2011 Vanderbilt Baseball: Fall Preview, Part 3
This is the third in a six part series on Vanderbilt baseball’s 2011 season. Among all my most unhealthy habits, an addiction to following the Commodores baseball squad seems to be the most pervasive and difficult to crack. As a result, I’ve turned a time-wasting bit of fanaticism and converted it into a chance to write a bit. You can read each preview by clicking below on the links that follow the jump.
It should be noted that while this website endeavors to provide a solid team preview, membership over at VandySports.com is a must for any Commodore baseball fan. Chris Lee and Mike Rapp produce stellar premium content which is well worth the money spent. I know there’s no way I could follow the team as intently as I do without it.
Up today is a breakdown of pitching coach Derek Johnson’s corps and a brief breakdown of each horse in the stable. The Dores will endeavor to replace four departing arms in closer Russ Brewer, go between guys Drew Hayes and Chase Reid and lefty specialist Richie Goodenow.
Click on through for the preview, part 3.
- Part 1: The Newcomers
- Part 2: Positional Preview
- Part 3: Breaking Down the Staff
- Part 4: Season Preview
- Part 5: Looking Beyond 2011 – The Draft and Depth Chart
- Part 6: Looking Beyond 2011 – The Incoming Recruits
While Vanderbilt has a solid, experienced and explosive set of offensive weapons on the field and in the lineup, the heart and meet of almost all Tim Corbin and Derek Johnson teams has been the pitching staff. The profile of a Vandy pitcher is simple. He’s big, he throws strikes and he throws in the 90s. It’s the type of stable of athletes that has had opposing SEC fans looking at each other on Sunday or Monday at Hoover and asking how DJ is bringing in yet another flamethrower. With the exception of the departed Richie Goodenow, the 2010 pitching staff generally fit the bill of hard throwing. In 2011, with one or two exceptions, that will be the case again.
Vanderbilt had five quality starters last year in Sonny Gray, Taylor Hill, Jack Armstrong, Chase Reid and Drew Hayes. With Reid gone to the draft and Hayes graduated by the school, the weekend rotation of Gray, Hill and Armstrong remain intact among the starters. Additionally, a pair of lefties and a righty figure to get a shot to toe the rubber in the first.
Perhaps the most locked down spot on the roster is Sonny Gray’s role as Friday night starter. Beyond Friday, things get a little more malleable, but you can rest assured that the Commodores will be led out onto the field for each weekend series by the 5’11”, 195 lb Bulldog from Smyrna. From the time he was a junior in High School, the gurus over at VandySports.com (Chris Lee, Mike Rapp and Jesse Johnson) were talking about him in a manner you don’t see baseball recruits discussed on Rivals.com. When he committed the summer before his senior year, it was met with jubilation and a caveat that no one was sure if he’d make it through the draft. He asked clubs not to draft him following a rocky senior year in football that featured a broken collarbone (he won two state titles as quarterback for Smyrna High), but was at full strength in time for spring baseball and the summer.
He arrived at Vanderbilt firing pellets and amateur baseball’s best curveball. In the last two years, he’s moved from being primarily a two pitch guy (97 MPH four seam fastball, mixed in with a low 80s power curve) to a guy who relies first on a low to mid 90s two seam fastball with extreme movement, and who mixes in the four seamer, power curve, a sharp high 80s slider and a low 80s change. In 2010, he went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 108.2 innings. He is one of the three or four premier arms in the nation, a projected top 10 overall pick in the MLB draft, and the reigning Baseball America Summer Player of the Year. As a second year pitcher on Team USA this summer, he allowed just 13 base runners in 24 innings, striking out a whopping 37 batters and allowing just 1 earned run while posting a 3-0 record. Quite simply, he is leader in fact and in potential on this team.
Three pitchers will comprise the primary competition for the Saturday and Sunday slots. The first of those was one of the keys of the summer recruiting crop in that fifth year senior Taylor Hill has returned to campus, spurning the Cleveland Indians after the 2010 MLB draft. After a quick start to last season, the 6’3”, 185 lb Hill ended up with a 6-5 record and 4.46 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 107 innings pitched. The 2010 Saturday starter features a hard and heavy fastball that he can run into the mid 90s and which sits in the low 90s. Hill also throws an average curve and solid changeup. When he’s on, he can be very good, but by the end of the season he had simply run out of gas. Perhaps for that reason, Hill did not pitch during the summer, resting his arm for what promises to be a solid senior year.
