Jan. 27, 2004
After 29 years at the helm of the UCLA Baseball program, Bruin Head Coach Gary Adams will depart from Westwood following the 2004 season. This year's team will look to send Coach Adams out on a high note as the Bruins aim for a postseason berth for the first time since 2000.
With nine position starters and two of last years' weekend pitching starters returning, the season looks bright for the Bruins. UCLA will also add two Division I transfers, a 2003 Junior College All-American and two CIF Players of the Year to its already potent arsenal.
A classic combination of small ball execution and big ball power will drive the Bruin offense in the new year. Five different Bruins who hit over .300 in 2003 will return to the lineup, while a new crop of speedy players will bring an added dimension to the UCLA game plan.
On the mound, the Bruins boast an extremely deep pitching staff as 10 letterwinners from 2003 will return to Westwood. Along with the returners, two of San Diego's top high school arms will join the staff in 2004.
A signature of Adams' program, the Bruins will once again play one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. Eight Bruin opponents are ranked in Baseball America's preseason poll, while 11 appear in Collegiate Baseball's rankings. Among these foes are 2003 College World Series Participants Stanford and Cal State Fullerton, which both rank in the top 10 of each poll.
Of the 60 games the Bruins will play this season, 32 will be held at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Prior to the start of Pac-10 play, UCLA will play host to UC Riverside, Fresno State, Pacific, Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara, Texas A&M and Loyola Marymount. The Bruins will host league series against Stanford, Arizona State, crosstown rival USC and Washington State along with mid-week non-conference games against Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, and UC Irvine.
The Bruins will travel to the Big Island of Hawaii for an early season four-game series against Hawaii-Hilo. Following the trip across the Pacific, UCLA will head to PETCO Park in San Diego for a weekend tournament in the newly finished major league stadium. The Bruins will meet Long Beach State, Nebraska and Houston while at the tournament. After travelling to USC for a non-conference series, UCLA will travel to Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon State for Pac-10 series, as well as to Wichita State for a pair of games against the Shockers.
BREAKDOWN BY POSITION
Redshirt sophomore Chris Denove will return to the Bruin lineup after missing the last 20 games of the season due to a broken collarbone. After hitting .319 and making 37 starts behind the plate last season, the Agoura native will call the pitches for the Bruin staff in 2004.
"Chris is one of this team's leaders, which is what you want your catcher to be," said Coach Adams. "He is intelligent and tough and should drive in a lot of runs for us."
Despite his offensive success in 2003, assistant coach Vince Beringhele sees that Denove has made improvements in the offseason.
"Denove has worked very hard on driving the ball more often," said Beringhele. "By doing that better, he should be a much more consistent hitter this year."
Sophomore Aaron Markel brings a much improved game to the catcher spot, both offensively and defensively.
"Aaron is one of the most improved players over the course of one year that I have ever seen," said Adams. "He has developed into a top flight catcher with a quick release and strong arm."
Converted outfielder Matt Sharp has added depth to the Bruin catching core after making the move to behind the plate.
Sharp, who appeared in 13 games in 2003, will give the Bruins a left-handed option behind the dish.
"Once Matt gets the tools of the trade, it will be great to have a left-handed hitting catcher," said Adams. "We all believe in Matt's ability."
Whisler, who was named to Baseball America's Preseason All-America Second Team prior to the 2004 season, boasts strong credentials at the plate and in the field. Errorless in Pac-10 play last season, the Noblesville, Indiana native is also one of the top Bruin threats at the plate.
"Wes can intimidate pitchers as a guy who can drive the ball out of the park," said Adams. "He is capable of hitting it out of any park in America."
McMillan was honored by Collegiate Baseball with a spot on its Freshman All-America Team in 2003. He brings steady offensive numbers with him to the plate.
"Brett was a solid hitter a year ago," said Beringhele. "He wants to put up more power numbers and will drive himself to do so."
After starting 58 of UCLA's 59 games at second base last season, senior Preston Griffin will return to the middle infield for UCLA in 2004.
