SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara baseball program, with new head coach Andrew Checketts, has signed an impressive haul of players – over a dozen – to National Letters of Intent.
"We are excited to announce these 15 student-athletes' decision to join UCSB baseball," Checketts said. "Eddie Cornejo and Jason Hawkins did a spectacular job of evaluating and recruiting this class. They focused on bringing in strike-throwing athletes on the mound and versatile middle-of-the-field position players. Their tireless work shows in the quality and depth of this class. Not only are these young men great athletes, they are great fits for our program. Their work ethic and histories of success have shown on the field and in the classroom."
Left-handed hitting catcher Sam Ayala will join the Gauchos from La Jolla's Country Day High. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is ranked as the 72nd best player in the state by MaxPreps.
"Sam is a physical left-handed hitting catcher with a plus arm behind the plate and great power potential offensively," said Checketts of Ayala, who hit four home runs in 91 at-bats last season. "He will continue to develop as he plays baseball year-round in the future."
Connor Baits is one of the most talented right-handed pitchers in the nation, ranking 59th, according to Perfect Game. Baits, who is at Point Loma High, is ranked as the 12th best pitcher in the state courtesy of Perfect Game. He was the Western League Pitcher of the Year a season ago after tossing six complete games, including two shutouts and posting a 1.84 ERA.
"Connor was one of the most sought-after pitchers in California," Checketts said. "His 6-foot-5 athletic frame continues to improve and he has been in the low to mid 90's on occasion this fall. He also is a tremendous student and will be a great fit at UCSB."
Outfielder Andrew Calica will join UCSB from Eastlake High in San Diego after receiving numerous awards in his junior season. Calica was a First Team All League player and a Second Team All-CIF player. He has experience in the Junior Olympics and hit .468 last year with a .585 on-base percentage and
"Andrew is a spark-plug type of player, he's a well-rounded individual with a tremendous work ethic in the classroom and on the field," Checketts said. "We expect Andrew to be a top of the order bat and centerfielder. His history of success at everything he does was very appealing to our coaching staff."
Ryan Clark was named the North-South Series MVP last year and the infielder from Clovis West High held a .480 on-base percentage a season ago. A Second Team All-League pick, Clark also had 18 stolen bases.
"Ryan has great athleticism and speed," Checketts said. "He can play anywhere on the field, but will focus on playing middle infield. We were drawn to his aggressive approach on the bases and defensive versatility. Ryan has a high baseball IQ and plays the game with passion."
Coming from Temple City High, Corey Copping was named the Rio Hondo League MVP and is a three-time Pitcher of the Year recipient. Copping was also an All-CIF Southern Section Division IV pick.
"Corey may say a total of three words to our staff next year but his ability on the mound will speak enough for him," Checketts said. "We expect Corey to be an immediate contributor and competitor for us. He has an advanced feel for pitching and a deceptive fastball that hitters don't see. He pounds the strike zone and has a great slider."
Joseph Duffin is a first baseman from Villa Park High after transferring from Orange Lutheran High. Duffin hit .407 last year, including .691 in league play, and has played for the Yankees and White Sox scout teams. He was a 2011 Perfect Game All-American honorable mention selection.
"We have high expectations for Joe's bat," Checketts said. "He has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat with big power. He has bounced around defensively this fall, but most likely will land at first base and left field. His bat is special."
Joining the Gauchos from Redlands East Valley High will be 6-foot-6 Justin Jacome, a tall left-handed pitcher who was ranked 212th in the state of California. Jacome had a 1.54 ERA a year ago and struck out 43 batters in 47 innings pitched.
"Justin has a tremendous ceiling," Checketts said. "He has great body control and fastball command. Justin has a history of competing at a high level and of missing barrels when he pitches."
Dalton Kelly was named the Pitcher of the Year and was an All-Eastern Athletic League selection for Foothill High in Redding, Calif. last year. He also hit .466 and posted a .624 on-base percentage and has set the school mark in stolen bases after swiping 26 last year.
"Dalton is a three-sport competitor in high school and he is expected to be a versatile part of our team," Checketts said. "He fits into our offensive plan with his all-field approach offensively and his ability to run the bases. Dalton will work between left field and first base for us. His simple offensive approach will only continue to improve as he develops more physically."
