tablet mg

Home > Baseball, Sport, Vanderbilt > Vanderbilt Baseball – First Week Behind, Week Ahead

Vanderbilt Baseball – First Week Behind, Week Ahead

February 21st, 2011

Despite not having his A+ fastball, Sonny Gray settled down after a rough first to mow down the Toreros en route to a 4-3 Friday win. Photo Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

The first weekend is in the books and despite some soggy fields and sometimes sloppy infield defense, the Commodores have come out on top, with a perfect 4-0 start to the season. It was not easy, but that was not expected when playing thrice against a preseason ranked opponent in San Diego (Collegiate Baseball 28) that hauled in the number 2 recruiting class in the country. San Diego had some real solid talent, but much of it was young and not ready for the type of pitching performances and base running madness that Vanderbilt unleashed in Southern California.

This post wraps up some reflections on my 2011 Preview, looks back at the past weekend, and takes a quick gander at the week ahead when Vanderbilt opens their home slate with a visit from neighboring unranked Belmont (2-1, picked to finish 6th in Atlantic Sun) and high flying Stanford (2-1, picked to finish 2nd in the Pac-10).

Click Through to Read On

Corrections, Apologies and Indignation (and Some Recap)

Revisiting some of my preseason predictions, it’s clear that I got a couple of things a bit wrong. I obviously prefer to focus on that which I nailed and the comprehensive nature of the overview, but let’s get down to some corrections.

The Man of Steal

First and foremost, there is the matter of Tony Kemp. On a team with Sonny Gray and Jason Esposito on it, I’m not sure anyone would have guessed that the most exhilarating player in the lineup would be a little-noted running back from Centennial. Kemp flew under the radar without attending the many prospect circuit events that draw notice and give a removed observer like me a chance to follow a kid. For that, he clearly deserves my derision, because dang this kid is something special.

During Sunday’s game, the Twit feeds were alive with efforts to don Kemp with an appropriate nickname. While I fancied my effort with Tony and the Kemptations and a friend’s Caveat Kemptor (pitchers beware), the winner was undoubtedly Anchor of Gold’s Clark Kemp: The Man of Steal. Even Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt gave that a blessing, noting that he’s “Faster than a speeding bullet.”

Why so much attention? Well, it starts with discipline and coverage and is emphatically driven home by speed that Fitt called a “plus-plus” tool. At the plate, Kemp faced some talented lefties and righties and exhibited great plate discipline (drawing walks in three of his first four plate appearances), good coverage (striking out just twice over the weekend) and getting hits (5 singles and a triple). He was also a menace on the base paths, nabbing four bases and flustering the opposing pitchers and catchers. In the field, he made three outstanding plays, justifying early word that the kid was a Hoover in the outfield.

Connor Harrell (at left, with shortstop Jason Esposito) will man center, but a strong push for that spot (and the title of fastest on the team) is rising from left fielder Tony Kemp. Photo Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

While Kemp may eventually shift from left field to center field, where plus defender Connor Harrell now roams, he is almost certain to be a three-year starter in the leadoff hole for the Dores. Out of that leadoff spot, he almost reminds of a mix between Brian Harris and David Macias, but with wheels that may be faster even than Antoan Richardson. While word is that Harrell is still the fastest man on the team at full stride, what makes Kemp so dangerous is his hair trigger release to a sprint. While this is reflected in his outfield play, it shows most at first, where his last two steals on Sunday were completed almost before the catcher even received the throw.

Needless to say, the Man of Steal is fast on his way to being a fan favorite and a three year star. Fitt already dubbed him a veritable lock for his 2011 All-Fitt team (comprised entirely of sub 6’ baseballers). Standing at 5’6”, the former running back is a mighty mite on the field and is really going to be fun to watch.

Lineup Shakeup

There were a few developments in the lineup that were split between some true shakeups and a couple of injuries. The former involves the Commodores infield. While I was somewhat convinced that game results would lead to Riley Reynolds winning back his starting second base job, I called that one a bit early.

