#12 UCLA Baseball 2016 Preview

UCLA Bruins
Overall Rank: #12
Conference Rank: #3 Pac-12
 UCLA went into the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a lot of momentum and the number one national seed. However, the curse of the being the number one national seed came to fruition in the Los Angeles Regional as the Bruins just could not get enough clutch hits against a Maryland pitching staff that was on fire. Under the direction of head coach John Savage UCLA has become one of the nation’s best, but in the postseason moving forward they are going to have to become more consistent offensively in order to go on a run of national titles.
2015: 45-16, 22-8
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: John Savage
Field Players:
There will be some retooling to the everyday lineup in 2016 for the Bruins, but there is still plenty of young talent to work with. Junior infielder Luke Persico and junior outfielder Brett Stephens will anchor things offensively for UCLA. Perisco hit three homeruns and drove in 43 runs last season while batting .285. Stephens combines the ability to hit for a high average and great defensive prowess to the table for the Bruins as he hit. 298 and had 1.000 fielding percentage. The ability to take care of business with runners in scoring position will be another strong asset for Stephens as he hit .291 with runners in scoring position last season.
This is going to take some work for the rotation to come together as UCLA suffered some significant losses from the 2015 pitching staff. Sophomore Griffin Canning showed some great potential before a season ending injury last year as a freshman. Canning, was 7-1 with a 2.97 earned run average and went right after hitters as he walked only six batters and struck out 66 in 63.2 innings. That type of walk to strike out ratio is what Coach Savage will need from a Friday night type of starter during weekend series.
Who to Watch:
The closer role is going to be a critical spot to fill as David Berg was brilliant last year when it came to locking down games. Berg was 7-1 with 0.68 earned run average and was very difficult to deal with. Redshirt junior Tucker Forbes is a great candidate to take over as closer with his ability to aggressively throw strikes as opponents only hit .210 last season against him. Junior outfielder Kort Peterson is going to provide a critical speed element to a lineup that will need to manufacture more runs in 2016.
Final Projection:
North Carolina visits Jackie Robinson Stadium to start off the 2016 season for a ACC-Pac-12 battle. Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Texas also highlight the non-conference schedule besides the usual in-state battles with UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton. The conference schedule is balanced enough for UCLA to be able to stay in contention for the Pac-12 championship. Starting on May 13 against USC, the Bruins will have a stretch of conference games against the Trojans, Arizona State and a trip to Corvallis to play Oregon State. This nine game sprint to the finish is going to most likely decide UCLA’s fate in the Pac-12 race. Bottom line, this is another NCAA Tournament season for the Bruins and if they can get rolling in the postseason anything is possible, including a run at the national tile.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Luke Persico, IF, 249
Hits: Luke Persico, IF, 71
Home Runs: Luke Persico, IF, 3
RBIs: Luke Persico, IF, 43
Runs: Brett Stephens, OF, 42
Stolen Bases: Kort Peterson, OF, 15
Wins: Griffin Canning, P, 7
Innings Pitched: Griffin Canning, P, 63.2
Strikeouts: Griffin Canning, P, 66
Saves: None
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#1 Justin Hooper
#8 Kyle Molnar
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#48 Luke Persico