For more than a decade, we have enlisted college coaches who have faced the super regional teams to break down the matchups. Sources are given anonymity in exchange for their candor. All times are Eastern. Rankings indicate national seeds.
Louisville (49-12) at No. 2 Vanderbilt (54-10)
Saturday: 3 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday: 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Monday: 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Coach: Dan McDonnell.
Postseason History: Third super regional appearance (last in 2009). Seeking ninth trip to Omaha (last in 2007).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Louisville Regional. Won in three games, beating Oklahoma State in the final.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“They’re very good. There’s no doubt that, in my opinion, it’s comparable to a Double-A bullpen. I mean, they can make so many moves out of that pen. And obviously (pitching coach) Roger Williams does a great job with that pitching staff and Dan (McDonnell) does a tremendous job overall. The multiple moves they can make, and each arm coming out has a different quality that is outstanding. (Lefthander Cody) Ege comes out, he’s throwing a good breaking ball and commands the zone. Then you’ve got Cole Sturgeon, the two-way player, he can come in and throw. Then you’ve got (Kyle) Funkhouser, I mean, are you kidding me? A midweek arm that’s 90-93, with a plus breaking ball and changeup? Then you’ve got Burdi on the back end that’s incredible. Now, he has some command issues at times, but are you kidding me? A hundred (mph)? And again, their three starters are very good. It’s a very balanced team.
“They’re very solid defensively, not great position-player wise, but solid. Ty Young is very good. The catcher (Gibson) does a nice job. Whiting at short is OK, but he plays so hard. He’s like an Eckstein—you’re like, ‘How did he make it?’ His speed, of course, is really good. The second baseman, Ratajczak, he’s a winner. Gardner is the DH, he’s got good power. You’ve got Coco Johnson in left, he can beat you with one swing of the bat. Then the center fielder, Engel, the leadoff hitter—my goodness, the speed there. They’re aggressive, they move the baseball, they battle at the plate. They make plays. I think the fact that they’re going to Vanderbilt and playing on the same type of surface will help them. I think Louisville is an extremely difficult team to beat at home. And it’s a great atmosphere, tough place to play. But when we play on turf for maybe a week straight and then go to dirt, sometimes it’s a tough transition. You don’t play as clean. But that factor’s been eliminated because both teams are very comfortable playing on the FieldTurf.
“The other thing, defensively, we had two guys drive balls that I thought were doubles or triples, and Engel ran both of them down, and I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ We couldn’t hit the ball harder, but speed kills. He covers a lot of ground out there. And then Sturgeon in right field, who’s also quick, and then Coco Johnson in left—that’s a good outfield. And the infield is very solid, they don’t make mistakes.
“Ty Young, he’s a scrapper. Those top three guys are fast, they just keep coming at you. With Coco Johnson, you can pitch to him, there’s some holes in his swing, but you just can’t make a mistake. We had him tied up pretty good, but he’s one swing of the bat. I think in this past regional, what’d he have, two or three home runs (actually two)? That’s the potential that he has. And he’s really cool at the plate, just has a great approach, does a really solid job moving the baseball. And Gardner, he hits line-drive home runs. He can swing it. If you make a mistake, they’re going to take advantage of it. They’re opportunistic. They’ve been there, done that, they expect to win. And you know that’s the same thing with Corbs (Tim Corbin) down at Vanderbilt. It’s going to be a hell of a matchup.
“They’re going to play some small ball. I know Corbs does that as well. They’re both very fundamentally sound teams. That’s what I’m really looking forward to watching. As a pitcher, you know a kid’s 30-for-35 for stolen bases, it changes your whole outlook, you have so much focus on the runner, sometimes you don’t finish a pitch off. And then it’s 1-0. It changes the complexion of a game, no doubt. Plus the other thing is, if you’ve got a guy that’s really aggressive, like Louisville has, and you’ve got him on second base, you’ve got to hold him close, one of your infielders is going to be out of position, potentially, trying to hold that runner close. It opens up more opportunities offensively if a guy has to be held at second. So there’s a lot that happens with speed, and Louisville’s got it. It’s fun to watch too—but not when you’re coaching against it. They’ve got all the pieces, I’ll tell you that.