A combination of two factors is believed to have led to Tim Corbin going with a somewhat unexpected lineup to start the 2011 season and it appears it will be the regular squad for the time being. The first of those factors is the decision to move Preseason All-American Esposito from third base to shortstop. This is not a new concept, as Esposito was drafted by the Royals in 2009 as a shortstop and I mentioned in my 2010 and 2011 previews that the idea of shifting Esposito to short was out there; however, I admit I did not see this one coming.

In a chicken and egg conundrum, the situation may have been pushed forward by the desire to get Bryan Johns’ bat in the lineup, the second factor for the shakeup. Johns had what can fairly be called a disastrous short stint at second base in 2010 (including a three-error game). But the former Howard College (TX) shortstop did not allow that to impact his plate performance, where he hit .370 and was among the team leaders in Runs Created (as calculated by VandySports.com’s Chris Lee). Apparently, Coach Corbin toyed with and pulled the trigger on moving Johns to third (where the plays would always be in front of him) as a means of getting his bat into the lineup.

With shortstop and third base all set and Aaron Westlake firmly entrenched at first, all eyes fell to second where incumbent 2010 Freshman All-American second baseman Anthony Gomez retained his spot over 2009 Freshman All-American second baseman Reynolds. I expect Reynolds will still see time as a defensive replacement on weekends in the short term and will almost certainly be starting in the midweek. His versatility (he can play all four infield spots) will ensure he’s given a proper chance to win back his starting spot.

In the outfield, Joe Loftus is apparently dealing with an arm injury and is currently featured in a DH platoon with Sam Lind and Conrad Gregor. Additionally, Air Force transfer Joe Lupo also is dealing with injuries and did not appear over the weekend, but all indications are that he is very much in the mix in the outfield when he returns to health. Throughout the weekend, the lineup featured Kemp in left, Harrell in center and Mike Yastrzemski in right field. Given that Harrell and Yaz are returning starters, it will be quite crowded when the team returns to full health. I’m entirely uncertain of how things will play out, but from a pure enjoyment standpoint, I can say that I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean we see less of Kemp.

Rotation Depth

Grayson Garvin was simply electric for the Dores on Sunday, carrying a perfect game into the 7th inning. Photo Mike Rapp, Vandysports.com.

With four games over the weekend, Coach Corbin and pitching Coach Derek Johnson had to run out a four man rotation. If not for Jack Armstrong Jr’s paced recovery from a back injury, he would have been expected to get a start. Instead we saw the flashes of brilliance from freshman southpaw Kevin Ziomek. The man from Massachusetts did not disappoint in a Saturday win over San Diego State. He permitted just 4 hits and 1 walk against 5 strikeouts in 5.1 innings of Vanderbilt’s 7-3 win. He threw just 71 pitches, showing good economy.

Surrounding Ziomek was the expected weekend rotation of Gray, Taylor Hill and Grayson Garvin. A Preseason All-American, Gray went 4.1 innings on a strict pitch limit of 85 and earned the win, striking out 6 while allowing 4 hits, 2 walks and 2 hit batsmen. After a rough first inning made more difficult by sloppy defense on a very wet field, Gray really settled down and flashed low-90s heat and a dominant curve in Vanderbilt’s 4-3 victory over San Diego, which was cut short to five innings due to rain.

In Sunday’s first game, Hill was dominant, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning and lasting 7.1 innings with 5 hits, no walks and 8 strikeouts. Vanderbilt pulled away with two runs in the 7th inning en route to a 3-1 victory over San Diego. Even more so than Ziomek, Hill was economical, throwing just 88 pitches.

In the nightcap, Grayson Garvin was spectacular, carrying a perfect game into the 7th inning. He tried to go the distance but was touched for a few hits (one of which should have been scored an error) as San Diego rallied for three late runs. Garvin’s line ended at 8.1 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs (2 earned) and 10 strikeouts against no walks in Vanderbilt’s 7-3 win over San Diego. Garvin was the workhorse of the weekend, throwing 103 pitches.

Vanderbilt was not required to dip into the pen often and used only four bullpen arms all weekend. Mark Lamm (3 games, 2 innings, 3 hits, 2 strikeouts) was very good, flashing low 90s heat and a biting slider. Most importantly, he did not walk a batter.

