Mon Sep 20 04:22pm EDT
UCLA couldn't be feeling better about itself than it does right now.
It wasn't long ago the Bruins were considered one of those teams that couldn't find a way to win in the clutch and take the next step. Now, after reaching the College World Series title series last season, the Bruins again enter fall workouts with incredibly high expectations.
They welcome the expectations.
They also realize some areas must improve and change between now and the spring to return to the title series and win the program's first national title.
Offensively, the Bruins hope to build off a solid 2010 campaign with the return of infielder Tyler Rahmatulla and other talented hitters. On the mound, the Bruins have some work to do in the bullpen but welcome back the nation's best one-two punch in weekend starters Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer.
The Bruins have plenty work to do. They also are a national title contender.
Keep building more momentum
The Bruins had a run to Omaha to remember last season and should enter fall workouts with a wealth of confidence. UCLA has a pair of veteran weekend starters in Cole and Bauer and welcome back seasoned hitters such as Rahmatulla, Steve Rodriguez and Dean Espy. The Bruins know they can compete for the national title and should act accordingly this fall by building even more momentum before the '11 campaign arrives.
Restructure the bullpen
As much of a sure thing as the weekend rotation is entering the fall, the bullpen is as uncertain after losing several talented relievers to the MLB draft. Relievers the Bruins must replace include stud closer Dan Klein, Erik Goeddel, Matt Grace and Matt Drummond. UCLA also must replace Garret Claypool, who appeared in 21 games and started 12 last season. The Bruins will lack experience in the bullpen this fall, but welcome some talented arms in Nick Vander Tuig, Zack Weiss and Adam Plutko. UCLA is in business if its newcomers step up.
Solidify the No. 3 spot in the weekend rotation
The Bruins will have enough talent in the bullpen to overcome experience issues at some point next season, but finding a solid No. 3 starter for the weekend rotation is a difficult chore. There's a huge difference between coming out of the bullpen for a couple innings and setting the tone for an entire game. Last season, the Bruins enjoyed the services of veteran left-hander Rob Rasmussen, who left after getting drafted in the third round this past summer. The Bruins really like Plutko's chances of immediately becoming a weekend starter, but fellow freshman Vander Tuig and rising talent Scott Griggs also are in the mix this fall. We'll watch this race closely throughout the fall.
Continue to improve at the plate
The Bruins hired hitting guru Rick Vanderhook a few seasons ago for a reason – they needed to improve at the plate. The Bruins didn't have a highly productive offensive lineup in Vanderhook's first campaign with the program. The story was different last season. The Bruins were hitting .350 at one point in the season and ended the campaign with a .304 average. UCLA welcomes back hitters such as Beau Amaral, Dean Espy, Tyler Rahmatulla, Cody Keefer, Cody Regis and Steve Rodriguez. There's no reason why this unit shouldn't be better.
Figure out the middle infield roles
UCLA had one its best leaders in Niko Gallego at shortstop last season. Gallego has since signed after getting drafted and the Bruins have work to do. The Bruins will move Rahmatulla to shortstop to start fall workouts. They'll see how the transition goes, but if it doesn't go smoothly, other candidates for the position include Adrian Williams and three freshmen in Jacob Shirley, Pat Valaika and Kevin Williams. Should Rahmatulla permanently stay at shortstop, look for either Adrian or Kevin Williams, Shirley or Valaika to take over at second base. There also is a chance Rahmatulla stays put at second.