Jan. 8, 2003
The 2003 Bruins will use a highly rated recruiting class, the experience of six seniors and one of the country's top sophomores to improve upon a 26-35 record from 2002.
UCLA boasts one of the top recruiting classes in the nation this season ranked fifth by Baseball America and seventh by Collegiate Baseball. Among the 11 newcomers are the 2002 Division I CIF Player of the Year, a three-time league MVP, a fifth-round draft pick, an ABCA All-American, a valedictorian, two players of the year and three CIF titles.
A signature of Head Coach Gary Adams' program, the Bruins will play one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. UCLA will face two of the eight participants in the 2002 College World Series, Pac-10 foe Stanford and the 2002 NCAA Champion Texas Longhorns. Along with the CWS teams, UCLA will face seven other squads that appeared in the 2002 post season.
Of the 59 games the Bruins will play this season, 28 will be held at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Prior to the start of Pac-10 play, UCLA will play host to Cal State Northridge, North Carolina State, Pacific, Wichita State, UC Riverside and cross-town rival USC in a non-conference series. The Bruins will host league series against California, Arizona, Washington and Oregon State along with mid-week non-conference games against Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, and Loyola Marymount.
The Bruins will travel to Hawaii for an early season series before a pair of tournaments. First, UCLA will travel to Texas A&M to face Utah, Creighton and the host Aggies before the Kia Baseball Bash, held at Cal State Fullerton, where they will play Tulane, Texas and the host Titans. During Pac-10 play, UCLA will take to the road for series at Stanford, Arizona State, Washington State and USC.
BREAKDOWN BY POSITION
The catcher's position in 2003 can be summed in one word, youth. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Abney and Chris Denove will be taking over after the loss of two seniors. Yet, head coach Gary Adams is more than confident that his gifted receivers are up to the task.
"We have the foundation for leadership at the catching position," said Adams. "They are all young and inexperienced in college, but they are talented. I would rather have talent than experience."
Abney, the 2001 Oregon Player of the Year, is one of the two leading candidates for the spot behind the dish. Abney possesses a strong and accurate arm and a quiet leadership in the clubhouse.
"Jeff has got a big league arm that could throw in the majors today," said Adams.
Fellow freshman Denove also factors into the mix behind the plate. Denove is vocal and one of the leaders on and off the field. Leading the team in home runs during fall camp, he brings power to the plate.
"Chris' bat has really improved for us," said Assistant Coach Vince Beringhele. "He is a physical player who one day can bat in the middle of our line-up."
One of the brightest spots of the fall camp came with the return of Aaron Markel, who had been released from the team before last season. Markel could see some playing time behind Abney and Denove.
"Aaron was one of the most improved players I have ever seen from one season to the next," said Adams. "I wouldn't hesitate to put him out there to catch."
First base provides Adams with a wealth of options with preseason All-American Wes Whisler and pitching ace Casey Janssen once again splitting time at first in between pitching. Freshman Hector Ambriz may see time at first, but will also be on the mound.
"We have three talented pitchers and three talented first basemen," Adams commented. "It's a good problem for a coach to have."
The 2002 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Whisler returns to the line-up after breaking the Bruin freshman home run record with 18 last season. One of the Bruins' biggest offensive weapons, Whisler will also look to improve upon his defense after showing much progress during the fall.
Janssen, who is in the running for the opening day start on the mound, will also return to first base after missing the second half of last season with an injury. Before the injury, Janssen was one of the Bruins' strongest two-way players with three home runs and 16 RBI, while posting a 4-2 record on the mound with 47 strikeouts in 44.1 innings of work. A highly touted freshman, Ambriz has strong defensive credentials at first.
"Hector has good hands and is very strong at picking balls in the dirt," commented Adams.
Griffin's return to second has been a natural progression and seems to be a help to him as a hitter as well. Griffin will look to improve upon his .197 average from last season and add to the Bruin arsenal.
"Preston is more natural at second base," said Adams. "He should relax more, which will help him at the plate."
Conlin is a skilled utility player who can play second, shortstop, third and behind the plate. He is also a consistent contact hitter, who could add more doubles into the line-up this season.
"Kevin is adept at making the double play," stated Adams.
One of the Bruin captains this season, Trott is also in the hunt to spend some time at second base. His strengths can be seen in the clubhouse where he brings a great deal of experience and leadership. He is also a skilled infielder with good hands and improved hitting.