Similarly, Navery Moore was simply dominant. In two games, Moore allowed just 1 hit in 1.2 innings and struck out 3 of the 6 batters he faced. He did so with a low to mid 90s fastball, hard slider and good changeup. Moore picked up a save in the 3-1 Sunday win and, like Lamm, belied past wildness by pounding the zone with strikes.

Will Clinard also saw action in two games and looked good, picking up a save in the Friday game. On the weekend, he threw 1 inning, allowing 1 hit and striking out a batter.

Corey Williams was the only other Dore to throw, facing 6 batters some 11 months after having his kneecap shattered by an Austin Maddox line-drive in Gainesville. Williams struck out 2 batters in 1.2 innings, allowing 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk.
Four key reserves I was really hoping to see did not get any action over the weekend. Righty TJ Pecoraro and lefties Keenan Kolinsky, Steven Rice and Sam Selman all figure to see action in Wednesday’s mid-week game against Belmont.

Going forward, the bullpen order seems pretty well settled behind the Gray, Hill and Garvin weekend rotation. Clinard nicely fills the Chase Reid “Mr. Everything” role with Williams providing a tough lefty arm and Lamm and Moore closing things out. One would hope to see one of the additional lefties step up to give another change of angle arm in the regular pen, but this role could eventually be filled by Ziomek.

When Armstrong returns, either he or Ziomek seems certain to be shifted from starting duties to a key weekend bullpen role. It’s unclear which of the two that would be, but with only one 5-game week on the calendar and the need to get key youngsters like Selman and Pecoraro innings, one cannot imagine splitting the weekday innings among the Alpha and the Omega (that would be Jack A. and Kevin Z., for those who lacked a classical education).

Wednesday against Belmont, I expect to see a bullpen day. If healthy, one would think Armstrong would get the start on a pitch count. If not, expect Pecoraro to start, followed by Selman, Kolinsky and Rice with Clinard closing things out. Ziomek also could see an inning or two on four days rest.

Roster Change Up

A couple of developments in the roster that I didn’t catch were the dropping off of red shirt freshman catcher Nate Gonzalez and true freshman right hander Jake Harper. I’m not sure on the details of either departure, but it is not entirely unexpected as it brings the roster size down to the NCAA maximum of 35. The two departees join summer changeovers Jordan Wormsley (who is now a graduate assistant) and Richie “Chuck Norris of Pitching” Goodenow (who transferred to Lipscomb) among the roster attrition ranks.

The Week Behind

All in all, San Diego was an excellent trip for the team. Viewers back east had to suffer through the horrors of San Diego’s “ToreroVision” on Friday and Sunday (this was about as bad a web cast as one could imagine), but Vandy traveled well with a contingent a couple hundred strong. New Head Football Coach James Franklin and Vice Chancellor David Williams were among those to make the trip, no doubt enjoying the chance to meet and greet with boosters.

One of the biggest boosts to the Dores' Omaha hopes is a healthy Curt Casali to start the year. Photo Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

With victories of 4-3 (5 innings), 7-1, 3-1 and 7-3, the Commodores never trailed over the weekend and kept solid composure throughout. Nowhere was this better reflected than in their stellar strikeout to walk ratio. For the weekend, the hurlers gave out only four free passes while sitting down 36 batters in 32 innings.

There were two notable areas for improvement, the first being a bit of a tendency to go station-to-station, with only four extra-base hits of 32 hits on the weekend. With the new BBCOR bats perhaps limiting some of the umph on power numbers (though several think that it will lead to more balls hit over outfielders’ heads, due to shallow defensive positioning), Vanderbilt will need to be aggressive running the bases. Coach Corbin countered the 90-foot march by tearing up the base paths with steals. Vanderbilt was 12-13 in steal attempts for the weekend.

The other area of minor concern was the infield defense. The Commodores committed three errors on Saturday and one on Sunday, but there were several make-able plays on the infield (particularly in the rain-soaked first inning on Friday and the ninth inning on Sunday) which were not converted. In particular, despite looking sure handed for most of the weekend and making a spectacular play on Friday, Jason Esposito seemed out of sorts in the ninth inning on Sunday. On a bases-loaded grounder to the hole that was ruled a single, Esposito seemed unsure as to whether he would go to third, second or first with the ball and ended up double clutching on a play he should have made. Two batters later, he took his eye off a soft liner, appearing to gear up for a double-off throw behind the runner at second.