“Green is going to be 92-94. The one thing that I think both of them (Green and Thompson) struggled with against us is the offspeed for strikes—we were very patient and made them pitch, and they struggled with that. But if that breaking ball is on, they’re going to be very difficult to create multiple-run innings against. Because they don’t walk too many guys, they come at you, they attack you. You’ve got to be ready for it, but Green’s got a really good arm. And then Thompson, he’s a downhill guy. He’s a big kid, and he uses the slope of the mound extremely well, has a really solid downhill angle. It’s tough to square up. Your point of contact has to be perfect to square up this guy. He’ll be 89-91, 92, and he’s got some life on it. He’s experienced, knows how to pitch. Roger calls the game, so they’re just out there executing pitches, and they’re well versed, they know what they’re doing. They’ve got repeatable deliveries, there’s just a consistency to them. Both have pretty solid changeups. They have a good feel on the mound. Early in the ballgame, they’re going to attack you with fastballs—in, out. Then they’ll throw a breaking ball and see if you’ll chase. But in plus counts, there’s no doubt, they’ll come with that changeup, and it’s good.
“Dame Kime has good velocity, but he can struggle with command at times. But you could see he’s got it in him. He’s low to mid-90s, he’s got a good arm. He’s got good secondary stuff too, absolutely. When he doesn’t command the offspeed, he’ll run into some trouble. But he’s a good arm, don’t get me wrong.
“If you’ve got two lefthanders coming up, and they pull a lefthander out of the ’pen, it’s devastating. Then you have some righthanders coming up, and they bring Funkhouser in. It just keeps coming; they have arm after arm after arm, and it’s power arms. They’re very deep.
“I think if they had a really stud shortstop—and I’m not jumping on Whiting—and a right fielder with a legitimate arm and a power guy, put Sturgeon as the DH because he throws as well, then that’d be one of the best teams I’ve seen in a while. But that’s where I think they’re a little vulnerable. Sturgeon doesn’t have a great arm from the outfield. He’s a battler, the kid plays hard. It’s not like he’s going to come in and throw 95, but he’s got a good breaking ball, a good changeup, just a great feel for the mound.
“Overall, there’s not many holes. They can bunt, they can run, they’ve got a great bullpen, great starting pitching. And they’re confident as hell. They have that sense of, ‘We’re going to do this.’ That’s pretty special. They’ve got something pretty good going on out there, for sure.”
Coach: Tim Corbin.
Postseason History: Fourth super regional appearance (last in 2011). Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 2011).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Nashville Regional. Won in four games, beating Georgia Tech in the final.
Scouting Report From A Coach
“They’ve had some great teams, but I think this team’s special. There’s just something different about them. They’ve been really skilled and really talented in the past. This group just has the perfect mix. They’re older, they’re really athletic, they’re deep on the mound. They play really loose and confident. Besides being talented, they just have a feel to them—the body language, their feel to win the game.
“The thing with Ziomek is he’s got three pitches now and he’s got command of them. He always had a good feel for change but the breaking ball was a little short, and he had times where he didn’t repeat as well. Gosh, he’s 88-92 with three above-average college pitches, throws them all for strikes. Good luck with that. Beede has as good of a changeup as I saw in the college game this year. I guess the only knock is he’s walked over 50 guys. But you can’t square it up. The opponent batting average is like .170 or something, pretty unreal. He just doesn’t get squared up. He walks too many guys but always pitches himself out of jams. He’s freakin’ good, man. Low to mid-90s with a great changeup and a solid breaking ball.
“T.J. Pecoraro’s fastball’s pretty flat, but he commands it pretty well. And he really hasn’t pitched a lot in the past three or four weeks. Seems like they’ve gone more to Pfeifer and maybe (righty Walker) Buehler, and if they need somebody out of the pen it’s (righty Carson) Fulmer. Pfeifer has just always kind of been an upper 80s guy, won’t say funky but has some violence in the delivery that creates some deception, the change has been better than the breaking ball, but he’s good, man. Walker Buehler has really come on, he’s got a really good breaking ball, and he’s probably 90-94. His fastball’s a little flat but he’s getting to where he can spot it up. He keeps the ball down, moves it in and out better. That’s the progression for a freshman anyway. They’ve been really smart, done a really good job bringing him along. Some midweek starts, SEC relief work, now some starts against real good teams.