UCLA will return Ryan McCarthy, who started 43 games, including the last 32 contests, at shortstop in 2002. McCarthy is a quality defensive player with good hands and a strong arm. He is quite mobile and has solid range.
"Ryan can play shortstop at this level and at the next level," said Adams.
Providing depth are Griffin and Conlin who can both move into the shortstop role if called upon. Freshman Jarrad Page will also compete for the starting job. A fifth-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers, Page will bring a great deal to the team.
"Jarrad has all of the tools; speed and power," said Adams. "He is a complete baseball player."
Powerful hitters Brandon Averill and freshman Brett McMillan are both in the hunt to start at third base. With defensive improvement, the pair can be one of the most potent tandems in the Pac-10.
Averill, who started 39 games at the hot corner last season, was one of the Bruins' best hitters in 2002, hitting .310 with six home runs.
"Brandon has steadily progressed on the defensive end of third base," said Adams. "He has a very accurate and strong arm."
McMillan, who was an ABCA third-team All-American in high school, is also talented at the plate. Although he is still working to improve his defensive abilities, the Bruins look for great things from him.
"Brett is going to be a great UCLA hitter someday," commented Adams. "He is a hard worker and has really improved at third. He gets a little better every day."
As with most positions this season, the outfield is full of possibilities and battles for starting jobs.
"It is loaded out there," said Adams. "We could play a different contingent all of the time. There are seven or eight guys who could start."
Sophomore Billy Susdorf boasts one of the team's best bats and could spend time in the outfield. He has shown great improvement in fall camp, picking up speed and working on his throwing, after seeing time in left field last season.
"Billy is one of the more dangerous hitters in our line-up," said Adams. "It would be great for our offense if he could pick up on the defensive side of the game."
The leading candidate to start in center field in 2002, an injury kept Chad Concolino out of the line-up last season. However, Concolino picked up where he left off and looks to be back in the mix after fully recovering. His highly energetic approach to the game is something the coaching staff looks forward to adding to the outfield.
"Chad could add a lot of spark to our line-up," said Adams.
Sophomore Matt Thayer put together an excellent fall campaign to move himself into the battle for a starting job in the outfield. One of the Bruins' best base runners with nine stolen bases last season; Thayer saw significant time in each of the outfield positions in 2002.
"He really showed he was ready to have a good year in the fall," said Adams. "He could find himself in a starting role."
Sophomore Chris Jensen made the move from the infield to the outfield in the fall camp and could also factor into the line-up. Jensen, a consistent contact hitter, has added more power to his bat in the offseason. His defense has been progressing after making the transition.
"He is really working hard to be a strong left fielder," commented Adams.
Senior Christian Lewis will also be in the mix in the outfield with the ability to play all of the positions.
"Christian has been a role player for us and I could see him starting this year," said Adams.
The competition for the outfield jobs also include a wealth of newcomers with redshirt freshman Kyle Mowery and three true freshman looking to break into the line-up. Mowery is one of the Bruins' strongest hitters with a great deal of power and home run hitting ability.
"Kyle is a very good team and mental player," said Adams.
Freshmen Adam Simon, Sean Carpenter, Will Penniall and Josh Roenicke are each working for the chance to start for UCLA. Simon, who will also pitch, brings outstanding speed and great jumps on the ball to the battle in the outfield. The 2002 Division IV CIF Player of the Year, Simon will add another threat on the bases for the Bruins, who lost two players who stole 20 bases last season.
"Adam is extremely fast with good instincts on the bases," said Adams.
Carpenter has moved from the infield to the outfield and hopes to bring his outstanding knowledge of the "little game" to the Bruin arsenal. Penniall, another speedy, hard-working player, can hit consistently from both sides of the plate. Roenicke, who is also a member of the UCLA football team, boasts an all-around athleticism that will greatly benefit the team.
UCLA will return the bulk of its pitching staff, losing only three pitchers from last season's roster. Those losses only amount to 41.1 innings of work and four starts from 2002. With 13 returning pitchers, UCLA also brings in five freshman hurlers who had great success in high school.
"Everyone is going to play a big role in our success," said Adams. "There is little difference between the top and the bottom. There isn't a pitcher on the staff that should think he does not have the chance to play at this time."
