When the college baseball season ended in late June, another baseball season just began for many players.
Instead of heading home after finals like most students, 23 UCLA baseball players headed off to compete in five amateur summer baseball leagues around the country.
“They get to see what it takes to play every night, both at home and on the road – stay at hotels, stay with host families, play against good competition, play with wood bats,” said coach John Savage. “(When) they go in there with the right attitude and approach, I see a lot of guys make big jumps.”
So far, junior pitcher James Kaprielian and junior outfielder Ty Moore have stood out from the group with their strong performances this summer, albeit on very different stages.
Kaprielian has been pitching for the U.S. Collegiate National Team, which has been traveling around the world since late June to different venues including multiple U.S. states, the Netherlands and Cuba.
Savage said that former Bruins who have played for the U.S. national team, such as Adam Plutko, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Brandon Crawford, reached the next step in their development because of their experience with the national squad.
“It’s been unbelievable. It’s a top-tier talented group of guys, both on and off the field,” Kaprielian said. “We’re really representing our country and standing for something more than just ourselves.”
No matter the country he’s in, Kaprielian has been dominant on the mound, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.07 ERA and 29 strikeouts in five starts for Team USA. Kaprielian called his performance a “confidence booster” and said he has picked up a lot of small tips during his time with the team that have helped him improve.
Now, Kaprielian will take that confidence boost and newfound experience back to UCLA as the unquestioned ace of the rotation going into next season.
“I want to take everything I’ve learned and push it towards the other guys on the team and hopefully be a strong leader for the guys to rely on,” Kaprielian said.
Despite not being as much in the international spotlight, Moore still took part in one of the more prominent baseball summer leagues.
After a solid sophomore season at UCLA, Moore said he wanted to build on that with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League this summer. A total of 1,070 MLB players have played in the Cape Cod League, 256 of whom were in MLB as of last year.
On July 27, Moore played in the 52nd annual Cape Cod League All-Star Game, which he called “an honor,” as he was selected as a reserve for the East team. His .284 batting average with two home runs, 19 RBIs and five steals in 32 games earned him the nod.
“People consider this league to be the best summer league out there and all this top talent comes out to play,” Moore said. “The All-Star Game is the best of the best. … It was just cool to face that type of that competition.”
Moore’s East team lost 5-0 to the West team, but he went 1-2 with a single. Despite the loss, Moore said the league has helped him mature both as a player and a person which, along with veteran experience and freshman talent, will be helpful for UCLA if the team is going to get back into the postseason next year.
“I’ve learned to cope with failure better and move on to the next pitch,” Moore said.
With a healthy roster of players sharpened from summer leagues soon returning to Westwood, Savage said he thinks his team will fare better next season than it did in its 2014 injury-riddled attempt to defend its 2013 national title.