Closing out the returning weekend rotation is Big Jack Armstrong. The 6’6”, 225 lb son of the former Reds All-Star of the same name has a world of potential and, after an All-Star 2009 summer on the Cape, had an up and down sophomore year. At times, Armstrong was solid, as when he dominated at Alabama and at Florida to stave off potentially devastating sweeps. Other times, he was not so hot, leading to a team high (among those with 13 or more innings) 4.71 ERA. Armstrong did post a 7-4 record in 16 starts and struck out 50 batters in 78.1 innings, but he has not yet realized his potential. In 2010 he focused on a two seam fastball with sink that, when kept down, was a very good pitch-to-contact option; however, his change is only average and his slurve was mediocre for most of the year. Over the summer, Armstrong added a slider which one hopes will be the key to his advancing into his potential. After a so-so summer on the Cape (4-4, 3.14 ERA), the potential first round draft pick will look to regain the 2 or 3 MPH that seemed to come off his fastball as the season progressed and pick up a Saturday or Sunday spot in the rotation.
Closing out the favorites for weekend starter duties is a guy who most were gleefully unaware of due to injury, but who Louisville will most certainly vouch for in regards to talent. Grayson Garvin had the gaudiest stats on the Dores in 2010. His 1-1 record in 13 appearances included a dominating NCAA Regional start against the Cardinals and foreshadowed his summer to come. For the year, he posted a 1.25 ERA in 36 innings with a 38:10 strikeout to walk ratio. His innings had been limited by injury problems that held him out of play until mid-season. Over the summer, he earned Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year honors for Bourne, posting a 1.06 ERA in 42.1 innings. He allowed just 26 hits and was unbeaten at 5-0. Garvin is long at 6’6” and throws a tight, low 90s two seam fastball with good movement, complemented by a plus slider and a solid change. In addition to his success in 2010, the fact that he gives opponents a very unique look on the hill makes him a favorite to crack the rotation in 2011.
The Closer Competition
While the weekend rotation returns intact in 2011, the bullpen saw some attrition, including veteran and reliable closer Russ Brewer. Derek Johnson will have to figure out who on staff has the gusto and stuff to make a solid, shutdown reliever. There seem to be four primary candidates for the job and one dark horse, each bringing a mix of talent and grit.
Navery Moore is the man who offers up the most promise. Viewed as a possible high round draft pick since high school, the 6’1”, 200 lb Moore’s trajectory to a pro career was detoured by an elbow injury that requiring Tommy John surgery during his junior year (as documented in this New York Times article). Although he hasn’t regained every bit of velocity from his mid to high 90s fastball in the three years since, he still has the prototypical power arm with an inconsistent, but good, curve and a change. In two seasons at Hawkins Field, Moore has struggled with control, issuing more than a free pass per inning. This past summer, for the Nashville Outlaws, Moore was named the top prospect in the Prospect League, going 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and a 48:21 strikeout to walk ratio in 45.2 innings. To the extent that Moore is able to sharpen his location both in general and within the strike zone, his arm presents a power option toward the end of games.
Will Clinard is a guy who will likely challenge for both the fifth starter role and the closer spot. The 6’4”, 225 lb Cross Plains, TN native pitches as big as his frame and had an impressive redshirt freshman year in 2010. In 43.2 innings, Clinard struck out 38 and limited opponents with a 2.68 ERA and 4-0 record. He wasn’t quite as dominant in the Cape, allowing a 3.72 ERA in 17 relief appearances for Orleans; nevertheless, he’s poised to compete both for a midweek role and will be counted on to provide key, late inning relief, either as a closer or setup man. If he doesn’t win the closer job outright, one might expect him to fill in much as Chase Reid did last year. His good control, hard low 90s fastball and good curve should position him as a key cog in DJ’s arsenal.
The next man up would perhaps be the leading candidate for the closer role, but for a serious injury suffered in play last year. A 6’1”, 200 lb native of Huntsville, AL, Corey Williams was a forgotten man in his redshirt year, but came out firing away in 2010. When I saw the team play in Los Angeles and online via VUCommodores.com, the one thing that struck me about Williams was that he really, really popped the mitt. Throwing in the low 90s, he consistently hit his target and mixed in enough change of pace stuff to remain ahead of hitters. In 12 appearances, Williams had racked up a 17:6 strikeout to walk ratio and allowed just a 2.65 ERA while picking up a win and a save. But against Florida, Williams took an Austin Maddox screamer right off his kneecap, shattering it in two. He flashed the type of in the moment mentality and toughness in making the play at first, but his season and summer were both ended in that moment. It remains to be seen how well he will recover and if he’ll return to pre-injury form; if he does, he might be the guy to close out games.
