Vanderbilt Baseball 2013: Preview Part 2
With Part 1 of the preview in the books, looking at the annual attrition, discussing what makes Vanderbilt a recruiting power and introducing the new coaches, it’s time to go through the group of young men that comprise Vanderbilt’s second consecutive #1 recruiting class. One year after the current Sophomore class was ranked first by Baseball America and second by Collegiate Baseball, the incoming Freshmen earned top honors from both publications.
This Part 2 of my annual baseball preview will introduce each of the new Commodores. Parts 3 and 4 will try to set forth how each of the players fit into the 2013 plan.
Click through for Part 2.
- Part 1: Transitioning to 2013
- Part 2: The New Recruits
- Part 3: Around the Diamond
- Part 4: On the Hill
- Part 5: What They’re Saying
- Part 6: Season Preview
- Part 7: Beyond 2013 – The Draft and Recruiting Classes
As always, I’ll be tweeting from @VUHawkTalk and posting on VandySports.com throughout the season. Also be sure to follow Chris Lee on Twitter (@ChrisLee70) for more great Vanderbilt baseball coverage.
Both Baseball America (subscriber link) and Collegiate Baseball (free link) named the incoming Vanderbilt class tops in the nation. Six of the 11 recruits were drafted in 2012, while 10 of the 11 were legitimate draft prospects out of high school. Below I have posted a brief summary of each player, along with scouting video, where available.
Before introducing them, it’s important to note the name that did not make it to Vanderbilt. The 2013 season will in part honor the memory of Parsons, Tennessee native Stephen Gant. The right-handed pitcher was a Vanderbilt signee before his tragic death last April. Gant was one of the cornerstones of the recruiting class and, based on the tweets and other tributes to the young man, his community as a whole. He is and will continued to be missed in Parsons and on West End.
If the 2012/13 class has one trademark, it is right-handed pitching. Coach Corbin brought in six players who are primarily hurlers firing from the right side. Five of the six are flamethrowers, but we’ll start with the change-of-pace guy.
RHP – Christian Raasch
6’1”, 175 lbs from Norcross, Georgia (Norcross High)
Raasch is an interesting prospect. Perhaps still enamored by the John Taylor – Jose Mata combination of sidewinders that dominated the SEC for South Carolina in 2011, or simply looking to repeat the success of Brian Miller as a Freshman in 2012, the staff looked to Raasch as a potential change-of-pace pitcher who can cause fits for right-handed batters. Raasch drops lower than Miller more consistently and projects, on the high side, to be a comparison to Taylor (who was a 2011 All-American). It’s unclear how soon he’ll truly arrive as a force on the Vanderbilt staff, as he moved to the sidewinding delivery only a couple of years ago, but his frisbee slider and natural sink could prove effective situationally against right-handed batters immediately. He has seen significant action in scrimmages this Spring, with mixed results. Unlike his compatriots in the recruiting class, Raasch will not up the radar guns as a low release point pitcher; however, he’s a sure bet to earn some chuckles with his jovial personality as much as the bad swings his release point generates for opponents. Raasch was ranked a top-1,000 senior by PerfectGame.
RHP – Walker Buehler
6’1”, 160 lbs from Lexington, Kentucky (Henry Clay High)
Buehler was the most highly-touted of the Commodore recruits when draft day arrived, as evidenced by Baseball America ranking the slight righty the 50th best overall prospect in the draft. Buehler spurned a 14th Round pick by Pittsburgh and is expected to assume a major role on the pitching staff immediately. He features a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and an advanced-feel power curveball presenting one of the best two-pitch combos in the Freshman class nationally. He adds an above average fading change-up and throws all three pitches with solid repetition of his throwing motion. At the annual Baseball Banquet, Coach Corbin compared Buehler’s delivery style to Orel Hershiser and noted the ball gets on you fast. While the projectability at the next level and his lack of bulk make a right-handed version of Sam Selman a natural comparison, Buehler is far more polished with respect to locating his fastball and he should be ready to play on day one. Buehler was ranked the 67th best high school senior by PerfectGame.
