Four Future Bruins Slated to Join Pippins
YAKIMA, Wash. – A quartet of future UCLA Bruins are scheduled to make a stop in Yakima this summer.
Catcher Blake Balsz, right-handers Cal Randall and Justin Lee and centerfielder/shortstop Brandon Winokur have signed to play with the Pippins before heading to Los Angeles to start their collegiate baseball careers.
The relationship between the Pippins and UCLA has been potent throughout the years for a handful of teams in the West Coast League. Pippins skipper Kyle Krustangel is eager to continue to strengthen that relationship with UCLA head coach John Savage and his program.
“Coach Savage is an outstanding person and an even better manager,” Krustangel said. “John is very protective of his players. He wants them to be treated the right way both on and off the field. It’s extremely gratifying to know that he trusts his future stars to come to Yakima and all over the WCL to develop throughout the summer.
“These four all have raw talent, and that’s the fun part about being a coach: Watching these kids grow throughout the year,” Krustangel added about the quartet of new Pippins.
Balsz is wrapping up his senior season at Santa Margarita High School. The 18-year-old has played a few positions during his high school career, but behind the plate is where he’d like to take his game to the next level: He’s one of the top catching prospects in California.
“I try to model my game after J.T. Realmuto,” Balsz said. “I love the way he has changed the game defensively. His dominance and consistency behind the plate is something I’d like to emulate.”
Winokur, a senior at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California, is the 18th-ranked prospect in the class of 2023. A huge frame at 6-feet, 5-inches, Winokur is showing out at Edison this season.
In a recent outing, a 12-4 win over Los Alamitos, Winokur went 3-for-3 with a home run, two doubles, and a walk. Slated as a SS/CF for the Pippins, Winokur has also shown flashes of a 94-96 mph heater on the mound as well.
Two guys that will most definitely be taking the mound are Lee, out of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, and Randall, from De La Salle High School. Both players have been outstanding for their respective schools.
Lee is the 88th ranked prospect in the country. He burst onto the scene last season and caught the attention of many college teams, but ultimately opted for UCLA. When talking about his recruiting class, Savage raved about having Lee join the squad next year.
“Justin burst on the scene this summer with some tremendous outings. He’s become a physical right-handed pitcher with a plus pitch repertoire,” Savage said in November when the Bruins announced their newest recruiting class. “His best days are clearly ahead of him.”
If Savage is correct, fans of both the Pippins and the Bruins are in for a treat. So far at Notre Dame this season. Lee is 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA in seven appearances. Lee has pitched 36.2 innings, striking out 58 batters. The former Top Prospect team member’s combination of fastball and split finger has held hitters to a .163 batting average against him this year.
Randall’s resume speaks for itself. The 71st-ranked prospect in the country entering this season was also named to the Top Prospect team in 2022. After a stellar 2022 campaign, and hasn’t missed a step since beginning his senior season with Edison.
In three appearances so far this season, Randall has been their ace. The Discovery Bay, California, native is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA. He has held opposing batters to a .105 batting average and has 12 strikeouts in 11 innings of work.
When talking about his recruiting class for next season, Savage said he believes the incoming freshman could make a quick impact.
“Cal is an athletic pitcher who is difficult to match up against.” Savage stated. “His arm slot makes it very challenging for hitters. … With the right plan, Cal has a chance to make an immediate impact on our pitching staff.”