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UCLA Baseball Bruin Bites: Mid-Summer Iteration

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Catching up with UCLA Baseball.

Bruins in the Dugout
Bruins in the Dugout
© Steve Jacobs 2015

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s July, 2015, Bruins Baseball Bites! It has been almost two months since UCLA ended their season in unfortunate fashion against the Maryland Terrapins in the Los Angeles Regional. Here is a post-mortem on the season, a recap of some of the news since that time involving UCLA Baseball, including players who left the program and players who committed but will not be coming to the program, and a recap of Gerritt Cole’s performance in the MLB All-Star Game.

2015 Season Post-Mortem

No doubt about it, the Maryland loss(es) stung. It was a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a successful season. Although the Bruins were PAC-12 champs, they lost in the game that would have gotten them to the Super Regional (the final 16, so to speak). The Bruins were the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. Although it is arguable that such seeding maybe was not justified, the Bruins were no doubt one of the top 4 teams before the tournament.

As such, if we look at UCLA’s tournament performance as we would look at the NCAA basketball tournament, the Bruins were a #1 seed that got bounced in the second game, the game that would have gotten them to the "Sweet 16." In that round, the #1 seed is slotted against the #8 or #9 seed, so it was a big upset.

After the loss, some were critical of Head Coach John Savage and the program. Keeping with the basketball analogy, I want to compare my expectations for the baseball team to my expectations for the basketball team. A few months back, in a basketball thread following the Fanpost, "What is you NCAA minimum?", I made following statement with respect to the UCLA men’s basketball program: "Does that mean that I am satisfied with a Sweet Sixteen? No. That is my minimum expectation . . . I think a Final Four at least 2-3 times a decade (Elite Eight 4-6 times a decade) and a National Championship at least once a decade is a reasonable expectation. And . . . UCLA should be doing this within Coach’s definition of success."

Using similar measurements for baseball, I would equate making the postseason in baseball the "minimum expectation" of the UCLA baseball team year in and year out, with exceptions for fluctuations in talent. Yes, it is a bit lower than basketball because, although the UCLA program is in its golden years, it does not have the pedigree of UCLA basketball. I think going to a Super Regional 4-6 times a decade, going to Ohama 2-3 times a decade and winning a National Championship once a decade is a reasonable expectation for this program. As far as the season is concerned, the team would have met its minimum expectation if it was an average UCLA team. This team, however, was oozing with talent, which raised the minimum expectation this season to at least a Super Regional appearance and probably an appearance in Omaha.

As for the overall health of the program, Coach Savage has us right where we want to be with respect to expectations, as follows:

2010 Defeated in CWS (Runners Up to the National Champions)

2011 Defeated in Regional (Pac 10 Champs)

2012 Defeated in CWS (PAC 12 Champs)

2013 National Champions

2014 Missed the postseason

2015 Defeated in Regional (PAC 12 Champs)

So, in the past 6 years, UCLA was won a National Championship, gone to the Super Regional 3 times, and gone to Omaha 3 times. Going to a Super Regional one to three times in the next four years would mean that the program has met my expectations under Coach Savage, especially since there can be no argument that he has achieved these milestones within Coach's definition of success.

I would posit that any call for criticism against Coach Savage simply because of the disappointing L.A. Regional is ridiculous in light of his success at the helm of UCLA baseball. Hey, even Mike Krzyzewski lost in the round of 64 in two of the three years before this season’s National Championship.

2015 Bruins in Major League Baseball

UCLA’s ace in the 2015 season, James Kaprielian, was selected in the first round, number 16 overall, by the New York Yankees. On July 15, 2015, two days before the signing deadline, the Yankees inked Kap to a $2.65 million deal, pending successful completion of a physical. Kaprielian is expected to move relatively quickly through the Yankee’s system, which is starved for pitching, and they hope Kap can get some work before the end of the summer in lower echelons of their organization.  Congratulations, James!

