Vandy Baseball Season Prospectus: Trust The Sweat
It’s that fantastic time of year again when the Fall ball thwack of the BBCOR bat can be heard over at Hawkins Field and you can walk down and smell the fresh cut grass… wait… belay that last part. In an summer that saw some outstanding performances, a high level recruiting class and a new recruiting coordinator, the biggest change on West End is the installation of artificial turf in both Dudley Field and the Hawk. Coach Tim Corbin took some time to meet with the press today and discussed a variety of topics including the new field.
Click through to watch the video and for some preliminary thoughts, including the announcement that Collegiate Baseball magazine named the incoming VandyBoys the top recruiting class nationally. I’ll also set forth what I hope the schedule will be for my annual preview of the Commodores Baseball squad.
Back to Fifty-Six
In the video, and of important note, Coach Corbin discussed that the Commodores will not be playing fall scrimmages against other teams. In 2010-11, the Commodores built a lot of confidence in outplaying the Texas Longhorns while splitting a pair of 12-inning games in Austin. Last year, with an SEC ban on fall travel, the Dores hosted the Cal-Fullerton Titans and played very poorly in dropping a pair of games and any sort of preseason momentum. With it taking so long for the 2012 squad to truly gel, Vanderbilt nearly missed the NCAA tournament because they were teetering with a sub-.500 record before playing outstanding ball down the stretch and ultimately qualifying for the SEC tournament final and the NC State regional.
Realizing he didn’t want to lose a pair of regular season games — fall games reduce by an equal amount the maximum number of regular season games without counting toward the final won-loss record — Coach Corbin has elected to field a full 56 game schedule this season, which will feature a traditional early season trip out West and a visit from a national powerhouse to Nashville. The schedule will be publicly released soon and will provide that important extra 18 innings of regulation ball to allow a very, very deep Commodores pitching staff to get some added work.
They’ll be doing so on a new AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D surface that Coach Corbin has designed to play pretty fast. It seems to be a little slick and players will slide a little bit longer while stealing. He expects it to help the bunting game (somewhat lovingly referred to as #VanderBunting around these parts), allow the team to practice nearly year round and will keep the laundry bills down. With dirt only on the mound, Coach Corbin said that he’ll miss the sight of a dirty uniform to tell who’s giving max effort on the field. In its stead, he delivered the memorable line that we’ll just have to learn to “trust the sweat.”
Connor Harrell also spoke to the media, but VUCommodores’ youtube page disabled embedding on that video. It can be seen here. Like Coach Corbin, Harrell spoke of the impressive nature of the Freshman recruits.
As an added bonus to the full slate of games, Vanderbilt fans can avail themselves of two additional family trips to the Hawk. Season ticket renewals just went out and you can renew your tickets online by clicking here or by calling the ticket office run by everyone’s favorite early season broadcaster (Eric Jones) at (615) 322-3746.
A New Recruiting Era, Same Recruiting Dominance
One of my favorite parts of covering the VandyBoys is following the recruiting trail. While I won’t yet go into great detail on the class, by now most fans will have heard that Collegiate Baseball tabbed the eleven new Dores as the top recruiting haul in the nation. Vanderbilt led seven SEC squads in the top 11 classes, with all but two of the league’s teams listed among the top 40 classes and only Tennessee failing to make the top 100.
Number of Recruits
|4. Louisiana St.||
|10. South Carolina||
|13. Texas A&M||
|37. Mississippi St.||
Not Ranked: Tennessee
The class is not really so much led by any particular player as it is flooded with elite talent. There are four premium infielders (third baseman Xavier Turner, shortstop Dansby Swanson, corner infielder Kyle Smith and utility man Tyler Campbell). Added in is an PG All-American outfielder Rhett Wiseman (who was named by Baseball America as the top prospect in a Futures summer league that was mostly filled with college players) and a side-winding right-handed pitcher from Georgia (Christian Raasch) who will complement Brian Miller in giving Derek Johnson some change-of-pace tools out of the pen.
