2011 Vanderbilt Baseball: Season Preview, Part 5
This is the penultimate 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 the first of two (originally plotted to be one) pieces on the post-2011 future of Vanderbilt baseball. It takes a quick look at the draft prospects of current players and the projected depth chart for the Dores in the 2011/12 academic year. It is intended to be a direct lead-in to part 6, a review of the 2011/12 Recruiting Class and an early glance at the 2012/13 verbal commitments so far.
Click on through for the preview, part 5.
- 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 certainly has very high hopes for a National Championship bid, it’s never too early for recruiting coordinator Josh Holliday to start looking ahead to the pieces of the puzzle that he has to replace for the 2011-12 season. Certainly it would be hard for a fan to not just sit back and enjoy the run to come this spring, but one who enjoys speculating and looking ahead can spend some time examining Coach Corbin’s long-term program personnel planning.
The first step when taking a look at how next year’s roster will pan out starts with a glance at the graduation and draft situation and the recruiting class coming in. We’ll start with the likely outgoing crop.
Coaching and Recruiting Consistency
Much as after the 2008 season, Vanderbilt faces a large roster overhaul with a healthy dose of key players expected to head to their professional or post-baseball careers. The one distinguishing characteristic of the Commodores program in the Corbin era has been consistency in the nature of roster turnover. While Vanderbilt has had to deal with the losses of some real star power (including first round draft picks like Jeremy Sowers ’04, David Price ’07, Casey Weathers ‘07, Pedro Alvarez ’08, Ryan Flaherty ’08 and Mike Minor ’09), even in years where the draft took several top notch players off the scorecard, Coach Corbin has maintained a winning tradition. Since 2004, Vanderbilt has averaged 42 wins and 21 losses and a 16-14 record in SEC play.
This level of consistency is permitted by what are now standard top 10 recruiting classes and a reputation among draft prognosticators of being the “toughest sign” among high school prospects. This “tough sign” mentality is perhaps best reflected in the Katie Thomas piece for the New York Times on Pedro Alvarez where the Grey Lady chronicled Coach Corbin’s sophisticated approach to putting accounting and projected earnings metrics in an easily readable notebook for recruits to see and understand the value of a Vanderbilt degree. Having top notch recruiters like Erik Bakich (2004-2009, now the Head Coach at Maryland) and Holliday (2009-Present) and the nation’s top Pitching Coach in Derek Johnson certainly helps.
Holliday, like Bakich before him, is a true recruiting closer with the type of coaching pedigree and enthusiasm to win over students, and the scout’s eye to identify real talent and the type of kid who wants to earn a degree. Meanwhile, Johnson (Baseball America’s 2010 National Assistant Coach of the Year and Collegiate Baseball’s 2004 National Pitching Coach of the Year) utilizes a keen eye for potential and a program that promotes healthy arms to ensure that the top flight arms keep making their way to campus. When you can trot out the development of true pitchers under your tutelage and point to first rounders like Sowers, Price, Weathers and Minor and three Baseball America Summer Pitchers of the Year in the last five years (Price ’06, Minor ’08 and Gray ’10) or point to how you took a Junior College outfielder transfer and turned him into an All-American closer and eighth overall pick in just two years (Weathers ’07), it isn’t hard to see why Johnson is considered the top tutor of amateur pitchers in America.
The 2011 Draft
While the Commodores have had eight players drafted in each of 2005, 2007 and 2008 seasons, 2011’s draft is most likely to resemble 2007’s, with as many as five players expected to go in the first two or three rounds and several more expected to be in the first half of the draft. Here’s my rundown of what to expect.
Five players are expected to graduate this fall with three representing solid draft prospects, one being a draft wild card and another taking the Carter Hawkins’ patented route to a career in professional sports management and representation.