In other draft news, UCLA shortstop Kevin Kramer was selected in the 2nd round of the MLB draft, by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitcher, Cody Poteet, was selected in the fourth round by the Miami Marlins. UCLA’s legendary closer, David Berg, was selected in the 6th round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs. Hot-hotting Ty Moore was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 12th round. Grant Watson was selected in the 16th round by the San Francisco Giants. Third baseman, Chris Keck, was selected in the 18th round by the Colorado Rockies. There is no news regarding the potential signings of Kramer, Poteet, Berg, Moore, Watson, or Keck at this time.

Tucker Forbes was selected in the 30th round by the Giants, but has announced that he is returning to school at UCLA. According to the Monterey Herald, Forbes had interest from 2 teams in the second round, but advised those teams that he would remain a Bruin.

The Could-Have-Been Bruins

The MLB Draft was not especially kind to UCLA. The Bruins lost several top commits for the 2016 season due to these players signing with MLB teams. High school phenom pitcher, Kolby Allard, decided to forgo a collegiate career and signed with the Atlanta Braves. This was not unexpected, as Allard was the number 14 pick overall in the draft, and signed for $3.042 million. Likewise, third baseman, Tyler Nevin, elected to sign with the Colorado Rockies rather than play collegiate baseball at UCLA. Nevin, the son of former MLB first baseman, Phil Nevin, signed for $2 million. The Rockies also signed UCLA commit, right-handed pitcher Peter Lambert. Both Nevin and Lambert were second round picks. Another second round pick, catcher Lucas Herbert, signed with the Atlanta Braves for $1.125 million.

These types of losses come with the territory. UCLA has established itself as one of the top college baseball programs under Coach Savage. The Bruins are going to sign top talent . . . and a lot of that top talent is simply going to decide to forego school to play pro ball.

On the positive side, Justin Hooper, a 6’7" left handed fireballer who could have been a 1st round pick, announced before the draft that he would honor his commitment to UCLA. He was still drafted in the 25th round. Right-handed pitcher, Kyle Molnar, was also selected in the 25th round, which is a good sign for Bruin fans that he will opt to go to UCLA. Catcher, Michael Benson, was picked in the 34th round, which would lead one to believe that he also will decide to play baseball for the Bruins.

Former UCLA Pitcher, Gerrit Cole, Shines in MLB All-Star Game

During last week’s Major League Baseball All-Star game, former UCLA pitcher and Bruin-for-life, Gerrit Cole, threw a hitless, scoreless inning. Cole retired the side in the third inning on a fly out, a strike out of the L.A. Angels’ all-everything outfielder, Mike Trout (who led off the game with a home run in his previous at-bat), and a fly out to end the inning. Check out Cole’s nasty payoff pitch against Trout:

Wow! Look at the movement on that pitch, which made Trout, a fantastic hitter, look bad. Play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck called the pitch "filthy" and color commentator, Harold Reynolds, explained to fans not-in-the-know that Gerrit Cole IS the Pirates’ ace.

On May 1st, we noted that Cole’s early season success made him a contender for selection to the All-Star game, and he continued to pitch well through May, June, and early July, earning a well-deserved spot on the National League team. It was Cole’s first selection as an All-Star.

Going into the All-Star game, Cole was leading the National League in wins, with a 13-3 record, a 2.30 ERA, and 116 strikeouts. He has helped lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to the third-best record in Major League Baseball, although they are only second in their division behind the team with the best record in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Congratulations Gerrit, and keep up the good work!!

Another Bruin, Brandon Crawford, also made his All-Star debut, and in his sole at-bat hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a run. Good job, Brandon!

That’s it for your UCLA Baseball Bruin bites! After the end of summer league ball, we will give you an update on how some of UCLA’s returning players fared in their respective summer leagues. Preview: Eric Filia is tearing it up in the Northwoods League.Go Eric!

Go Bruins!