RHP – Carson Fulmer
5’11”, 190 lbs from Lakeland, Florida (All Saints’ Academy)
People will be forgiven if the name Sonny Gray comes to the mouths of folks who see Fulmer for the first time. The righty is not a Gray clone, but he has a high-effort delivery, a fastball in the 90s, a devastating hammer curve and, based on early reports, magnetic leadership skills. Fulmer was a 15th Round pick of the Red Sox and, like Buehler, is expected to play a very big role off the bat. Early reports have Fulmer among the very top performers during Spring practice and he has been pushing for a starting role. That said, don’t be surprised if he follows Gray’s footsteps as a Freshman closer. Fulmer selected Vanderbilt in an intense recruiting battle with North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. Baseball America ranked Fulmer the 123rd best prospect in the draft and PerfectGame rated him the 57th best high school senior. Fulmer participated in the PerfectGame All American Game.
RHP – Tyler Ferguson
6’3”, 215 lbs from Fresno, California (Clovis West High)
One of the most exciting freshmen on the team, Ferguson flew under the radar nationally for most of the recruiting and draft season. Part of this was his decision not to attend any of the bigger showcase events run by groups such as PerfectGame; he was discovered when Coach Corbin saw him throw two innings at the Area Code Games. Corbin saw enough in that first impression to offer Ferguson, a testament to his tremendous potential. Ferguson might project out to be a slightly more intimidating version of Will Clinard, with a similar four-pitch arsenal and more power in the arm (but less meteorological acumen). He works in the 90-92 range and tops out in the mid-90s after adding a couple of MPHs over the summer. He works a low-70s 12-6 curveball and a low-80s change, but his out pitch as a senior was a mid-80s cut fastball that has morphed into a slider since arriving on campus. Ferguson picked Vanderbilt over Stanford, Oregon, Fresno State and Tennessee. He was ranked 219th as a Senior by PerfectGame and was drafted by San Francisco in the 40th Round.
RHP – Pat Delano
6’6”, 275 lbs from Braintree, Massachusetts (Braintree High)
The big boy from Braintree is a hoss; though his listed weight is from start of the year and he appears to have re-sculpted his body and lost about 25 pounds in the months since. Delano was one of the nation’s elite pitching prospects (as high as 10th overall by one service) as a sophomore in high school before falling to a UCL tear in the Massachusetts state tournament, with Tommy John surgery thereafter. Much like former Commodore Navery Moore four years ago, he’s been working his way back to health and is seeing his velocity return. Dr. James Andrews (who operated on TJ Pecoraro in June 2011) performed the surgery in July 2010, meaning Delano will be three years removed from the procedure by the end of his freshman year. The big righty has perhaps a wider velocity range than any other Commodore right now, pitching in the upper 80s to 91, but with a history of touching 96 on the gun on good days. Delano’s repertoire mirrors former ‘Dore Jack Armstrong, relying on a heavy fastball and good movement from a two-seamer to pitch to contact. As a high school senior, he used a cut fastball as his breaking pitch, though I imagine that he’s been working with Coach Brown on developing a slider or curve as a Freshman. Although he should see playing time this year, his impact likely won’t truly be felt until 2014 or 2015, where he has the potential to become an elite starter. Delano was drafted in the 35th Round by Boston and was ranked 223rd among high school seniors by PerfectGame.
RHP – Luke Stephenson
6’2”, 205 lbs from Fairland, Indiana (Triton Central High)
Like Ferguson and Delano, Stephenson fits the mold of the classic Vanderbilt righty during the Corbin era. He’s big, well-built and features a power arm. His scouting report features a fastball that sits in the low 90s, but he can gear it up to 94 or 95, even late in games. He uses a drop-and-drive motion (perfected by guys like Roger Clemens) which leads to some arm drag and consistency issues on secondary pitches for most young pitchers. As a result, his curve and change-up aren’t quite as well developed as the heat and his mechanics will likely need some work, despite a track record of good location. That said, he’s the top talent out of Indiana and has through-the-roof projectability. It’s a little difficult to predict Stephenson, Ferguson and Delano’s roles in 2013, but all three could see significant time out of the pen in middle relief or, if they develop quickly, as late game pitchers. At the Baseball Banquet, Coach Corbin indicated that Stephenson is working out some mechanical issues and will likely not see much time in the first few weeks of the season. Stephenson’s development will be a key thing to monitor when projecting the late season and 2014 pitching roles. He was ranked 165th as a Senior by PerfectGame.