Named the teams' Best Defensive Player following the 2003 campaign, Griffin is one of the best fielders on the roster. He is also a powerful threat at the plate, after belting eight homers last season.
"Preston is very steady defensively," said Adams. "He not only makes average and routine plays consistently, but he makes outstanding plays too."
Loyola Marymount transfer Sean Smith may also see time at second base after earning West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2002.
"Sean has nice, quick hands to turn the double play," said Adams. "He has good range at second."
"I have a high opinion of them both," said Adams.
Last year's starter McCarthy will return to the Bruin lineup after starting 53 games at shortstop in 2003. A skilled infielder and a dangerous hitter, McCarthy provides a perfect combination for Adams.
"Ryan is blessed with tremendous hands," praised Adams. "His hands are as sure as anyone I have ever coached in my 30 years at UCLA. He is a very talented athlete."
A senior transfer from New Mexico, Svetlic is a hard worker and small ball specialist who brings a team-oriented approach to his game.
"Mike is a tremendous young man who would do anything to help the team," said Beringhele. "He works extremely hard at everything he does."
Senior co-captain Brandon Averill will return to action at the hot corner for the Bruins in 2004 after an outstanding season in 2003.
The Orange native hit .329 last season with 10 home runs that tied for tops on the team. He also became the third Bruin in history to hit for the cycle when he accomplished the feat on May 25, 2003.
"Brandon has made great improvement over the summer and through the fall," stated Beringhele. "He is going to be a tough out at the plate. He is putting the ball in play more and hitting with more authority."
Conlin could also see time at third base. A gifted utility player, he is capable of action all over the infield.
"Kevin has excellent hands and a quick release," said Adams. "He has good actions on the baseball field."
Svetlic, along with redshirt freshman Jarrad Page will also provide support to Averill.
The 2004 Bruin outfield is full of possibilities and loaded with talent as two full-time starters and a senior co-captain will lead the way for UCLA.
"This outfield is three times better than we were last year and that really excites me," said Beringhele. "Each guy has gotten better in the offseason. We are getting to the ball quicker and getting rid of it quicker. We will keep singles to one base and cutoff balls from going into the gap."
After injuries have kept him off the field for two consecutive seasons, senior co-captain Chad Concolino should lead the outfield in the new season.
"Chad should be one of our catalysts," said Beringhele. "He is a tremendous competitor and competes in the box as well as anybody."
Junior Billy Susdorf returns to the lineup after having one of the best offensive seasons on the squad in 2003. The Newhall native hit .310 with 10 home runs and 12 doubles last year. After highly productive summer and fall campaigns, he looks to be a top candidate to start in the outfield.
"Billy worked very hard to improve his defense in the offseason," said Adams. "He will be hitting in the heart of our order and playing in either right or left field."
Another returning starter from 2003, Matt Thayer will add another speedy pair of legs in the outfield. One of the Bruins' best base runners with nine stolen bases last season; Thayer also brings a steady approach to the plate.
"Matt was a tough out last season," said Adams. "He also made some over-the-fence catches. He can run and hit for average, with some pretty good pop."
Sophomore Sean Carpenter is another of the Bruins' top base runners and top candidates to see time in the outfield. After an all-star summer campaign in South Carolina, Carpenter will be in the mix.
"Sean is just a gamer," said Beringhele. "He made tremendous strides in the outfield and as a hitter."
Junior college All-American Anthony Norman will also add depth to the outfield picture for the Bruins. A solid hitter and skilled base runner, Norman led the Bruin batters in the fall campaign.
"Anthony plays the little game well," said Adams. "He has surprising pop though and can play any of the positions in the outfield."
Medici boasts the "best speed on the team" and will be looked to as a role hitter for the Bruins. Page has impressed the coaching staff in early practices with strong defensive play. Penniall, who redshirted the 2003 season, is also a little ball specialist who can bunt and run extremely well. Roenicke, also a member of the Bruin football team, saw playing time late in last season and brings an all-around athleticism to the outfield. Simon, who will concentrate mostly on pitching in 2004, has great instincts for the game, especially on the bases.
