If you were following along with my running commentary thread, you got a taste of what Easton's SoCal College Baseball Media Day was like. There was coaches cooking, which was amusing at first, then grew a little tiresome by the end, but it was fun nonetheless. The event provided the media members in attendance to chat with a dozen local coaches and really get ramped up for the season, which starts in just 28 days.
I had the chance to talk with UCLA head coach John Savage for a bit and he shed some light on a variety of subjects, but first answered some questions about a few position battles that have played themselves out and continue to play themselves out since the end of last season.
"We've yet to settle on a guy [to start on Sundays]," Savage said. "We really like Rob Rasmussen and Garett Claypool. Both are still in the running for that spot." When asked about his approach in midweek games, Savage emphasized the importance of them. "We won't go young trying to develop a guy on Tuesdays. Midweek games are as important as weekend games, especially with the RPI, so we're going to throw our best guy. That will be whoever doesn't get the Sunday spot."
Hearing that the Sunday guy will be either Rasmussen or Claypool isn't much of a surprise. While I get the feeling that the job will go to Rasmussen, making the guys fight for the job can't be a bad thing. The big question for the Bruins' pitching staff will be how they get from their starting pitcher to their closer, who Savage confirmed will be Dan Klein.
"We did have problems out of the 'pen last year. I really like our pitching depth this year with Erik Goeddel healthy, Matt Drummond healthy, Matt Grace, Scott Griggs and Mitchell Beacom. Really, we have a few guys who would probably start at most other schools." How exactly that group of guys plays out with regards to which role each fills appears to be as much of a mystery now as it was a few months ago and it will likely be left to play itself out in the early portion of the season.
Back in the fall, there were a few questions as to who would fill holes at second base and third base, while the battle behind the plate heated up. At this point, no one has grabbed a hold of those jobs.
At second base, "Tyler Rahmatulla has hit the ball very well and we know what we have in Blair Dunlap," Savage said. "Both of those guys will be in there every day, but we're not sure exactly at what position." One of those two will likely be at second base, while the other can DH, Rahmatulla can play across the infield and Dunlap can play in the outfield.
Third base appears to be a battle between transfer Dean Espy and freshman Cody Regis. "Regis can come in and really developed faster than we thought," Savage revealed." He's lefthanded and defends very well, while Espy has the bloodlines and is a tough player."
It's the returnee Steve Rodriguez and the freshman Trevor Brown behind the plate and while Savage did not say the two would platoon, it is the impression that I got.
"Rodriguez started 34 games last year and was very good defensively. He has really gotten stronger and made strides so we like him. Brown is a really special player with a lot of tools. He can be really special. "
One of the most exciting developments this offseason was the announcement of the Dodgertown Classic, a day of college baseball at Dodger Stadium featuring UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt and Oklahoma St. On February 28th, the Commodores and Cowboys will play at 10 am PST, followed by UCLA and USC at 2 pm PST. More exciting than that though is that the plans are to not just continue the Dodger Stadium contest, but to expand it in the future."I'm planning on doing this every year. I think this can be a really big thing and by 2011 we hope that it can be a two day event at Dodger Stadium, Saturday and Sunday." Savage also said that he expects big crowds and sees no reason for fans to not show up in droves. "We're hoping the college baseball community really supports this and the high school baseball community comes out. With good competition on the field, good weather, no more football games, $5 tickets and free parking, we should have 10,000 fans there. We hope Bruin fans really show up in force."
Coach Savage also intimated that in addition to expanding the Dodgertown Classic to two days, they're looking into TV coverage as well, with FS West possibly picking up the battle between the Bruins and Trojans.
Being able to play a weekend at Dodger Stadium every season would be a boon for recruiting and an amazing experience for the coaches, players, families and friends, not to mention what it would do to help grow the sport in the region. It is also great for a program with a poor facility that doesn't appear to be making any significant progress in that area.
Savage said that the foul territory behind home plate would be converted to field turf like is the case at Cal St. Fullerton and USC. That will be in place for the first game of the season on February 19th and the right field fence has been altered so there is some chain link on the top half, allowing people to watch the game from beyond the fence. The two focuses going forward though is the addition of seats above the dugout where there are currently grass hills and the building of a new clubhouse. The new seats has been a goal for several years now, but that won't be done for the 2010 season and the clubhouse doesn't even have a rough date for ground breaking.
There was some exciting news about the future though, specifically with regards to scheduling. In addition to the expansion of the Dodgertown Classic, the Bruins are set to play a few top national programs in future seasons. Georgia, Baylor and Minnesota are all on the slate for the future, while UCLA will play Nebraska in 2011, in addition to their series this season. The use of guarantees for series not against programs like Nebraska and Georgia will allow the Bruins to host teams at Jackie Robinson Stadium without having to return the trip and leaving them with a hellacious road schedule like in 2009.
We're 28 days from first pitch versus Southern on February 19th at Jackie Robinson Stadium and on February 6th, the Bruins will host their annual alumni game. A recent NCAA rule change will once again allow teams to play the alumni so that is on tap for this year's event. Check in for coverage of that, plus a College Baseball 101 piece this week and a five-part season preview beginning on February 8th. You can also follow along daily on my UCLA baseball twitter.