That said, the coup de grâce of this class is the five power arms presented to Coach Johnson as shiny new toys to develop. They include a kid who spurned the hometown Wildcats and was the highest rated prospect in the class (Walker Buehler), a PG All-American from Florida (Carson Fulmer), the top prospect out of Indiana (Luke Stephenson), a flamethrower from California with a classic VU rightie build (Tyler Ferguson) and a giant out of, where else, Massachusetts (Pat Delano). All five fire from the right side and could leave Vanderbilt throwing in the mid- to upper-90s after three or four years with DJ. All five are already in the low- to mid-90s.
The haul lessens the impact of the losses of first rounders Matt Olson (a first baseman in the mold of Aaron Westlake, who was drafted by Oakland) and Collin Wiles (another flame throwing rightie from Matt Freije’s hometown who went to the Rangers). The impact that remains to be felt is the loss of Stephen Gant, the top player in Middle Tennessee who passed tragically earlier in the Summer. The football team has had to deal with tragedy in the past with the sudden deaths of Kwane Doster and star recruit Rajaan Bennett, so there will be some on campus who can help the Commodores to deal with losing a man who would have been one of their brothers.
I’ll get into the class in greater depth in the early stages of my multi-part season prospectus, but it’s also important to note one of the most important new recruits for the Commodores. After Josh Holliday graduated, as Erik Bakich did before him, to the ranks of head coach of a power program at Oklahoma State, the Vanderbilt staff conducted a thorough search and lured a second straight top recruiter from Arizona State to Nashville. Following Holliday in that transition will be Travis Jewett, who masterminded the number three recruiting class for Arizona State this year (per Collegiate Baseball). Jewett was the Associate Head Coach and recruiting coordinator for the Sun Devils the past three years, after serving in the same role for five years at Washington State. All indications I’ve received is that Vanderbilt did what they always do in recruiting, be it of players or coaches, they identified the guy the wanted and then sold him on the program. Welcome coach Jewett.
Notes and Schedule
As you saw in the above video, Coach Corbin noted that this will be the fastest Vanderbilt team during his tenure, but he also expects to see some added pop from center fielder Connor Harrell (who was not exactly lacking strength before), first baseman Conrad Gregor and right fielder Mike Yastrzemski. Add in stellar summers at the plate from Tony Kemp (who is expected to remain at second base after switching from left field toward the end of 2012) and third baseman Vicente Conde (who could also be looked at in left or at shortstop) and you have the base of a very stout lineup.
The lineup will feature at least one new face with the departure of fan favorite Anthony Gomez to the professional ranks. The three-year starting middle infielder promised to teach his successor the hidden ball trick that Brian Harris passed down to him and, from early indications, it looks like that successor will be Dansby Swanson or Joel McKeithan (though several other players could get looks at shortstop).
Rounding out some roster notes, the information is not 100 percent solid on these, but it appears that Will Johnson has decided to retire from the game and become a full-time student. Will had his moments in limited play for the Dores and had a couple of fine tours playing for summer teams. Meanwhile, after a breakout summer batting above .500 (yes, Raph Rhymes, you can do that), Josh Lee has transferred to a college in Arizona — I believe Central Arizona. I’ll have the details on those hopefully firmed up by the time the previews start up. Both Will and Josh will remain VandyBoys for all time and I thank them for the hard work they put in for us.
Going forward, I’m not quite sure on a timetable for my season previews. I plan to travel to Nashville to attend the Black and Gold series of three intra-squad games over homecoming weekend (October 25, 26 and 28) and I may decide to hold off until then; however, there is some value to getting part one of the preview (an overview of the draft attrition and incoming freshmen) and perhaps parts two and three (an overview of each position on the roster) out there before we see the guys in cleats. Part four (a true season preview) and part five (looking at future recruiting and how the roster could look after this year’s draft) will wait until the winter.
Until then, Go Dores! And don’t forget to follow me on twitter @WhenItStrikesMe (this site) and @VUHawkTalk (for baseball tweeting). Also follow Chris Lee on Twitter (@ChrisLee70) and at his site VandySports.com for the most in-depth VU sports coverage. Finally, don’t forget to tune into Chris’ Saturday morning Vanderbilt radio show on 102.5 The Game from 9 to 10 a.m. CT.