After 11 Bruins were taken in the 2010 MLB Draft, tied for the most in the country, UCLA knew that they were going to have a lot to replace from the 2010 College World Series team and as soon as the Bruins were eliminated in the Championship Series, the departures began. Blair Dunlap and Garett Claypool were among the first to sign professional contracts, but both had just finished their senior seasons and had no eligibility. The same could not be said for Rob Rasmussen, Matt Grace, Matt Drummond, Erik Goeddel and Niko Gallego, all of whom signed early in the summer for the chance to live out their dreams of playing professional baseball. When Dan Klein joined them by signing with the Baltimore Orioles last week, the Bruins were short on players, specifically on the pitching staff once you got past Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer.
Because the draft had taken so much from the Bruins' 2010 team, attention turned to the signees who UCLA hoped would make up their freshman class in 2011. With several picked high in the draft, there was legitimate concern that they could sign professional contracts before Monday night's midnight EDT deadline. As Monday went on, things began to look good for the Bruins as word began to trickle out that the five signees in question, RHP Adam Plutko (sixth round, Astros), OF Brenton Allen (ninth round, Phillies), RHP Zach Weiss (10th round, Pirates), RHP Nick Vander Tuig (39th round, Blue Jays) and IF Kevin Williams (41st round, Dodgers), were all leaning towards UCLA. As anyone knows though, until the deadline passes, nothing is assured.
Not long after the deadline passed, it became official. UCLA's entire recruiting class did pass on the pros to attend school and play baseball in Westwood. With few pitchers returning to the Bruins in 2011, the key to the freshman class will be Plutko, Weiss and Vander Tuig, all of whom will have their chances at significant time on the bump as freshmen. The Sunday starter spot, midweek starter spot and nearly every bullpen spot is up for grabs so the three will all see heavy work. Luckily for the Bruins, all are considered top pitchers and capable of contributing early. Toss in someone like Allen, who is good enough to compete with a deep crop of sophomore outfielders and a group of infielders that all profile to fit into the style of play the Bruins want and you have a class that brings some stability to a program some saw as a question mark post-Cole and Bauer.
Plutko is the gem of the draft class, becoming the highest drafted player to attend UCLA since Cole was drafted in the first round in 2008. Projected as a possible top three round pick, Plutko made it clear that it would take a lot to get him to bypass UCLA, even traveling to Omaha to watch the Bruins in the College World Seires, and he dropped in the draft as a result. The right-hander has a low-90's fastball and a change-up that is his best off-speed pitch at the moment, but it's his competitiveness and ability to consistently throw strikes that impressed scouts most. Of the three pitchers coming to UCLA, Plutko will be tipped by most to earn the Sunday starter job and with his advanced approach, a National League scout says "he could be the best freshman pitcher in the Pac-10."
While Plutko is the most highly touted pitcher coming to Westwood, Weiss and Vander Tuig have their share of hype as well. Weiss, like Plutko, dropped some in the draft because teams were scared they wouldn't be able to sign him. He also has a low-90's fastball, but isn't quite as advanced as Plutko. Even so, Weiss has a high ceiling and showed that he'll be able to contribute as a freshman when he went to the West Coast Collegiate League this summer and had a 3.38 ERA while striking out nearly one per inning.
Vander Tuig injured his elbow at the end of his junior season and had to have Tommy John surgery, causing his draft stock to plummet. Once a possible top five round pick, Vander Tuig didn't go until the 39th round, but his progress in his rehab impressed the Blue Jays enough that they made a hard run at him late to get him to sign. If he can finish his rehab strong and get back to full strength, Vander Tuig can emerge as a definite Friday night guy for the Bruins before he leaves Westwood.
The dearth of pitchers left on the UCLA team put the spotlight on the three pitchers coming into the program, but the Bruins also caught a break when Allen passed on the Phillies' offer. An athletic outfielder who played both football and baseball in high school, he will provide some of the pop that the Bruins have lacked in recent years once he refines his baseball skills. Like Plutko, Allen also made the trip to Omaha to watch the Bruins and was considered a tough sign for whichever club drafted him. With Beau Amaral, Cody Keefer, Jeff Gelalich and Dennis Holt all in the fold (and all left-handed hitters, like Allen), getting into the outfield rotation will not be easy, but a freshman with power to all fields won't be easily ignored.
With so many position players returning, Allen, Williams, Patrick Gallagher, Jacob Shirley and Patrick Valaika will all find it tough to earn playing time, but if last year proved anything, it's that the best player will play regardless of experience.
Because of the need for an infusion of new talent, the focus of Monday was on the signees, but the Bruins also got good news with the return of two veterans from last year's team. Mitchell Beacom and Chris Giovinazzo, both of whom were drafted, passed on the pros for a chance to return to Omaha. Beacom will be the Bruins' only bullpen arm with significant collegiate experience so he will be heavily leaned upon in 2011 and Giovinazzo's will make a crowded outfield even more competitive.
After the beginning of the summer stripped the Bruins of almost their entire bullpen and a couple other veterans, including Brett Krill who signed just before the deadline, UCLA was in a bit of trouble. A fantastic finish to the signing period changed all that though and while there will still be concerns about the Bruins in 2011, specifically in the bullpen, Monday eased concerns about UCLA in 2012 and beyond, while also shoring up next season.