Thursday, April 19

Freshman right fielder hones abilities after rough season start


UCLA baseball coach John Savage expected some freshmen to play a significant role for the Bruins before the 2017 campaign even began.

Michael Toglia was one of them.

The wiry 6-foot-5-inch right fielder came to UCLA as a promising recruit.

He was named the Most Valuable Player in the West Coast League this past summer and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 35th round of the 2016 MLB draft.

He would add strength to the Bruins’ lineup, which ranked second to last in the Pac-12 in extra-base hits last season.

“Toglia’s got power to all fields,” Savage said during a preseason interview in February. “(He’s a) switch hitter, he’s a guy that could be a big draft (prospect) out of here.”

But even though he raked opposing pitchers during the summer, his inexperience against veteran college pitchers – and impatience against breaking balls – showed early on in the regular season.

He posted a .174 average and just one extra-base hit through his first seven games and garnered more strikeouts than walks. But Savage continued to place him in the middle of the order, where he would continue to have opportunities to break out of his slump.

Heading into the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, UCLA’s offense was scoring runs, but the product from Gig Harbor, Washington, was not.

“This team has a high upside, a high ceiling for offense in the future,” Savage said prior to the Classic. “We’ve got to get Toglia going, that’s the guy we need to get going.”

Eight games later, he was still struggling. Following the team’s matchup with UC Irvine on March 14, Toglia’s stats fell – he boasted a .146 average and .171 slugging percentage.
Freshman outfielder Michael Toglia has found his swing since the beginning of Pac-12 play, hitting .338 to go along with four home runs and 19 RBIs. (Isabelle Roy/Daily Bruin senior staff)

But as the season progressed, he started to improve at the plate. By the end of the Bruins’ six-game win streak April 1, he pushed his average above the .200 line.

Two weeks later, Toglia notched a pair of breakout performances. Against Stanford, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs. The next game, against Long Beach State, he compiled three more hits, including another homer.

[Related: Baseball shuts out USC to complete series sweep]

“I would just kind of free-swing (during fall practices),” Toglia said following the Long Beach State bout. “Now I’m working on just staying all over the ball … and practicing like you’d hit in the game instead of just trying to hit a home run.”

Toglia’s adjustments during batting practice have impacted his continuing success at the dish, and now the switch-hitter is one of UCLA’s biggest threats in the lineup.

[Related: Baseball shuts out USC to complete series sweep]

His strong conference campaign has raised his season averages significantly – he’s hit .338 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in Pac-12 games.

With just seven games remaining in the regular season, Toglia is tied for the team lead in on-base percentage at .404. He also sports the second-best average and slugging percentage on the team at .279 and .514, respectively.

His development has come into fruition, just as the Bruins make a push for a berth in next month’s NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a great example of letting a freshman play while he’s struggling,” Savage said. “It’s not always easy. … People are going, ‘Gosh these freshmen aren’t ready,’ and so forth, and they’ve proved to be ready. It takes time to play at this level, and we’ve been very patient with Toglia.”

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