On the bright side, Johns looked pretty decent for most of the weekend, Esposito looked very much like a shortstop and flashed his plus-grade arm, and Westlake was brilliant at first. Additionally, the outfield of Kemp in left, Harrell in Center and Yaz (and perhaps eventually Loftus) in right is stellar.

Most importantly, Curt Casali looked like a true receiver in the catcher role. While Drew Fann drew the duty of catching Taylor Hill in Sunday’s early game, Casali was steady throughout and he nailed one of three base runners.

After the weekend, Vanderbilt began to move up in the polls. In both the Baseball America and NCBWA releases on Monday, Vanderbilt inched up one spot to third in each ranking. Florida and UCLA share the top two spots in both polls, with the Gators holding onto the top spot for Baseball America and UCLA snaring the apex from Texas Christian (which fell to fifth) in the NCBWA.

The Week Ahead

Vanderbilt faces off against Belmont on Wednesday at 4 PM in the opener. I expect to see some starting lineup shakeup as reserves see action. While the injury situation may keep the outfield intact as Kemp, Harrell and Yaz, don’t be surprised to see Reynold and Gomez at some combination of second and third base, Conrad Gregor at first or designated hitter and perhaps Spencer Navin getting a debut behind the plate. Although I didn’t see the scrimmages, word is that Navin is pushing Fann for reserve catcher duties. Also expect to see a true bullpen day.

This weekend, Stanford rolls in. In preseason polls, the Cardinal was ranked 10th by Collegiate Baseball, 13th by Baseball America, 14th by the NCBWA and 16th by the Coaches. Stanford moved up in the week one Baseball America and NCBWA polls, climbing to the 8th and 12th spots, respectively. Over the weekend, Stanford stole a 2-1 series win on the road against the Rice Owls, who are now ranked 18th (NCBWA) and 22nd (Baseball America).

Stanford features one of the top arms in America in sophomore righty Mark Appel, who, like UCLA’s Gerritt Cole, regularly hits the upper 90s. Appel led a Cardinal staff that stymied the Owls on Friday and Sunday and held consensus Preseason Player of the Year Anthony Rendon to a 1-12 start to the 2011 campaign. At the plate, Stanford is led by sophomore infielder Kenny Diekroeger, who joined Commodores Gray, Esposito and Westlake on the Preseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List.

Friday’s game is slated for 4:00 PM, Saturday’s for 2 PM and Sunday’s for 1 PM (all times Central). All four games will be webcast on VUCommodores.com.

Reading List

Baseball America Three Strikes (recapping the weekend)

Baseball AmericaTop 25 Tracker

Baseball AmericaOpening Day Observations on Vanderbilt and Gray

VandySports Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)

Anchor of Gold A Weekend Affair

College Baseball DailyVanderbilt Tag

  1. February 21st, 2011 at 21:53 | #1

    But damn, this is a thorough and well written recap. Solid as usual, NYD.

  2. February 21st, 2011 at 22:06 | #2

    I take it you are a Vandy fan. Good stuff and I feel completely up to speed on the Commodores. I look forward to the SC match-up.

  3. admin
    February 21st, 2011 at 23:27 | #3

    @Johnny Gardner @Train Island
    Thanks gents.
    Can’t wait to see Sonny and JBJr square off again. Gonna be a heck of a three way race in the East.

  4. February 22nd, 2011 at 13:34 | #4

    First, this is excellent. Next, Sunday’s ToreroVision was positively cinematic in comparison to the convulsions and the like on Friday. Third, I’m glad Clark Kemp and I now share two alma maters. He’ll be fun to watch this season (and the next, and the next!). Thanks for all the tweets and this post to feed my Vandy sports addiction.

  5. admin
    February 22nd, 2011 at 19:14 | #5

    @Christine I know… ToreroVision on Friday was enough to make me look for Jack Kevorkian’s phone number (sadly, he’s no longer in business so I had to order some sod from Toomer’s Corner).

Comments are closed.