UCLA's national title defense is in serious trouble before it even got going as injuries to Eric Filia, Kevin Kramer and Kevin Williams may torpedo their chances to repeat. Filia will miss the entire season with a torn labrum, while a shoulder injury will limit Kramer to the DH spot and Williams will be out for at least the first month of the season.
The trio of Filia, Kramer and Williams were expected to make up the heart of the UCLA order. Not only that, but the two juniors and senior were also going to be counted on as team leaders, which they still can do, but it's tougher to do when, at best, only one of them will play in the field.
Filia, in particular, was being counted on to have a huge season. He was the Bruins' best hitter in the postseason last year and was considered by most, including MLB scouts, to have the most upside of any UCLA hitters. He's also a plus defender in right field, something that the Bruins rely on with a pitching staff that induces fly balls.
Kramer has been one of the Bruins' best all-around players since stepping on campus two years ago. He spent the majority of his freshman and sophomore seasons at third base, where he was a great defender, but was expected to slide over to shortstop this year. That won't be the case anymore and while he is a great gap hitter, there is some concern about how much his shoulder injury will impact him at the plate and there is a possibility that the Bruins will shut him down for the season.
UCLA will also be without Kramer's partner up the middle in Williams until at least mid-March. After a shoulder injury pushed Williams to DH for most of last year, he was expected to return to second base this year and provide a good top of the order bat, having hit over .300 two years ago.
With Filia out, UCLA may move Ty Moore into an outfield spot, although freshman Brett Stephens will push for playing time too. The problem is that a corner outfield of Moore and Chrisoph Bono is only okay, even with the speedy Brian Carroll in center. Moore moving into the field would open up the DH spot for Kramer, but filling the shortstop spot will be tough, especially after the Bruins' freshman class was cut in half by the draft. Trent Chatterton figure to get the majority of the run at second base in place of Williams, which should go just fine considering he got 25 starts at the position last year.
UCLA was already thin in the infield and this just exacerbates the problem. They also had questions on offense and now they will be without their best hitter, have their second best hitter limited and their third best hitter will miss the start of the season. If the Bruins are going to muster much offensively, Shane Zeile, Pat Gallagher, Chris Keck and Bono are going to need to have big years, while the entire team will have to excel at manufacturing runs, as was the case a year ago.
The Bruins' season isn't done, but things are going to be even tougher than they could have imagined now.