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Bruins in Paris

Coach John Savage reflects on UCLA baseball’s season, move to Big Ten

Coach John Savage stands in UCLA baseball’s dugout at Jackie Robinson Stadium. By winning percentage, the 2024 season was the Bruins’ worst since Savage first donned the blue and gold in 2005. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

By Kai Dizon

May 21, 2024 1:21 p.m.

This post was updated May 21 at 11:26 p.m.

John Savage called UCLA baseball’s third-week slate “hell week” in late February.

Unbeknownst to the coach at the time, it would be hell season.

The Bruins lost their next seven games, tumbled toward the depths of the Pac-12 standings and ended the year 19-33 overall with a 9-21 conference record, the program’s worst finish since 2005.

“A lot of crazy games, crazy finishes, walk-offs – things were not lined up,” Savage said after Saturday’s season finale. “With the injuries and some older players that had major struggles, we had a lot of youth on the field – not a good combination, not a good recipe for success.”

Through the MLB Draft alone, Savage said he plans to lose five players this summer along with another five seniors graduating from the program. The two groups combined produced 42% of UCLA’s total bases and 32% of innings pitched in 2024.

“The future is very bright,” Savage said during the broadcast of Saturday’s game on Pac-12 Networks. “We just have to get through today. … I don’t know (whether) to cry or laugh.”

Savage said his team was hampered by inexperience. He drew parallels to UCLA men’s basketball from this past year, which earned coach Mick Cronin his first losing season since taking charge of the four letters.

Following the conclusion of the basketball season, Cronin retooled his roster, adding six players through the transfer portal so far. Savage has previously taken a different approach to building a championship-contending roster.

“It’s not about grabbing guys from all different kinds of programs,” Savage said on Pac-12 Networks on Saturday. “That’s not what we’re about – we’re about developing our own guys.”

However, Savage struck a different tone after the team’s last game of the season.

“We have to look at the portal,” Savage said. “I’m sure we’ll be in the mix. … We probably are looking for a little help.”

While the 2023 recruiting class garnered No. 1 rankings from Baseball America and Perfect Game, the 2024 class has yet to earn nearly as much praise – ranked No. 22 and 27 by each publication, respectively.

Still, Savage remains bullish on the future Bruins.

“The high-ceiling guys are on the mound,” Savage said. “I look at those arms to be big-impact arms.”

Barring MLB Pipeline’s No. 107 draft prospect signing directly to professional baseball, left-hander Ethan Schiefelbein would be UCLA’s first top-50 ranked pitching recruit, according to Perfect Game, since Thatcher Hurd and Gage Jump – both of whom have since transferred to LSU.

Transfers such as Jump highlight what an addition like Schiefelbein could mean for UCLA. While the Bruins’ only healthy left-handers this season were a pair of club baseball walk-ons, Jump – a southpaw – went 5-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 66.2 innings on the other side of the country.

Prep Baseball Report ranks UCLA commit Wylan Moss as the No. 60 player overall and No. 16 right-hander in the class of 2024. The Mater Dei, California, local features a three-pitch mix – a low-90s fastball, low-80s slider and a changeup in the mid-70s.

UCLA’s highest-ranked committed position player is Dylan Fien, ranked No. 91 overall by Perfect Game and No. 11 among catchers by Prep Baseball Report in the 2024 class. The switch-hitting backstop hails from Great Oak, California, and joins the young catching core of freshmen Cashel Dugger and Blake Balsz.

With the Bruins moving to the Big Ten ahead of next season, Savage said he told the team it will be far from a cakewalk.

“It’s going to be a very competitive conference,” Savage said. “We better get a hell of a lot better than we are today.”

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Kai Dizon
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