Right-handed pitcher Hector Lujan went 12-2 for Jurupa Valley High last year with 105 strikeouts compared to just 12 walks. He had a 1.21 ERA and was on the 16 and under Junior Olympics team.
"Hector was a late arrival on the scene this summer," Checketts said. "His 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame has developed dramatically in the past six months. He has an impressive history behind him and we are confident he will continue to develop into a front-line Big West pitcher."
Grossmont High product Robby Nesovic is a right-handed pitcher who was named the school's Player of the Year after going 11-0 with a 1.02 ERA. He is a San Diego Hall of Champions First Team selection and is ranked as the 17th best player in California and the 95th best player in the country according to MaxPreps.
"Robby is a quiet competitor with a history of winning," Checketts said. "He throws a heavy sinker and is a strike thrower. He has advanced athleticism for his size. Robby has shown a great commitment to developing as a player in the past and we look forward to his work ethic in our program."
Corey Oswalt batted .541 last year with four home runs and 25 RBI and has won his James Madison High Team MVP award in three straight seasons. As a sophomore he was named the Western League Player of the Year and last year was an All-Western League First Team pick. He played in the World Wood Bat World Championships and was named as one of Perfect Game's All-American Classic 40 Top High School Players in the Nation.
"Corey is a very talented 6-foot-4 infielder with great actions and a middle-of-the-order run-producing bat," Checketts said. "His numbers his junior year were incredible. He has arm strength and has the potential to help on the mound as well. His personality and leadership skills are advanced and we look forward to those intangibles as much as his physical tools."
After being named a First Team All-East Bay League as a senior at San Ramon Valley High and then leading his Chabot College squad in batting average, slugging percentage and home runs, Scott Quinlan will come to UCSB. He was also an all-league outfielder at Chabot College.
"Scott is the sole junior college player we signed in this class," Checketts said. "He is a strong, fast and competitive individual that will prove himself next year as a leader and a contributor. He plays the game extremely aggressively and has plus bat speed."
Troy Rallings is a right-handed pitcher from Los Alamitos High and was named as the Sunset League Rookie of the Year last season. Ranked as the 118th best player in California, he posted a 1.43 ERA last season.
"Troy is a fierce competitor and has the work ethic that we are looking for," Checketts said. "His makeup as a driven worker will carry his talents further in his development and we look forward to big things out of him. He pitches primarily with an aggressive fastball attack and will continue to improve as his offspeed pitches develop."
Coming to UCSB from Mission Viejo High is right-handed pitcher Anthony Shew. A Sea View League honorable mention pick, he went 6-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. He helped lead his Mission Viejo team to a CIF-Southern Section title last year.
"Anthony has great command of his pitches and undoubtedly will blossom very quickly as a pitcher in our program," Checketts said. "He has a loose, athletic delivery with pinpoint command. He is the ultimate strike thrower with a very high ceiling."
Rounding out the impressive class is right-hander Dillon Tate from Claremont High. He went 3-1 as a starting pitcher last season and made big strides this fall while playing for the Boston Red Sox scout team. The late-bloomer has hit 92 mph with his fastball recently.
"Dillon is very athletic and has a great arm," Checketts said. "His velocity continually improved over the last three months and he has much more room to grow. We fortunately got to see a glimpse of this fall of what he's capable of and are excited for his continued development."
UCSB Baseball has developed the support group, the Gaucho9. For information on the group, please click here. The Gaucho9 is also a key part of working to improve Caesar Uyesaka Stadium as part of The Campaign for Gaucho Park and will be a big part of Reunion Weekend. Click here for more information.
A final look at UCSB's signees:
|Sam Ayala||C||La Jolla Country Day High|
|Connor Baits||RHP||Point Loma High|
|Andrew Calica||OF||Eastlake High|
|Ryan Clark||INF||Clovis West High|
|Corey Copping||RHP||Temple City High|
|Joseph Duffin||1B||Villa Park High|
|Justin Jacome||LHP||Redlands East Valley High|
|Dalton Kelly||OF/1B||Foothill High|
|Hector Lujan||RHP||Jurupa Valley High|
|Robby Nesovic||RHP/INF||Grossmont High|
|Corey Oswalt||INF/RHP||James Madison High|
|Scott Quinlan||OF||Chabot College|
|Troy Rallings||RHP||Los Alamitos High|
|Anthony Shew||RHP||Mission Viejo High|
|Dillon Tate||RHP||Claremont High|