While the Vanderbilt class is undoubtedly stamped as being led by right-handed pitchers, the depth of positional players is also outstanding and three have been battling to crack the starting lineup as early as on opening day. The five positional recruits are all outstanding athletes and have solid upside potential.
MIF – Dansby Swanson
6’0”, 175 lbs from Marietta, Georgia (Marietta High)
Perhaps the Freshman who most thought might crack the starting lineup first, Swanson was a highly regarded draft prospect (138th overall by Baseball America) who followed in the footsteps of guys like Casali and Gray in telling big league teams to not draft him. Colorado took a 38th Round flier in drafting him, but Swanson remained true to his commitment. Swanson raised eyebrows throughout the fall scrimmages and the Black and Gold series, showing tremendous acumen defensively and an aggressive style of play at the plate and on the bases. He is a hyper athletic player who was also the shooting guard for his high level basketball team at Marietta. Swanson is likely to see time at either shortstop or second base. He bats and throws from the right side and plays with excellent speed and a level of maturity and calm not often seen among Freshmen. He does not project to be a power bat, but should easily hit for average. He was ranked the 151st best senior by PerfectGame.
OF – Rhett Wiseman
5’11”, 190 lbs from Mansfield, Massachusetts (Buckingham Browne & Nichols)
Perhaps no positional recruit since Ryan Westmoreland or Vanderbilt player since Pedro Alvarez has had as high a ceiling as Rhett Wiseman. The speedy outfielder from Massachusetts is built like a rock and has Major League level metrics as an athlete. The PerfectGame All American Game participant has an ideal physique to combine with an excellent makeup (he was a great student and his high school class president) and work ethic. His scouting reports do, however, indicate that he doesn’t have as refined a skillset as his warmer-weather compatriots. His throwing motion and batting stance were works in progress last spring, but his excellent foot and bat speed indicate that he should be a quick student and ready to contribute in some capacity this season, and as a full-time player in 2014. His max-effort style of play should acquit himself well to the coaching staff and, when he makes solid contact, few players hit the ball harder. He gets to first in a Tony Kemp-like 3.63 seconds on bunts and four seconds flat on full swings, which could help him see the field sooner if he can consistently keep the ball on the ground. At the Baseball Banquet, Coach Corbin indicated that Wiseman has been tearing the cover off the ball, meaning we could see the left-handed hitter as a DH or pinch hitter as early as game one, when the ‘Dores face Long Beach State righty Shane Carle. Wiseman was drafted in the 25th Round by Chicago and was ranked the 136th best draft prospect by Baseball America and 58th best high school senior by PerfectGame. He committed to Vanderbilt as a 15-year old after being connected to the staff by Walter Beede (Ty’s father).
3B/OF – Xavier Turner
6’1”, 220 lbs from Sandusky, Ohio (Sandusky High)
Joining Swanson as the Freshmen most likely to start in the field early for the ‘Dores is powerful right-handed bat Turner. The Buckeye was a former summer league teammate of Sophomore Tyler Beede and Walter Beede again put the staff on notice of a future ‘Dore. Turner brings a very advanced approach at the plate, along with good hands and a consistent arm at the hot corner. Despite his stout frame, Turner is a solid athlete who has quick-twitch agility and solid speed. His aggression on the base paths and love of running makes him the type of player that will put pressure on opposing arms (a trait loved by Corbin squads). The former Ohio State commitment should be a 5th or 6th hole hitter if he can crack the lineup at third base or left field. After being drafted in the 34th Round by the Red Sox, three years in the Vanderbilt program should significantly boost Turner’s professional prospects. As a pro, he seems to have enough agility and speed to stick at the hot corner and his reputation as a hitter indicates that his right-handed bat will play on a corner infield spot. He was ranked the 282nd best prospect for the 2012 draft by Baseball America and the 187th best high school Senior by PerfectGame.
