The biggest uncertainty around UCLA Baseball at present is what will happen with Brady Aiken and Jason Nix in the next two months. Both of these UCLA commits were drafted in the first five rounds by the Astros, with Aiken going first overall. And both wound up being unsigned, as the Astros got skittish after detecting a potential (and only potential) anomaly in Aiken as a result of a post-draft physical. And when they couldn't sign Aiken, that took away a cushion which they had planned to use to sign Nix. Net result- two commits who were considered to be history as far as UCLA was concerned suddenly weren't turning pro. But given their high draft status, one or both could go to community college instead of UCLA, thereby preserving their ability to enter next year's draft. We will know more when classes start. Hopefully, they will follow Gerrit Cole's path, and come to UCLA to improve their skills under Coach John Savage. If one or both come to UCLA, the NCAA will presumably also enter the mix, to decide if they want to tinker/ blow up their eligibility, given the advanced stage of negotiations before the Astros demonstrated again how not to run a front office.
But we need to put this all in context. As we posted previously, the Bruins were listed as early favorites for Omaha 2015 by Baseball America. And that was assuming the absence of Aiken and Nix, and was also assuming that David Berg might not return. Now that Berg, the all-time record holding closer, is returning for his senior season, the Bruins are all that much stronger. Aiken and/or Nix would be icing on the cake, but we still have the cake, regardless.
And the reason for all the optimism centers around the returning players and the rest of the incoming freshmen. As part of that group of Bruins, 15 returning players and eight members of the incoming class are playing summer ball.
Heading the list is junior pitcher James Kaprielian. Kaprielian, UCLA's Friday night ace, was a starting pitcher for Team USA, a collegiate all-star team which played on the East Coast, before traveling to a Dutch tournament and finishing up in Cuba. Here is an in-depth look at one of Kaprielian's dominant starts from Baseball America.
Next up are four Bruins who competed in the Cape Cod League. Junior outfielder Ty Moore, who led UCLA in runs scored and was second on the team in batting average and RBI's in 2014, lit up the league for the Chatham Anglers. Moore led the team's regulars with a .323 average and 25 runs scored, and appeared in the Cape Cod League all-star game.
Junior pitcher Cody Poteet, who was UCLA's Sunday starter in 2014, has been an integral part of the starting rotation for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. In seven starts, Poteet is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA. He has 43 strikeouts vs. only 11 walks in 40.1 innings. Hopefully, this success will carry over into the 2015 season.
Redshirt junior catcher Justin Hazard saw limited duty for the Brewster Whitecaps. But in this limited duty, he hit .308. After hitting .344 in 14 starts for the 2014 Bruins, Hazard is continuing to demonstrate that the catching position should be in good hands next season.
Sophomore outfielder Brett Stephens played for the Orleans Firebirds. He struggled at the plate, as he did for the 2014 Bruins, but hopefully, the experience of top-flight summer ball will be a launching pad for next season.
Five Bruins are playing in the Northwoods League. Junior infielder Trent Chatterton has been a steady performer for the Duluth Huskies, with a .271 average in 41 games. This follows on his .291 average for the 2014 Bruins as a sophomore. Sophomore Luke Persico has been starting in the outfield for the LaCrosse Loggers, after starting in the infield for the Bruins last season.
Redshirt sophomore reliever Chase Radan, who only appeared in one game for the Bruins in 2014, has been solid for the Lakeshore Chinooks. He has thrown 21.2 innings in 11 appearances, with a 2.90 ERA and 19 K's vs. 6 walks. He could be an integral part of the 2015 UCLA pen, helping to set up David Berg. Sophomore reliever Scott Burke has been pitching for the LaCrosse Loggers, while junior infielder Brett Urabe has been playing for the Duluth Huskies.
Ten Bruins are playing in the West Coast Collegiate League, and three more are playing in the California Collegiate League. Heading the West Coast League contingent is incoming freshman Sean Bouchard. Bouchard had been projected to have good draft potential by Baseball America, but UCLA dodged a bullet. And Bouchard has been solid in the summer before he comes to Westwood, as he was selected for the league all-star game. He has cooled off recently after a flying start, but he is still hitting .273.
Sophomore reliever Moises Ceja, who only appeared in two games last season for the Bruins, has been solid for the Bellingham Bells. In 16 appearances, he has a 3.17 ERA and two saves. Ceja will presumably see plenty of action in a set up role for David Berg next season.
Incoming freshman pitcher Griffin Canning is serving notice that he can be a valuable part of the mix for the 2015 Bruins as well. In five appearances (four starts), he has compiled a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 innings, with 27 K's and only three walks, for the Wenatchee AppleSox.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Nick Kern, who was second on the 2014 Bruins in terms of appearances, has been lights out for the Yakima Valley Pippens. He leads the team in saves, and has recorded 26 strikeouts vs. only four walks in 12.2 innings pitched. Incoming freshman pitcher Matt Trask has also had a productive summer for Yakima Valley, appearing in 10 games in relief.
Finally, members of the next recruiting class are also showcasing their talents in the Area Code Games in Long Beach. As we know from recent drafts, being a commit to UCLA does not necessarily mean that a player will be wearing the UCLA uniform at Jackie Robinson Stadium. It all depends on the draft, and the signing process, which as we have seen with Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix can become very convoluted.
But the first step for the pipeline is to get commitments. And Coach John Savage continues to excel. UCLA commit Justin Hooper was in the spotlight on day one. Here are some of the insights from Baseball America-
Hooper, who entered in relief after a three-inning stint to start the game by righthander Joe DeMers, did not throw a fastball below 92 in his first inning, sitting 92-94 while touching 96. His velocity largely sat in the 90-93 range the rest of the way. Hooper offered a two-seam fastball with greater sink at 88-91 in his second and third frames.
"It looks like the ball is coming out of his arm pit and just jumps at hitters," a National Crosschecker said."Lefthanded hitters had no chance against him."
Let's hope that Justin becomes a Bruin.
With football camp in full swing, and the start of the soccer seasons and other non-revenue fall sports fast approaching, there is plenty for UCLA fans to follow. But in the wings, ready to absorb the post-football lull while a team of Alfords prance around OPUG, is the baseball team. From the looks of summer ball, good times could be coming soon to UCLA Baseball.
Go Bruins !!