Curt Casali is a player who entered his Vanderbilt career as a top flight draft prospect, eschewing the scouts and intent on making it from New Canaan to Nashville. With prototypical size (6’3” 220lb), solid pop times a good arm and big power potential in the bat, one wouldn’t necessarily have expected him to make it past the 2010 MLB draft. Neverthless, a nagging set of injuries including Tommy John surgery, a bum hamstring and a broken index finger have limited his ability to catch and resulted in only one full summer in the Cape Cod League. As such and in spite of being among the SEC’s best batters for the last two years, Casali is floating a bit below the hype radar. He will be drafted, most certainly, but a healthy and productive year (particularly behind the plate) could push Casali into a top 5 round pick in the draft.
Taylor Hill is another man with a little bit to prove. The 6’4”, 225 righty features three solid pitches with a heavy fastball that sits in the low 90s and can run up to 94, a spottable curve and an effective change. He turned down a 30th round draft selection by the Cleveland Indians and chose to not play on the cape last summer, after logging far more innings as a Junior than he did as a Freshman or Sophomore. Expected to win the Sunday starter spot, Hill can be counted on to significantly improve his draft stock this year, perhaps going in the top 10 to 15 rounds, much as Drew Hayes and Nick Christiani did in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Mark Lamm, like Casali, is a man whose injury demons have stunted what otherwise would be a career that could have been in the pros starting last summer. One of the truly elite athletes on campus, the 6’4” 215lb multiple-time Omaha Challenge winner was considered a top 150 draft prospect in 2009, but injuries and wildness problems derailed his playing time and forced him to regather in the training room and on the hill. After a highly successful summer and a promise of key, high-pressure innings in a setup or closer role, Lamm and his low 90s fastball and sharp slider could push Lamm into a draft class similar to Hill’s.
More complex is trying to figure out where Bryan Johns, a senior former transfer from Howard Junior College in Texas. The best line-drive hitter on the Commodores (.370 in 2010), Johns lack of power numbers and defensive issues at second base have pushed him into a designated hitter and reserve middle infield and left field role. At 5’9” and 170 pounds, barring surge in power or more time in the field to prove his defensive mettle, it’s tough to say whether or not Johns will have a spot in the first half of the draft. Though he’s more likely than not going to be a second half draftee, that most certainly is not a bar to professional success for a guy who can swing the lumber well.
The last graduating player, Drew Fann is a man with his eyes on the behind-the-scenes world of sports. Though his solid bat and consistently improving defensive prowess (though he’s not yet a plus arm behind the plate as a reserve catcher, his progress has been consistent) would make him a potential draft prospect, he would likely be a later round selection and appears intent on pursuing a career on the outside of the playing lines. Although Fann will have one additional year of eligibility left, it is anticipated that the duo of Spencer Navin and Jack Lupo will be the incumbent catchers in 2012.
Draft Eligible Players
Vanderbilt has thirteen underclassmen eligible for the 2011 draft, headlined by a quintet of truly elite draft prospects, each of whom could play themselves into a first round selection. We’ll kick off with the potential first rounders, followed by those players likely to be drafted high enough to forgo their remaining eligibility and then those likely to return to campus for another run in 2012.
Among the potential first rounders, none is more solid than Baseball America First Team Preseason All-American Sonny Gray. Although his sub-6’ stature (perhaps generously reported at 5’11” 180lb) will probably keep him out of the top four picks. Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, UCLA righty Gerritt Cole, TCU lefty Matt Purke and Texas righty Taylor Jungmann would all figure to come off the board before Gray, if the draft was today. Despite that, with the exception of Rendon, Gray actually features a repertoire of baseball skills and pure guts that probably would be rated ahead of his taller counterparts. With a four-seam fastball that touches the upper 90s, a low to mid 90s two-seamer that dances and the best curveball in the nation, Baseball America’s 2010 Summer Player of the Year is almost a surefire top 15 pick.