UTL/RHP – Kyle Smith
6’3”, 220 lbs from Old Hickory, Tennessee (Mt. Juliet High)
Maintaining the long and decorated tradition of Mt. Juliet players starring for Tim Corbin, Smith is another Bears athlete who had a high profile in Tennessee, but flew somewhat under the radar nationally and with the draft. Smith joined Gant as the top players in Tennessee and starred on the Tennessee SunBelt Tournament team as both a pitcher and a position player. Smith dominated on the tournament, earning the Most Valuable Batter award. His numbers were off the charts, going 13-23 with 4 homeruns, 8 runs scored and 12 RBI against some of the best talent across the Sun Belt. The outstanding athlete has a stellar arm and right-handed bat with solid power potential. Smith also brings versatility, with the ability to play any position on the diamond, other than catcher and maybe center field. Although recruited as an outfielder and corner infielder, Smith’s talent has earned him a look on the mound this Spring; which opportunity Corbin credits to Pitching Coach Scott Brown, who insisted that he be lent Smith’s arm to develop). Smith’s role likely will be more limited as a Freshman with veterans at five positions and stiff competition at the other three spots. Smith is a player who has the projectability to be an impact bat and arm, not unlike former Alabama third baseman and closer Jake Smith (although that is lofty praise to live up to). As a pitcher, his high 80s to 91MPH arm earned him a spot as a pitcher on the Tennessean All Mid-State team in 2011 and 2012. Smith did not participate in the World Wood Bat Tournament or any PerfectGame showcases, reducing his draft and prospect rankings. He was named one of the top 1,000 Seniors by PerfectGame.
UTL – Tyler Campbell
5’11”, 160 lbs from Portland, Oregon (Lake Oswego High)
The last recruiting signing to go public was the ridiculously athletic Tyler Campbell. The Oregon infielder comes to Vanderbilt with athleticism that will put him into the mix as a middle infielder and left fielder, though his role will likely be as a pinch runner early in the season. Campbell impressed with his defense, batting and base running in the Black and Gold Fall series. He has excellent range, a reliable arm, quick-twitch reactions and a line drive swing. The former Oregon State commitment drew even more wows with a pair of stunning videos showing off his athleticism. In them, the young man takes up jumping over cars on camera (my old hobby), parkour and dunking. Campbell was ranked the second best prospect in Oregon by some services, was a finalist for Gatorade state player of the year and was named the 500th best Senior by PerfectGame.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s Campbell jumping cars and a more comprehensive highlight package.
Perhaps unlike any other recruiting class since the 2005 recruiting class led by Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and Brett Jacobsen, this group of Freshmen provides incredible high-end balance both in the field and on the mound. The class also basically includes now-Sophomore catcher Chris Harvey. Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania graduated the PerfectGame All-American from high school a full year early after extra summer classes, allowing Harvey to enroll last Fall. After seeing limited time as a true Freshman, the tremendously powerful young man should see more time behind the plate in relief of Spencer Navin and as a designated hitter.
Virtually every player in the class could develop into a front-line, All-SEC caliber player and a mid- to high-round draft pick. While only four or five are almost certain to see significant roles in 2013, the class should truly arrive in 2014.
Also with real draft potential for the 2026 MLB Draft is new Vanderbilt bat boy Gabe Light. The son of Commodore football sideline reporter and Athlon Sports Editor Mitch Light, Gabe stands at a solid 4’4″, 60 lbs (or 0.71 Kemps) and runs a 5.35 40 yard dash. The speed will come into use as he’s taken under the wing of senior bat boy Riley McCormick, who grasped the fascination of Omaha during the 2011 World Series.
Let’s learn a little more about the players thanks to the VUCommodores.com Freshman Roommate Challenge, featuring your ticket guru and host (and early season radio announcer) Eric Jones.