Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
Just as I did last year, this year's season preview will be a five part series that will take us right up to the first pitch of the season on February 20 when UC Davis visits Jackie Robinson Stadium. Part 1 was a general look at the 2008 season, the pre-season polls and a few opinions from analysts around the country. Part 2 looks 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.
If the old baseball saying "good pitching beats good hitting" is true, the Bruins should be in good shape because the UCLA pitching staff will be one of the nation's best in 2009. Not only is it filled with quality arms, the depth can only be described as absurd. The team has 16 pitchers who all have great talent and were highly recruited. Nine of those 16 have made collegiate starts before and an additional two have pitched meaningful innings out of the bullpen. Joining them are five true or redshirt freshmen, including two of the most talented righthanded arms in the country. While there are a few questions as to who will step into certain roles, head coach John Savage will never have a shortage of quality arms to draw upon.
Heading the Bruin staff will be Friday night starter Gavin Brooks. The junior southpaw was one of the more highly touted freshmen in the nation two years ago and he set UCLA records for innings pitched and strikeouts by a freshman that year. He threw three consecutive complete games, two of which were in the postseason. After such a promising freshman year, Brooks entered his sophomore in the Friday night starter role with high expectations. His season got off to a solid start as he allowed only one run in the season opener, but after that injuries and a lack of confidence sent him spiraling downward. He finished the season with a 5.07 ERA and having thrown 38.1 fewer innings than he did his freshman season. Brooks took this summer off to finish recovering his injuries and showed up for fall practice a whole new player. He had a much stronger core, allowing for a much smoother and repeatable motion. With a more repeatable motion that should give better command to his low 90's fastball, devastating slider and developing change up, Brooks could be in line for a very strong year
UCLA will throw righthander Charles Brewer out there in the middle game of each weekend. With a fastball that he easily throws in the mid 90's and a sharp breaking slider, Brewer has an extremely high ceiling. He was one of the nation's most sought after recruits and turned down a contract offer from the Angeles out of high school. Brewer has struggled to reach that high ceiling during his time at UCLA as his command has been spotty at best. Even when he struggled to find the plate, Brewer has always had great movement on his pitches. He worked this offseason to simplify his motion, but it didn't show in the Cape Cod League where he walked nearly as many as he struck out. In the fall he showed signs of improved command, but just when it seemed he clicked, he'd have a bad day. If Brewer can get his command to even a mediocre level, he'll be one of the conference's better pitchers, but if not, he'll have a ERA around five just like last year.
While Sundays are normally a day to check out the offenses, all eyes will be on the mound when UCLA is playing thanks to one electrifying talent. His name is Gerrit Cole and in August he became the first MLB first round draft pick to bypass the pros and attend college. Cole was rated by Perfect Game Crosschecker as the nation's top high school prospect and the fourth best by Baseball America after registering a 0.46 ERA as a senior in high school. Cole comes to UCLA armed with a mid 90's fastball that has been clocked as high as 98. He has a hard, filthy slider that causes even the best of hitters to swing and miss. He is also developing a change up that he uses as a show pitch versus lefthanders mostly. Even as a freshman, Cole has been slotted into the weekend rotation and will have the best stuff on the mound in any game he pitches. If he can adjust to the college game quickly, the Bruins should be able to rack up wins on Sundays.
The role of midweek starter will likely go to lefthander Rob Rasmussen. Last year as a freshman Rasmussen made only 10 appearances and two starts because of a broken leg he sustained when he was struck by a line drive in his first start. Following his return from injury, Rasmussen worked mainly out of the bullpen where he struggled with his command. As a pitcher who doesn't throw overly hard and relies on exceptional movement, it is imperative for Rasmussen to have very good control and because he didn't his ERA balooned to 5.60. Rasmussen is one of Savage;s favorite pitchers because of his movement, ability to use both sides of the plate and tough mindset. In the Cape Cod League this summer he showed much better command his strikeout to walk ratio was nearly 2:1 after having more walks than strikeouts as a freshman. Rasmussen will be asked to start midweek games, where he won't have much pressure as he will be asked to do no more than keep the team in the game. He will also work out of the bullpen on weekend and it is there where he will find himself in pressure situations.
The Bruins have a plethora of arms in the bullpen and a variety of styles from which to choose. Jason Novak gives the Bruins an experienced righthander with a good sinker who held opponents to a .232 batting average in 2008. He will likely be the team's go to righty arm out of the bullpen and will be asked to come in both to open an inning and to get the team out of a jam mid-inning. The team's top lefthander will likely be Brendan Lafferty, who made more appearances last year than any Bruin had since 1997. He was an All-Pac 10 honorable mention with a 3.74 ERA and was named the team's most valuable pitcher. Lafferty continued his strong performances over the summer when he pitched well enough to start the Northwoods League All-Star Game for the North team.
Another experienced arm for the Bruins is righthander Garett Claypool who was a Freshman All-American two years ago. A hardthrower, Claypool could be Savage's go to guy when he is need of a strikeout as his fastball and sinker both are thrown hard with good downward tilt. Lefthander Matt Drummond is one of Savage's favorite long relievers as his easy motion puts little wear on his arm and allows him to throw a lot of pitches. He had a 5.17 ERA in 2008 despite often working in blowouts where he was expected to do no more than throw strikes without regard to their consequences. In close games, Drummond was more effective and held opponents to a batting average nearly 30 points below normal. Lefty Matt Grace and righty Dan Klein provide Savage two outstanding athletes on the mount who have been in pressure situations despite only being sophomore. Grace made 17 appearances last year, including three starts and had a 3.55 ERA as a freshman. Klein was one of Savage's favorite arms out of the bullpen until a shoulder injury ended his season. The former highly recruited quarterback is now fully healthy and should be able to provide valuable innings for the Bruins. In addition to Cole, the Bruins have another righthanded freshman to keep an eye on in Trevor Bauer. Bauer is one of the more talented arms in the country and was projected to be a high draft pick in June, but he chose to graduate from high school a year early and join the Bruins for 2009. He possesses a lively fastball and very good change up. He also is a very gritty pitcher who battles on every pitch. His makeup is so outstanding that Savage is considering throwing him into the closer's role despite only being a freshman. Whether he ends up in the closer's role or not, Bauer will provide a very good arm out of the bullpen.
I only touched on 11 of the Bruin pitchers, but the remaining six could all see innings this year. A guy like redshirt freshman Erik Goeddel who has a great arm, but is recovering injury will be a factor this year. Someone like transfer Tim Schlatter could become a valuable piece thanks to his experience and good offspeed pitches. The pitching staff goes so deep that the bottom five guys could all be shutdown guys on a number of teams in the country. Guys like Brooks and Brewer need to step into new roles and perform, but the talent and experience, combined with Savage's pitching expertise gives one a lot of hope they will excel in their respective roles. If the offense can score enough runs, the Bruins should win a lot of games because I don't expect this pitching staff to allow many runs.