Following close on Gray’s heels is 6’2” 225lb third baseman Jason Esposito, a Baseball America Second Team Preseason All-American. Though he sits a bit in Rendon’s formidable shadow at third base, Esposito is one of the top all-around players in the nation, featuring a plus bat, plus speed, plus base running, a plus-plus arm and a plus-plus glove. With Rendon having a somewhat suspect ankle (with two summer ending broken feet the last two years), one analysts has even suggested that he would rather draft Esposito over Rendon. That’s not likely if both remain healthy this year, but Esposito should be off the board in the first 15 to 20 picks this June.
Joining Gray and Esposito as a legitimate first round prospect is righty Big Jack Armstrong. The 6’7” 225lb son of a MLB All Star of the same name, Armstrong wowed on the Cape as a Freshman in 2009, but his tenure in the Vanderbilt pitching staff has been one of subtle inconsistency. Incredibly athletic, Armstrong flashes a four seam fastball that can touch 98 early in an appearance, but as a starter he relies on a heavy low 90s sinker ball, an average change and an average slurve. Over the summer, he worked on a more biting slider which could be the key to his possible ascension back into the first round discussion (Armstrong was a projected 2011 first rounder at this time last year). The big question mark may be how he is used. Though he’s still in the equation for the starting rotation, it is generally believed that he is the fourth man behind Gray, Grayson Garvin and Hill in the weekend rotation, meaning that he may see innings as a late inning reliever or under the less publicized glare of the midweek start.
One of the men that beat out Armstrong for the rotation, Grayson Garvin has done nothing but get people out in the last year of baseball. Though his 2010 campaign was hampered by a nagging injury that kept him off the mound before SEC play began, Garvin was dominant once he got going, highlighted by one-run ball in nine NCAA tournament innings. He followed that up with similar dominance in the Cape Cod League, earning league honors as the Pitcher of the Year. With a lanky 6’6” 220lb frame, Garvin uses a three-quarters arm angle to baffle both lefties and righties with a dancing low 90s two seamer, effective change and plus slider. Though more likely to end up as a second or third round selection with a solid Junior campaign, Garvin could sneak into the first round if he adds just a little velocity in the Spring.
Rounding out the potential first rounders is Navery Moore, a 6’2” 205lb product of Franklin, Tennessee. Once the top high school prospect in the nation, the flame-throwing righty’s career took a detour with Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school. Over the last three years, the Junior has taken a determined approach to regain that status and the mid to upper 90s velocity. While he also features a good curve, it is that heat that scouts love. Moore has had trouble with wildness out of the strike zone in both Vanderbilt and summer league play, he figures to share closing duties with Lamm this Spring and should have every chance to skyrocket into the first round, much as Casey Weathers did in 2007.
Vanderbilt has two additional draft eligible players who seem likely to be drafted high enough to be very strong candidates to head into the pro ranks. The first is Baseball America Second Team All-American Aaron Westlake. The 6’4” 230lb first baseman is the king of the Hawkins Field batters box, having won the SEC batting crown as a redshift freshman in 2009 and having led the team in home runs and runs batted in a year ago. Westlake rebuffed the Blue Jays this past summer as a Cape League All-Star and expectations are that he will be a top 100 to top 150 prospect in the upcoming draft. Combined with his getting a diploma this May, it’s a darned good bet he’ll be off to the professional ranks in July 2011.
Having every bit of the same potential as Westlake, but without the metric results offensively to date, Joe Loftus is also a potential high round pick and could be off the board by the tenth round or earlier. Why, given his good but not great production as a Commodore? The 6’4” 210lb right fielder is an athletic specimen with good speed and an arm that Coach Corbin calls the best he’s had in his tenure. Though he has seen a couple of innings on the hill in NCAA and summer league play, he flashes the cannon from right where he is a rally killer, nailing nine base runners as a Sophomore. Loftus also flashes plus power potential in a high torque bat whip swing. Though there certainly is the possibility that Loftus could return for a fourth year, it is safe planning to assume that Loftus will not be back in 2012.
