Few batters will want to look down the barrel at sophomore Gerrit Cole (Photo Credit: Official Site)
The tradition continues with yet another five-part season preview that will take us right up to the very beginning of the 2010 UCLA baseball season on February 19th. We've got the basics of college baseball out of the way and took a look at the all-time UCLA team. In part 1 of our five-part preview, we took a quick look at last year, a peak at the schedule and some of the opinions from analysts around the country for 2010. This part 2 will look into the pitchers. Part 3 will feature the Bruins' position players and Part 4 will be a look at the Pac 10. Part 5 will complete the preview as we take a look around the nation and where the Bruins stand in the national sense.
It doesn't take much for a pitching staff to outshine an offense the way UCLA hit last year, but it would be a mistake to overlook the Bruins' accomplishments on the mound in 2009. With freshmen starting on Fridays and Saturdays for most of the year, the Bruins finished 21st in the country in ERA and 9th in strikeouts. Now, the two freshmen are sophomores and multiple key cogs in the bullpen are returning from injury, giving the Bruins one heck of a pitching staff. Multiple analysts have said UCLA has the best one-two punch in the country and even UCLA head coach John Savage didn't have enough good things to say about the staff.
"I love our arms," Savage said. "From top to bottom, we have as deep a staff as I've ever had." High praise from a man with a NCAA title to his name as a pitching coach, a position he received accolades for his work in for developing some of the best pitching staffs of the 1990's.
Sophomore Gerrit Cole will be UCLA's primary Friday night starter and having manned the post for the majority of last season, he will be no stranger to the pressure. The Yankees' former first-round pick amassed a 4-8 record and .191 batting average against and 3.49 ERA for the Bruins last season. Besieged by poor fielding behind him and forced to go up against the other team's ace each week, a recipe for disaster with a bad hitting team on your side, Cole's record was less than indicative of the quality of his season.
Cole showed his mid to upper 90's fastball when he needed it and even showed a devastating two-seam fastball that still clocked in as high as 95 mph. Complemented by a hard breaking slider, Cole gave opposing teams fits with his pure stuff, never more so than against a very good Cal lineup when he went 8.1 innings and allowed just two hits and one run. Cole's biggest nemesis last year was himself, as he struggled to command his pitches at times. That aspect of his arsenal looked to be improved in the fall, especially the command of his two-seam fastball in on lefthanders, a pitch that could potentially be dominating. With Cole toeing the rubber on Friday nights, the fans will be in for a treat and the UCLA defense may not have to work any harder than those in the stands.
While Cole got all of the hype last season, it was fellow freshman Trevor Bauer who was the team's top pitcher. After skipping the final semester of high school to enroll at UCLA early and pitch for the Bruins in 2009, Bauer came in with the poise of a wily veteran. Immediately thrust into the closer's role, Bauer picked up a pair of saves and pitched in MLB stadiums, hostile environments and against some of the game's toughest lineups without flinching. When elevated to a starting role, Bauer took his game to an entirely new level, especially against Washington when he threw a complete game, one hit shutout. Bauer finished the season 9-3 with a 2.99 ERA with both his win total and ERA the tops among Pac-10 freshmen. His season was so extraordinary that he took home Louisville Slugger National Freshman Pitcher of the Year.
The sophomore has an array of pitches and in the words of Savage, "it seems like he has a new pitch every day." What really separates Bauer from the pack, though, is his unmatched determination and competitiveness. With Bauer following up Cole on Saturdays, opponents won't get a breather, unless you count the one they get making that slow walk from the plate to the dugout after strike three.
The Sunday starter role is still up for grabs, although after having a half-dozen in contention in the fall, the number has been whittled down to two. Junior Rob Rasmussen and senior Garett Claypool are the two battling it out for the final weekend starter role, although the loser of the battle will still get to start in midweek games so not all would be lost. Rasmussen is a crafty lefthander with one of the better curveballs in the Pac-10. Getting to that curveball is the only problem Rasmussen has had, although that looked to have been corrected this summer. In the Cape Cod League, Rasmussen excelled, earning the start in the league All-Star Game and being named to the All-Cape Cod League team. This was a welcome development for the southpaw who looked outstanding in the 2009 season's first few weeks before struggling the rest of the way and finishing with a 6.45 ERA and .295 batting average against.