Junior Casey Janssen, who will also see time at first base, is the leading candidate for the opening day start. He got off to a strong start in 2002, notching four wins in his first five starts. Janssen had put together a team-best 4.06 ERA before a knee injury in April prevented him from playing for the remainder of the season. After surgery, Janssen has seemed to improve with higher velocity and a harder slider.
"Casey had a lights out fall coming off of knee surgery, " Pitching Coach Gary Adcock said. "He competes as well as anybody and will pitch on the weekend."
Left-handed senior Mike Kunes is Janssen's strongest competition for the opening day start. A co-captain, Kunes brings a competitive nature and well-located fast ball to the mound. He was last season's leader in appearances and starts with 27 and 13, respectively. Kunes also led the squad with 71 strikeouts and a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio that was almost a full point above the closest Bruin pitcher.
"Mike has been one of our best pitchers on the mound," said Adcock. "He could start easily or help us in the bullpen, but either way he can pitch every day.
Wes Whisler will provide another left-handed weapon in the Bruin attack. Tied with Janssen for a team-best ERA at 4.06, Whisler had the most successful Pac-10 season among the Bruin hurlers with a 4-1 record and a 3.62 ERA. His six-foot-four inch frame and tremendous confidence makes for an intimidating presence on the mound.
"Wes has the best stuff on the team," Adcock commented.
Junior Chris Cordeiro, last season's opening day starter, also factors into the starting mix. The right-hander, who was named one of the top pitching prospects in the Great Lakes Summer League, had 11 starts last season, posting a 5.00 ERA which ranked fifth on the team. Cordeiro's versatility allows him to take on a variety of roles from starter to a go-to guy in the bullpen.
"Chris is very competitive and one of the leaders on our pitching staff," said Adcock.
A spot starter last season, sophomore David Johnson brings a wealth of talent and potential to the starting hunt. With four starts last season, Johnson had many ups and downs to finish at 2-2. However, he brings a potent off-speed pitch to the staff and all of the tools for a great deal of success.
"Dave is knocking on the door to be a starter," commented Adcock.
Sophomore right-hander Kyle Wilson has also impressed the coaches in the fall camp with the team's best fastball. He consistently throws 90 miles per hour with a powerful curve ball.
"Kyle has gotten nothing but better since he got here," praised Adcock. "He is a hard-working, very positive young man who should pitch a ton for us.
Adding to the battle for the starting jobs are freshmen Adam Simon and Hector Ambriz. Simon, who was 13-0 in his senior season at Bishop Amat High School, will also spend time in the outfield. He throws a sinking fastball and sweeping breaking ball.
"We think Adam is going to factor heavily into our success this year by pitching a ton of innings," Adcock said.
Another two-way player that may see time at first base, Ambriz is also a versatile pitcher who can take on a variety of roles on the staff. With his strength being his breaking ball, Ambriz could become an everyday pitcher for the Bruins.
"If he doesn't win a starting job, I could see him leading us in appearances," Adcock noted.
UCLA returns most of its relief core, which is led by senior Doug Silva. Silva boasted the lowest ERA among Bruin relievers in 2002 at 4.15. He was also second on the staff with 22 appearances. He has a fastball, slider, and change-up repertoire, which could be used in short or middle relief. Silva may also see time as the Bruins' closer.
"Doug is really competitive and baseball smart," stated Adcock.
Fellow senior Kevin Jerkens looks to return to the success of his sophomore year after a 2-2 record and 7.58 ERA in 2002. The right-hander worked hard throughout the fall camp and looks to be one of the Bruins primary relievers. One of the most experienced pitchers on the staff, Jerkens commands respect every time he takes the mound.
Other key returners in the bullpen are Mike Castillo, Bryan Beck and Daniel Reid. Castillo is also hoping to return to 2001 form. He will use his fastball, split-finger, and slider repertoire in long to middle relief.
Beck, who ended 2002 with his best performances, has continued to build upon it with excellent summer and fall campaigns. He could possibly move into a starting role later in the season with early success.
"Bryan has our best sinking fast ball and a good change-up and curve ball," said Adcock.
Reid will continue to work in lefty-on-lefty situations as he did in 2002. His command of the plate has improved in the offseason and looks to use it in increased playing time.
"Dan is a great team guy and one of the leaders on the pitching staff," said Adcock.