros and sophomore righthander Max Rajcic on the mound. Karros was the team’s Opening Day starter last season and was pitching well when he went down for the year with injury in late March, and Rajcic, after dominating as a closer last season, has the stuff to be Pac-12 pitcher of the year if he puts it all together.
The bad news: UCLA is extremely young. There are just two returning starters in the lineup, third-year sophomore second baseman Michael Curialle and sophomore third baseman Kyle Karros, and both will have to improve their production this season if they are truly going to be centerpieces in the batting order. It’s a similar story on the mound, where all three members of the weekend rotation as it was constructed late in the year—Sean Mullen, Jesse Bergin and Zach Pettway—are gone, as is long-time bullpen stopper Kyle Mora, talented, if enigmatic, righthander Nick Nastrini and steady reliever Michael Townsend. In other words, there are hundreds of at-bats and innings pitched that need to be replaced in 2022.
Player to know: Max Rajcic, RHP
Rajcic lived up to the advance billing that came with him being the top recruit in UCLA’s 2020 recruiting class. In the closer’s role, he had a 1.65 ERA, a .185 opponent batting average and 36 strikeouts compared to eight walks in 32.2 innings. Now, he’ll look to transition into a spot in the weekend rotation. While showing a similar level of dominance in that role is unlikely, he has the stuff to be very effective, and he showed that over the summer as a starter in the Cape Cod League. Last season, Rajcic led with his low-80s curveball, throwing that pitch 50% of the time compared to 46% for his low-90s fastball that touched 96 mph. To be a top-line starting pitcher, he may have to lead more with his fastball and integrate his changeup to a greater degree, but he started to do so on the Cape last summer and there’s every reason to believe that he will continue that at UCLA this season.
Path to Omaha: UCLA will have to grow up fast in order to be a team that gets to the College World Series in 2022. If the freshmen who are placed in prominent roles are ready to go from the start, UCLA will have the talent to compete with anyone. If those freshmen aren’t quite ready for prime time, it could be an up-and-down season filled with both impressive wins and confounding losses as a young group learns how to win at the Division I level. It also wouldn’t hurt the Bruins’ chances of getting to Omaha if Rajcic, Jared Karros or both prove to be all-conference-level starting pitchers.
Quick SEC Tournament Exit Leaves Ole Miss Playing Waiting Game
Ole Miss was eliminated from the SEC Tournament with a loss to Vanderbilt in its opening game. Now, the Rebels wait to learn their NCAA Tournament future.
|SS||Cody Schrier||Fr.||HS—San Clemente, Calif.|
Did not play—Redshirted