A venerated college program nestled squarely in the heart of America’s baseball hotbed, the University of California at Los Angeles Bruins are one of the pre-eminent generators of Major League talent. Last season, ten active Major Leaguers played their college ball at UCLA. Two of them, right-handed pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, were elite prospects and top draft picks that have blossomed into big-time starters.
In 2017, the Bruins have started slowly, managing just a 7-11 record through the season’s first 18 games. However, the team is 1-1 in Pac-12 play thanks to a weekend split with Arizona.
An early contributor for the Bruins thus far has been C Will McInerny, who will be joining the Sweets this summer. McInerny, who hails from Laguna Beach HS, has appeared in seven games and started four. Though McInerny still a freshman, Bruins coach John Savage has thrown him directly into action behind the plate. All four of Will’s starts this year have come at catcher.
McInerny, much like Richmond C Ryan Shaw, is a complete player who can excel both at the plate as well as behind it. McInerny recorded his first collegiate hit, a double, last Tuesday in a 5-3 loss to UC-Irvine. Still, what sets McInerny apart is his defense, particularly his throwing arm.
“What he does that I’m excited about is he can really throw. He’s going to completely shut down running games,” said Sweets coach Frank Mutz.
“I’d say my biggest asset is behind the plate, my arm specifically,” said McInerny. “I didn’t always have the strongest arm so over the years, as I’ve progressed, seeing my arm develop and strengthen has been a cool experience that has allowed me to trust my development and continue with the process.”
That process helped McInerny star for four years at Laguna Beach, where his performance earned him an inclusion in 2016’s Perfect Game USA Top 500, a ranking of the nation’s 500 top high school players. He also won Orange Coast League MVP his senior year, as well as earning the CIF-SS Division 4 Player of the Year Award.
“I have always been a highly competitive and emotional player in everything I’ve done,” McInerny said. “I think my biggest contribution as a player will be the energy and passion I bring each day. Bringing a presence to the ballpark everyday is something that is controllable and makes the game that much more enjoyable.”
Right now, the plan is for McInerny to be Mutz’s primary starting catcher. However, with such a grueling schedule, having quality depth behind the plate is important.
“In college, you’re playing four or five days a week at most,” Mutz said. “Here, [in the WCL] we’re playing every day. That’s why we have so many [catching] options.”
Regardless of how many choices are at his disposal, Mutz is extremely high on McInerny.
“He’s going to be in the heart of our lineup,” said Mutz. “I could see him hitting four, five, six in the order.”
Joining McInerny, both in Walla Walla this summer and at UCLA next fall, is high-school senior LHP Sam Glick, one of four incoming freshmen on the Sweets’ roster. Currently a senior at El Toro HS in Lake Forest, CA, Glick has dominated against elite prep competition.
“I’ve faced him in high school,” said Mutz. “Really good lefty. The league that he plays in, the level of play is the highest in southern California. He’s playing against some of the best players in the country every time he goes out. Every inning that he throws, there’s pressure.”
Glick might be young but he’s already refined his approach on the mound.
“He’s not a project,” said Mutz. “He will probably be in our rotation. He’s a hard thrower, high 80s/low 90s. He has command of three pitches in the strike zone. He’s going to get innings at UCLA next year.”
Although he throws hard, particularly for a lefty, Glick takes pride in his ability to spot up.
“My biggest strength is my ability to locate my fastball,” he said. “I love working on fastball location because I believe it’s the most important thing for a pitcher.”
Glick’s performance earned him spots both on Perfect Game’s All-California First Team as well as the All-America Third Team heading into his senior season. Next, after a brief stop in Walla Walla, he will be taking his talents to Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“I’ve always wanted to go to UCLA,” he said. “It’s close to my home and we have been big football fans. I always thought my baseball ability would take me to an Ivy League school or Duke but I decided I wanted to stay close to home and play in the Pac-12.”
With the recruiting process long since finished, Glick, who committed to UCLA his junior year, is in the enviable-but-challenging position of trying to excel at El Toro while also gearing up for next season with the Bruins.
“It’s always easy to get excited about college but it’s important that I stay focused on what’s going on right now and trying to compete for a league championship,” he said.
Over the summer, Sweets’ fans will get a firsthand look at UCLA’s battery of the future.
“I just try and trust the process, know what has gotten me here, and be myself,” said Glick. “I think those three things give me the confidence to get outs.”
Between McInerny and Glick, the Sweets should be in capable hands. Walla Walla will rely upon the UCLA tandem to deliver solid performances with regularity. And after the glowing reviews of these two by the Sweets’ coaching staff, it’s easy to get excited about their potential.
by Ben Farber