UCLA Baseball: Early Look at 2015, Part 3 - Bruins Look Good Following MLB Draft

Will Eric Filia repeat his postseason magic in 2015? - Stephen Dunn

UCLA baseball has been hammered in recent years in the MLB Draft. Efforts to rebuild the talent pipeline have been hampered by picks as low as the 11th round taking the money instead of coming to Westwood. But this year, although UCLA has probably lost a few top recruits, more will be coming, and they will be joined by most of the draft-eligible players from the 2014 squad.

For UCLA baseball, 2014 was obviously a year to throw in the discard pile. Between injuries and down years, the Bruins fell off the charts, finishing below .500 overall and in conference play. But there is a silver lining for next year. In the MLB draft which concluded on Saturday, most of the eligible members of the current squad went undrafted. And although four members of the 2015 recruiting class were drafted, that still leaves at least five members coming in, including a very highly rated position player. And the class could be deeper if Jacob Nix turns down the pro offer and comes to UCLA (note the reference in the 1st paragraph of the Baseball America article about Nix).

Baseball is somewhat different from some other sports, in that being drafted does not mean that a player will leave (as a junior) or not ever come to campus (as a high schooler). There is still the signing bonus to be considered. If the player decides that he can enhance his future chances by playing more years as a Bruin, then the fact of being drafted will not harm UCLA.

Let's assume, based on recent past history, that the current Bruins who were drafted will leave. Let's also assume that the high school recruits who were drafted before the 11th round will leave.

Here is where the team stands. At catcher, the Bruins will need to replace Shane Zeile, who was drafted in the 5th round by the Tigers. Redshirt sophomore Justin Hazard started 14 games in 2014, eight at catcher. He batted .344 for the season, .385 in nine starts in conference play. Zeile leaves a big hole, but at least there is a viable option in the wings.

In the infield, there are numerous altenatives. Junior Chris Keck could be the answer at 1st. He started at 3rd last year post-injury shuffle until going down with a season-ending injury himself. Keck started 11 games at 1st during the 2013 championship season, so he knows his way around. He batted .293 as a freshman, starting 10 games at DH. So, if he can return to form, Keck will be a decent option at first.

Luke Persico started 53 games at 2nd as a freshman in 2014, replacing Kevin Williams, who was limited to a DH role due to injuries. He batted .246 last season. He will be in the mix again in 2015.

Trent Chatterton started every game last year at short as a sophomore. He batted .291, and led the team in conference play with a .327 average. Trent will be an integral part of the 2015 infield.

Kevin Kramer was the starting third baseman on the 2013 championship team, and was the projected shortstop on last year's team until he went down for the season. He also started 29 games at third as a freshman in 2012. Kramer had the second highest average on the team in 2013. So the offense gets an instant upgrade with his return.

Also in the mix next year will be two recruits. NIck Valaika, Pat's younger brother, will be competing for team in the middle infield. And, somewhat surprisingly, Sean Bouchard, a top 100 high school prospect went undrafted, and will be a Bruin. He will push for playing time on the left side of the infleld.

So there look to be plenty of options in the infield.

In the outfield, sophomore Ty Moore and redshirt sophomore Christoph Bono return from the 2014 team. Moore started every game last season, mostly in left. He hit .294, and led the team in runs scored overall and in conference play, and led the team in slugging percentage in conference games. He also started 17 games in left during the 2013 season, and his pinch hit single in the 8th inning led to the winning run against LSU in Omaha. He has been there for the Bruins.

Christoph Bono also started every game in 2014, mostly in right, but he also started in center after Brian Carroll was injured. He was used mostly as a defensive replacement on the 2013 championship team. His excellent running catch in the 8th inning of game 1 against Mississippi State led Mike Patrick of ESPN to demand that the Omaha stadium be pivoted 180 degrees on the spot so that defense would no longer matter. Bono also brings big time experience to the 2015 squad.

And last, but certainly not least, Eric Filia will be back after missing 2014 with a torn labrum. Filia was the starting right fielder on the 2013 championship team, and led the team in hitting. He really went on a tear in the postseason, batting .444. He had 5 RBI's in the championship game alone vs. Mississippi State.

So we have three solid outfielders, all of whom have postseason experience at the highest levels.

The entire starting rotation from last season returns in 2015. That includes sophomore all-conference Friday starter James Kaprielian, junior Saturday starter Grant Watson, sophomore Sunday starter Cody Poteet, and freshman midweek starter Grant Dyer. It would be a huge plus if Watson could return to his freshman/sophomore form, when he went 18-5. Both Watson and Poteet are contact pitchers, and an improved defense would probably do them wonders.

The biggest holes on the whole team to be filled, at least on paper, are in the bullpen. Redshirt junior Max Schuh was picked in the 7th round by the Orioles. He led the team with 37 appearances in 2014. Junior Jake Ehret was picked in the 14th round by the Reds. Ehret has only pitched 23.1 innings in his two seasons for the Bruins, but clearly showed pro potential. And All-American David Berg was picked in the 17th round by the Rangers. Of the three, Ehret would seem to be the most likely to return, with the hope that more exposure could move him into a better draft position next year.

But assuming that doesn't happen, there are spots available for the taking. Redshirt freshman Nick Kern appeared in 33 games last season, which was the 3rd highest in the Pac-12. And freshman Scott Burke appeared in 16 games last season. There are other pitchers from last year's team in the mix as well.

The incoming freshman class includes pitcher Griffin Canning (38th round selection in last week's draft), pitcher Nathan Hadley and pitcher Matt Trask. There is decent depth, but there would be room if Jacob Nix decided to go the college route. With or without Nix, there are options, but the various roles will need to be sorted out, and Watson will need to return to form for the Bruins.

All in all, the Bruins came through the draft in pretty decent shape, despite losing the #1 overall draft choice to the pros. That was in the cards all along. The surprises were pleasant. We will now need to wait through the signing period. But the future looks brighter than it did right before the 2014 season (thank goodness).

Go Bruins !!

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