The majority of the 2003 Bruin pitching staff will return for the 2004 campaign as the Bruin lost only five hurlers from last season. Along with the returning players, UCLA brings in two prized freshmen from the San Diego area.
"We have a very deep staff this year," said UCLA pitching coach Tim Leary. "This is the most depth I have had in the five years I have coached here. The trick will be to find the top five or six pitchers to throw the majority of the innings."
Spearheading the Bruin staff will be senior right-hander Casey Janssen. After splitting his time in the field and on the mound in his first three seasons in Westwood, the Fountain Valley native will focus completely on pitching in 2004. Janssen, who led the team with 73 strike-outs a year ago, will be looked to provide leadership to a staff full of young arms.
"We are looking for Casey to be our leader amongst the pitchers this season," said Adams. "He is an outstanding athlete, but by concentrating entirely on his pitching, it will make him even better."
All Pac-10 selection Wes Whisler will be the Bruins' top left-handed threat after making a team-high 15 starts in 2003. His 5.66 ERA was the lowest among the weekend starters from last season despite throwing 82.2 innings, the most on the staff.
"We look for great things out of Wes," stated Adams. "We hope he can give us six, seven, eight, or nine innings every time he takes the mound."
Looking to earn a spot in the weekend rotation is sophomore right-hander Hector Ambriz. With some of the best young talent on the team, Ambriz was quite effective in his freshman campaign throwing 41 strike-outs in 45.2 innings of work. The Placentia native made 12 appearances in 2003, including five spot starts.
"Hector came back from the summer in the best shape of his life," said Adams. "It should really make an impact on his performance, both as a pitcher and as a hitter."
Right-hander Bryan Beck will bring his 6-6 frame to the mound for UCLA after being used primarily in relief work last season. His 4.50 ERA is the lowest among the returning Bruin hurlers.
"Bryan is a tough competitor, who consistently throws strikes," said Adams.
One of the most versatile pitchers on the staff, David Johnson will make an impact for UCLA in some capacity. After leading the team with 18 relief appearances a year ago, Johnson can take on a variety of roles in the new season.
"We expect to get good results from David every time he goes out, no matter what his role," said Adams.
Junior right-hander Kyle Wilson has impressed the coaching staff in the fall workouts after posting a strong summer in Alaska. Wilson is one of the leading candidates to anchor the relief corps as the Bruins premier closer in 2004.
"Kyle's two years of experience is really going to help him have a great season," said Adams. "With the pitches he has added to his repertoire, Kyle will give batters a lot more to think about."
A trio of sophomore right-handers in Adam Simon, Daniel Miltenberger, and Scott Botterman will provide depth to the Bruin staff after seeing limited time in their freshman campaigns. Simon will put a stronger emphasis on pitching this year, after splitting time on the mound and in the outfield.
"Adam is a competitor," said Adams. "He is really a tremendous athlete."
Miltenberger has improved in the offseason after spending his summer in the Northwoods League. After throwing seven innings in 2003, he looks to become a bigger factor in 2004.
"We are expecting Daniel to get it done this year," said Adams. "He is blessed with a great arm and will get positive results with the work he has put in during the offseason." Botterman had a highly productive summer after playing for the Solano Thunderbirds. "Scott came back from the summer as a much better pitcher," said Adams.
"Dan has dropped down to the side," said Leary. "He could be used as a left-handed specialist to get the tougher left-handed batters."
White had a productive summer in the Coastal Plains League and boasts the team's best left-handed breaking ball.
"Garett has kept improving in the offseason," said Adams. "He is showing a lot of promise."
A pair of talented freshmen in Brant Rustich and Brian Schroeder will add young arms to the Bruin arsenal. Rustich, a 6-6 right-hander and Schroeder, a 6-2 left-hander both look to make contributions to the team immediately.
"Both Brant and Brian will make an impact in 2004," said Adams. "They are both extremely talented and will help our club."
Walk-on freshman Kevin Brophy may also see time on the mound for the Bruins, as he brings a strong sinking fast ball to the table.