#42 UC Irvine Baseball 2016 Preview

UC Irvine Anteaters
Overall Rank: #42
Conference Rank: #2 Big West
UC Irvine Logo
For UC Irvine the 2015 season was a journey into unfamiliar waters as they missed the NCAA Tournament. A very experienced group of position players returns in 2016 for veteran head coach Mike Gillespie. This group of position players is going to have to carry the team in the early part of the season as the pitching staff will need to be retooled. But it's a program with a proud tradition that will be plenty motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
2015: 33-23, 15-9
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Mike Gillespie
Field Players:
Infielder/Outfielder Keston Hiura is back in 2016 and will be looking to build upon his outstanding freshman season. Hiura was the Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year in 2015 after hitting .330 with seven homeruns and 52 runs batted in. Infielder Mikey Duarte will compliment Hiura in the lineup. Duarte is an excellent hitter who led the Anteaters in batting average in 2015, hitting .345 while only striking out 20 times in 226 at bats. Andrew Martinez is going to be another power source in this lineup looking to improve upon his eight homeruns from last season despite hitting just .224.  
Elliot Surrey brings the back the most experience for the UC Irvine weekend rotation. Surrey was 6-6 with a 4.02 earned run average while pitching 103.0 innings for the Anteaters. Surrey is not going to dominate opposing teams with strikeouts as he only struck out 88 batters last season. But Surrey does have great control and he only walked 18 batters during the entire 2015 season.
Who to Watch:
The battle to lock down the closer role is going to be important to get addressed right away with the departure of Sam Moore. Moore was 5-4 with a 1.50 earned run average and five saves. Cameron Bishop and Sean Sparling accumulated multiple saves last season. Look for Sparling to get the first opportunity to lock down the closer role as there is a chance that Bishop slides into the weekend rotation.
Final Projection:
The schedule at the beginning of the season should be very conducive to a fast overall start for UC Irvine in 2016. After a season opening road trip to play San Jose State for four games, the Anteaters will have a run of home series with Nevada and UT-San Antonio and a key four game stretch against Tennessee and Maryland. It will be very important for this UC Irvine team to rack up wins against Power Five schools in order to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume for the selection committee. In addition, match ups against USC and UCLA for a combined six games will be fiercely contested in-state contests and additional opportunities for UC Irvine to make a statement to rest of college baseball that they are a threat nationally. Overall, if the pitching can come around quickly, then UC Irvine should be in the mix to contend for the Big West Conference Championship. The conference slate won’t be easy but the Anteaters do get Cal State Fullerton and UCSB at home for a weekend series. If UC Irvine can go 4-2 in those two series, they should be in prime position to play in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Keston Hiura, IF/OF, 228
Hits: Mikey Duarte, IF, 78
Home Runs: Andrew Martinez, IF, 8
RBIs: Keston Hiura, IF/OF, 52
Runs: Mikey Duarte, IF, 43
Stolen Bases: Cole Krueter, IF, 5
Wins: Elliot Surrey, P, 6
Innings Pitched: Elliot Surrey, P, 103
Strikeouts: Elliot Surrey, P, 88
Saves: Two with 2