Two pitchers, in particular, are guys with draftable talents but who one hopes will return to lead the team in 2012. Corey Williams red shirted in 2009 and saw his 2010 season cut short with a broken kneecap. Prior to the injury, he showed a solid ability to pop the glove with a fastball in the low 90s and a solid slider. Provided that Williams is fully recovered, the 6’2” southpaw will eventually be a mid-round draft pick or higher and will play a key setup role for the Commodores.
A fellow talented pitcher and a guy with a slightly higher ceiling is 6’4” 225lb righty Will Clinard. Also a red shirt sophomore, Clinard can be expected to play a major setup role as the primary right handed setup reliever for Lamm and Moore and can also step in for a spot start. With a low 90s fastball with sink and a solid complement of off speed pitches, Clinard was among the most consistently excellent Commodores in 2010. Though certainly a draft prospect, with two more years of eligibility after 2011, Clinard is likely to return for a more prominent role, potentially as a weekend starter, in 2012.
Less likely to depart is starting second baseman Riley Reynolds. The 6’1” 190lb former Freshman All-American in 2009 took a step back in 2010 after putting on enough muscle in his Freshman summer to impact his bat speed. With his swing now back at game speed, the plus defender at second is ready to start again. While a top flight athlete, Reynolds hasn’t yet shown the really marketable draft skills (power, base running, etc.) to project out to a high enough draft pick to forgo a senior season. It could happen, but hasn’t yet.
Meanwhile, transfer students Jack Lupo (Air Force Academy) and Sam Lind (6’ 175lb) haven’t yet taken the field to be seen by scouts as a Dore. The infielder Lind, in particular, has drawn draft interest in the past from his time at Missouri and Central Arizona Junior College. Lupo, who plays the outfield and catches, hasn’t quite drawn the same attention to date. Both should be back in 2012 along with utility infielder Andrew Harris who doesn’t yet really register as a draft prospect.
Before getting into the recruiting class in the next post, let’s quickly check in on the likely returning depth chart for 2012.
- Jack Lupo, Senior
Spencer Navin, Sophomore
Nate Gonzalez, Sophomore
- Conrad Gregor, Sophomore
Regan Flaherty, Junior
Andrew Harris, Senior
- Riley Reynolds, Senior
Joel McKeithan, Sophomore
Sam Lind, Senior
- Anthony Gomez, Junior
Joel McKeithan, Sophomore
Sam Lind, Senior
Josh Lee, Sohomore
- Sam Lind, Senior
Joel McKeithan, Sophomore
Will Johnson, Sophomore
Josh Lee, Sophomore
DJ Luna, Junior
- Mike Yastremski, Junior
Jack Lupo, Senior
- Tony Kemp, Sophomore
Connor Harrell, Junior
- Connor Harrel, Junior
Regan Flaherty, Junior
- *Kevin Ziomek, Sophomore
Will Clinard, Junior
TJ Pecoraro, Sophomore
*Sam Selman, Junior
- *Keenan Kolinsky, Sophomore
Robert Hansen, Sophomore
Jake Harper, Sophomore
*Stephen Rice, Sophomore
* – denotes left handed pitcher.
There are clearly some holes to fill in on the roster ranks, though Coach Corbin figures to return a significant number of experienced and talented players, especially in the field. Although they may not play starting roles in 2011, it will be important to watch the development, especially of projected incumbent reserves like Sam Lind, Regan Flaherty, Sam Selman and Keenan Kolinsky. All four are likely to be in supporting capacities as a result of experienced depth, in spite of talent that might have seen starting roles on recent squads.
One of the key elements of building consistency, after all, is not only reigning in the top 10 classes, but also allowing talent to blossom. This is just as true for starting future aces like Price, Minor and Gray off in midweek roles as true freshmen as it is developing reserve players for future starting roles. 2012 is where the real payoff for many Dores will begin to shine.
They will, however, be joined once again by a consensus top 5 recruiting class. That class is Coach Holliday’s first full class of recruits as coordinator, and it will be profiled in Part 6 of this Preview, posting tomorrow.