Young guns hope to propel UCLA
Follow Kendall Rogers on Twitter at @ysportsncaabb.
There are plenty of movie stars near the UCLA campus who know all about great scripts.
The story of UCLA starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer may not win an Oscar, but it’s one that could end with the Bruins finally taking a huge step on the college baseball stage.
Cole and Bauer put together phenomenal freshman campaigns, but the two power pitchers come from completely different backgrounds.
Cole was one of the nation’s best high school pitchers and was a sought-after prospect and a first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees last summer. He decided against putting on the pinstripes and joined the Bruins.
Bauer has a much different story.
He had an extremely successful high school career Valencia (Calif.) Hart High, and could’ve tested the waters of the MLB draft. Instead, the gritty right-handed pitcher gave up a potential spot in the first two rounds of the MLB draft to head to UCLA a year early.
Cole had the spotlight entering last season and succeeded. Bauer jumped on the scene and dazzled with a strong arsenal of pitches and his attitude on the mound.
Now they make up one of the nation’s best one-two punches.
“The similarities between Cole and Bauer is that they can dominate a game,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “Domination was really the word that came to mind when I saw them pitch in high school. They were guys that I could see leading their respective teams to a championship. Now they’re doing it at this level.”
Cole and Bauer had different roles last season. Cole was a definite weekend starter while Bauer began as a closer before working his way into the weekend rotation.
Cole made 14 starts and had a 3.49 ERA in 85 innings. He also struck out 104 and walked 38. Bauer had a 2.99 ERA in 105 1/3 innings and struck out 92 batters.
“These guys are as talented as any duo of pitchers I’ve ever had,” said Savage, who has coached Mark Prior, Barry Zito, Seth Etherton and other great pitchers. “I think having guys like Cole and Bauer takes some serious pressure off the offense.”
It’s too early to say Cole and Bauer are two of the best pitchers in UCLA history, but there’s a good chance that will happen.
Everyone expected Cole to come in and dominate immediately. But for Bauer, even he didn’t think he had a chance to be a big-time contributor last season, much less earn Freshman All-American honors.
“I definitely surpassed my expectations last season, at least on a personal level,” Bauer said. “Coming in, I didn’t really have any expectations because I had to learn everything on the fly. I was just hoping to get some time on the mound and help contribute to the team. I didn’t expect to start or get that many innings at all.”
Despite the great numbers, Cole didn’t view his freshman campaign as a huge success.
“No, I wasn’t really satisfied with what I did, because there are a lot of things I could’ve done better last season,” Cole said. “Expectations were high entering the season and going through the ups and downs of last season was frustrating.”
Both pitchers have things they’re working to improve before the season begins.
“I need to work on limiting walks and the free passes in general,” Cole said. “I need to pound the strike zone better and let the defense do the work.”
Bauer’s goals deal with improving off the field.
“I talked to Coach Savage a lot in the offseason about being a better teammate,” Bauer said. “I struggled last year in that regard because I came to school in January. I didn’t really have time to get to know the guys, so I’m still trying to learn the program. I want to be the guy that has all his teammates’ backs. I’m working on that the most.”
The duo also continues to tweak their arsenal of pitches.
“Gerrit is manipulating the ball much more in practice and he’s working more on his sinker and cutter,” Savage said. “Trevor seems to invent a new pitch each day.”
The Bruins certainly have a lot of holes to fill at the plate but Cole and Bauer will take pressure off the offense, and UCLA’s season boils down to Cole and Bauer establishing the tone.
They could be the difference for a program trying to finally take a huge step forward.
“Omaha and championship teams start on the mound,” Savage said. “We feel like we have some very strong pitching with Cole and Bauer leading the way. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this season.”
Maybe Cole and Bauer are what UCLA needs to finish its championship script.
Other dynamic duos to watch
Texas’ Chance Ruffin and Taylor Jungmann: Ruffin is an incredibly hard-nosed pitcher and Jungmann is a future first-round pick.
Cal State Fullerton’s Daniel Renken and Noe Ramirez: Renken is ready for a sensational junior campaign, while Ramirez hopes to build off a great freshman season.
UC Irvine’s Danny Bibona and Christian Bergman: Bibona and Bergman are veterans that know what it takes to reach the College World Series.
Virginia’s Danny Hultzen and Robert Morey: Hultzen is a fantastic two-way player and Morey looks forward to being a full-time starter.
Wichita State’s Tim Kelley and Jordan Cooper: Kelley and Cooper are two more fantastic pitchers to put on the resume of pitching coach Brent Kemnitz.
Coastal Carolina’s Cody Wheeler and Anthony Meo: Wheeler and Meo take center stage with the departure of Nick McCully.
Kentucky’s James Paxton and Alex Meyer: It’s not certain that Paxton will play this season, but watch out for the Wildcats if he does.
Florida State’s Sean Gilmartin and Brian Busch: Gilmartin is a stud but there’s a chance Busch could move to the bullpen this season.