Claypool has always been a talented pitcher who hasn't quite gotten the looks as a starter that he'd hoped for. A Freshman All-American, Claypool has spent his career shuttling between midweek starter and the bullpen, never really getting to settle in despite solid numbers. Last season, the righthander went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA, second to only Bauer on the Bruins. Claypool has always fared better starting games than coming in relief, even going six scoreless innings having allowed a single hit versus Long Beach St. last year.
Both Rasmussen and Claypool provide the Bruins an attractive option on Sundays and whoever loses the battle will certainly have the edge versus whoever toes the rubber opposite them in midweek games, but both are eying that Sunday role. With Sunday games taking place during the day and midweek games at night, it's possible that Claypool gets pushed to midweek duty and the heavier air that accompanies it. Rasmussen has long been a Savage favorite too, making it all the more likely that Rasmussen starts on Sundays, but nothing has been determined to this point.
The UCLA bullpen struggled some in 2009, predominantly due to the struggles of a couple key upperclassmen who have since moved on to the professional level. While those pitchers move out, freshmen and more importantly, those returning to health move in. The most prominent of those recently healthy is redshirt sophomore Dan Klein, who will serve as the team's closer. After being sidelined by a shoulder injury midway through his freshman season, an injury that cost him last season as well, Klein returned in the fall and looked downright dominant in four scoreless innings. His fastball has enough life to set-up what is one of the better changeups in the Pac-10 and his demeanor, born out of a football career that earned him scholarship offers as a quarterback, lends itself well to closing.
Another redshirt sophomore pitcher returning to health to help out in the bullpen is Erik Goeddel, a highly touted recruit who was derailed by an elbow injury. Goeddel too looked exceptional in the fall and he may very well hold the key to the UCLA bullpen, which is looking for a steady starter to closer bridge. Fellow righthander Scott Griggs will look to thow his name into the mix out of the bullpen. The highly touted freshman has issues repeating his motion and can be wild, but his stuff is exceptional and while still far from refined, Griggs has made strides from when he stepped on campus in the fall.
Junior Matt Grace will bring his 22 appearances last year with him into 2010 and serve as one of the primary lefthanders at Savage's disposal. His 4-3 record and 4.73 ERA is respectable, but his greatest asset is his durability that allows him to come back on consecutive days or pitch upwards of four innings in an appearance. Two other southpaws figure to get extensive looks in relief in Matt Drummond and Mitchell Beacom. Drummond joins Klein and Goeddel and the returning wounded after missing last season, but in 2008 he was 2-2 with three saves in 18 appearances as a sophomore. Beacom is the most interesting of the lefthanded options as the towering 6'8'' sidearmer whips the ball towards home plate with good velocity and outstanding movement. The redshirt sophomore is coming off of a good summer in the New England Collegiate League and can be dominant with just a bit better command than he showed in the fall.
Those 11 pitchers should comprise the bulk of the UCLA pitching staff and barring any unexpected developments, could range anywhere from good to the nation's best. For a team with a plethora of question marks on offense, a pitching staff like UCLA has is a must and the Bruins will lean hard on the staff in 2010. Cole and Bauer and known quantities who will give the Bruins a great chance to win each and every Friday and Saturday, which one of Rasmussen and Claypool will set UCLA up nicely on Sundays and midweek. With Klein looking ready to consistently slam the door shut at the back end of games, the big question for the Bruins is who get the ball from the starters to Klein. Goeddell has the potential to demoralize batters with his filthy stuff and if he can do so, the lefthanders will be able to compliment him when the situation dictates, giving UCLA excellence from innings one through nine.