If Williams isn’t that man, my pick to click is Mark Lamm. Eighteen months removed from Tommy John surgery, Mark Lamm is back to his old self (redshirt freshman year version). Lamm flashes incredible potential and stuff and was only permitted to redshirt in 2007 precisely because of how deep that squad’s pitching staff was. Even then, he was the guy warming up in the bullpen when Pedro Alvarez’ bid for a game typing homerun was snatched out of the air against Michigan. Because he didn’t enter that game and blow his redshirt status, Lamm is back again in 2011, fully recovered and throwing BBs. He has a set of stuff that is properly characterized as dominant, with good life on a low 90s fastball and a slider, change combination. His problem in 2009 was that he completely and utterly lost the strike zone while playing in the Cape the summer before. It was, at times, almost Rick Ankiel bad; yet, through it all, no one was hitting the strikes he threw. After a year off from baseball, Lamm was back at it in the summer for the Waynesboro Generals. Over 17 innings in 11 games, Lamm had a sparkling 22:4 strikeout to walk ratio and allowed only one run. Really, the results were secondary, all that needed to be known about the 6’4”, 215 lb Loretto native is that he was back and he’d rediscovered the strike zone. To the extent that he carries his progress over and he continues to push back toward 100 percent health, Lamm should serve key late game duty and ought to be considered for the closer’s role.
A final, dark hose candidate for the closer spot would be coming out from right field. Perhaps it is a true lark and merely unvarnished idealism to believe that Joe Loftus can do what Brett Eibner did for Arkansas a year ago (becoming a 20 homerun guy in the outfield and a 96 MPH fastball guy in the 9th), but Loftus has that kind of genetic talent. The 6’2”, 200 lb righty has yet to live up to his promise on the hill in limited appearances both for the Dores and on the Cape, but he does flash the best arm on the team and could develop the capacity to harness that for a closer spot.
The rest of the pen features some arms that are a little less experienced, but have great potential. Keenan Kolinsky is a Knoxville, TN native and was recruited out of high school as a two-way player by most schools. Coach Corbin liked him as a left handed reliever, and Kolinsky should get a shot to work some innings with Goodenow’s transfer. Kolinksy redshirted last year, but impressed during the summer, permitting just a 1.27 ERA in 21.1 innings for the New Bedford Bay Sox. The 6’, 200 lber is one I haven’t seen pitch as of yet and I can’t speak as to his stuff.
Also ready to make a bigger impact in 2011 is the bally-hooed Sam Selman. The sophomore out of Austin, TX has a huge arm, clocked in the mid-90s at times; however, he came to campus simply not physically ready to play college ball. Through no fault of his own, Selman’s body hadn’t caught up to his potential and his 6’2”, 168 lb frame looked smaller than it really was. That lack of bulk made his arm less consistent both in velocity and location and Selman was largely ineffective during the year. During the summer, Selman continued to struggle with location (36 walks in 44 innings), but he was tough to hit, allowing just 31 hits and a 3.89 ERA for the Mankato MoonDogs. More importantly, he gained an inch and nearly 10 lbs on his frame from his fall reporting weights. Selman may be ready to step into a major role this year, or it might take another twelve months, but the kid has potential out the wazoo.
The incoming freshmen in the class also flash a tremendous amount of promise, with none more so than Kevin Ziomek. The big lefty should be an immediate impact player who will probably end up as a midweek starter and setup reliever. He has a level of refinement that might remind some of Mikie Minor as a freshman and he’s almost certain to have a lasting impact on the Commodores in his career. Corbin has a tendency to bring along even the most high profile of recruits (such as David Price, Mikie Minor and Sonny Gray) slowly at first, with midweek starts against lesser competition. Given the four arms ahead of him in the starter pecking order, I wouldn’t anticipate Ziomek cracking the weekend rotation until 2012, but he’s got every bit the same level of potential as the aforementioned stars.
TJ Pecoraro is also likely to see significant time as a freshman, having been branded as “college-ready” by Perfect Game at the Area Code Games in 2009. Pecoraro comes off as a Nick Christiani-like player and its no secret that Corbin trusted Christiani early and often as a freshman in the closer role. Pecoraro’s mix of a lively low-90s fastball and an array of sliders, curves and changeups proved among the most effective of weapons during the Area Code Games and, to the extent he’s able to continue to refine those pitches, he could stand to leapfrog some of his more senior teammates in the bullpen.
I know a little less about Tennessee righties Jake Harper and Robert Hansen and lefty Steven Rice out of Indiana. Further information about those three, along with Ziomek and Pecoraro, appears in the Part 1 preview: Newcomers. Although each of them could prove themselves worthy of innings, I’d expect at least one to take a redshirt with the amount of experienced talent returning on the Dores.