UCLA has one of the best freshmen classes in the country coming in this fall
The MLB Draft signing deadline was at 2 p.m. PT on Friday and as the clock ticked down, all eyes were on Lucas Giolito. The right-hander was a possible number one overall pick before he injured his elbow in the spring, but still went in the first round to the Nationals. With a fastball that reached 100 mph, he was considered one of the top arms in the draft. He was also considered one of the toughest signs, asking for more than recommended for his slot and making it clear that he would be happy to honor his commitment to UCLA.
When the clock struck 2 p.m. there was still no word of Giolito signing. Had the flamethrower really passed on the nearly $3 million the Nationals had to offer and instead chosen to go to UCLA? A few minutes later, the answer came in -- no. Giolito had signed with Washington for $2.925 million and would be heading to the pros, not Westwood.
Understandably, many Bruins were heartbroken. After nabbing Gerrit Cole four years ago, the Bruins had pretty much used up a decade of top flight pitcher luck, but Giolito was so close to pulling a Cole.
But as time passed, reality began to set in. UCLA may have missed on Giolito and Max Fried and Daniel Robertson did sign with the Padres and Athletics last month, but even without the trio, the Bruins were still sitting pretty. In fact, sitting pretty might be an understatement. UCLA had themselves one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
As has always been the case under head coach John Savage, the UCLA recruiting class is built on pitching. But this is an exceptional crop of pitchers, even for Savage. Hunter Virant, James Kaprielian, Cody Poteet and Felipe Perez give the Bruins four top flight pitchers who make up the top pitching class in the country.
Virant is the star of the class and had he not been considered such a tough sign could have gone as high as the second round. The Astros took him in the 11th round, but when they signed a couple of their higher picks for over-slot money, they didn't have the money to make Virant an offer that would lure him away from Westwood. With a low 90's fastball, Virant works both side of the plate well and has great feel so he can make an immediate impact and when he fills out some, the 6'3'' southpaw will also be able to add some more velocity too. In short, he has all the making of a future ace.
Kaprielian is another guy who could have gone very high if it wasn't for his strong commitment to UCLA. He ended up going in the 40th round, more than 30 rounders lower than he otherwise would have. He rocketed up draft board in the last year, as much for his aggressiveness and attitude as for his good stuff, which includes a 90 mph fastball. Maybe most intriguing about Kaprielian is how good his curveball and changeup look at times, giving him three possible plus-plus pitches.
Perez and Poteet are highly ranked guys as well. A lot of people think Perez and Kaprielian are similar, with their good fastball, but really intriguing offspeed pitches and attitude. Meanwhile, Cody Poteet has a liver arm, throwing in the mid-90's at times. He is a little bit more raw, but he has a very high ceiling.
In any other program, any one of the four pitchers that the Bruins brought in would be considered possible future aces and UCLA had four of them. They will have some work to do if they want to pitch right away, too, because all three of the Bruins' weekend starters will be back in 2013 and so will the Tuesday starter, Grant Watson, and ace relievers David Berg and Ryan Deeter. The Bruins will have more pitching than they know what to do with, but you can never have enough pitching. And this freshman class doesn't just make pitching a strength in 2013, but for the next three years.
The recruiting class isn't limited to pitchers, though. Good pitching and top flight pitching recruits are almost a given in Westwood nowadays, but the Bruins brought in a couple bats that they will sorely need in 2013.
UCLA lost five position player starters to the pros from their 2012 College World Series team so there are plenty of holes to fill. Last year's freshman class got some at-bats and will be counted on to fill a lot of those holes, but this year's freshman class will have to take a key spot or two. While there are not a lot of bats coming in, those that are are impact bats.
The recruit who will be most counted upon to make an impact as a freshman is Ty Moore, a 25th round pick of the Yankees. The outfielder was named California State Player of the Year and was also an outstanding pitcher in his senior season at Mater Dei so it is clear that the athleticism is there. He's a guy who doesn't just have projectable power, but can come in and start from day one, which is important because the Bruins have to replace their entire starting outfield.
Aaron Porter will also get a shot in the outfield, at least when he isn't playing football. The two-sport star has huge power and had a great senior season so the Bruins think they can get some much-needed power from the freshman. Balancing two sports is always tough so just how effective he can be is still a question, but he gives the team a ton of upside and possible power.
Rounding out the freshmen is Darrell Miller Jr., who certainly has impressive bloodlines. His father was a Major League catcher and his uncle is none other than Reggie Miller. He was picked in the 34th round and is considered very advanced defensively, which is massively important. The Bruins do not have a catcher on the roster who has ever caught an inning at the collegiate level so, obviously, there is a gigantic hole there. Miller will be asked to step into that role immediately so while he might not be the most heralded of the UCLA freshmen, he is still a top-level talent and may be the most important newcomer because of the glaring hole behind the plate.
When the recruiting class rankings come out in the coming weeks, UCLA will be right there by the top. They secured their pitching for the foreseeable future, not just with numbers, but with upper echelon talent. They also added the necessary athleticism in the field and at the positions of need too.
Last year the Bruins had a horrible deadline day and lost most of their top recruits. This year Giolito, Fried and Robertson got away, but nobody is going to shed a tear for Savage and the Bruins this year. The Bruins have become a national power, going to the College World Series in two of the last three years, and with a recruiting class like this year's they will have their chance to return to Omaha a few more times in the near future.