“Fulmer looks like he’s 25—he’s jacked. Huge lower half, really physical kid with a great arm, think he was up to 96 or 97 against us, and I’ve heard 98. He’s good—gol-ly. They’ll have like a four-run lead in the sixth inning, and usually you’ll see a guy who’s 87-88, and they’ve got a four-run lead and they’ll bring in Fulmer. This is a guy you usually bring in with the game tied. But that’s how good they are. He’s got a hard slider, kind of got a 1-to-7 shape to it, like a really hard curveball, 80 mph. There’s a little bit of effort there if you want to punch holes, but he throws strikes. And when you’re in the mid-90s, it gives you room for error. He’s another guy they’ve brought along at the right pace.
“Brian Miller is really tough. He throws the ball from the top of the kneecaps down, and everything moves and he can make the ball move both ways. He’s got those long, lanky arms, hitters just don’t see it. He’s a pretty cool customer out there. A lot of those sidearm guys are low 80s, I was surprised he had as much success as he did last year because he wasn’t as firm, but now I think he’s 85-87, so with some velocity the sink is hard to square up. He does a good job with the slider, and he can throw it to both sides of the plate so he does a good job against lefthanded hitters. I remember the splits being more favorable for lefties, but it wasn’t bad. And I love Steven Rice, just a little guy who comes in and spins breaking balls, great matchup guy: ‘I’m coming right at you, hit this.’ A great guy to get you out of a jam. He’s upper 80s with a great breaking ball, will change his arm slot to make it move more, a flat breaking ball or more of a true 12-6.
“Against their lineup, you just never get a chance to breathe. Nowadays with these bats, everybody’s got guys hitting .200 in their lineup, 7, 8, 9. These guys, you can’t catch your breath and throw cookies to those guys at the bottom, whether it’s Lupo or Navin or Wiel. They have nine guys in the lineup who can get a hit if you leave something up.
“Tony Kemp, he’s just special, man. He’s the same guy every day. He covers both sides of the plate, he doesn’t chase. He just smothers you with concentration and a good at-bat. He can play the short game, he can get to velocity, he can cover the outer half. He’s just a great player. He gets on top of the plate. Last year everybody felt like you could jam him, but this year we tried a couple times and he gets there. He won’t move, he’s on top of the plate, he won’t get out of the way. So you’re careful going in, it’s just another way to pressure you, get hit in the elbow, take my base, steal second.
“There’s just something about older guys who’ve been to the postseason, been through an SEC schedule. They just really stay even keeled, and they show up every day, they’re consistent, the same players every day, same approach. Then the younger guys, the role players, have awesome models. I really think that has benefited Xavier Turner and Zander Wiel—there’s no expectations, no pressure, they have great models every day of what it’s supposed to be like. You don’t really look at Harrell, Yastrzemski and Lupo individually and say, ‘Man that guy’s a great player,’ but those three guys out there are just good, solid, mature players. Gregor plays like a senior, he played a lot as a freshman, just a really experienced guy, and Navin played a lot early, so he’s like that too.
“Harrell has made some good adjustments. You really felt like last year his bat was in and out of the zone, he’s just gotten better, covering more of the plate, swing’s a little flatter. He’s just gotten better. Yastrzemski can get a hit, he’s a good defender, he can throw guys out. They can all handle the bat, they can all short game. You look at that team and you say who’s the big leaguer? Where’s the (Pedro) Alvarez? I don’t know that there is one, but they’re all freakin’ good college baseball players.
“Zander Wiel is big and physical, does a good job if you miss up, he’s going to cram it in the gap. He’s lucky they can hit him in the 6 or 7-hole, you’re bearing down on Kemp and Harrell and those guys, he’s hiding down there, but a good player. I love Turner, and he looks the part, but he really doesn’t wow you with tools. You don’t feel like he’s a threat at the plate, and you look and he’s hitting over .300 as a freshman, in the 2-hole. I really like him, he played like an older kid—the game seemed slow for him. It just seems like when he’s up in a key situation, he’s going to fist one and muscle it out to short right field.
“The three gazelles in the outfield are outstanding, and Navin’s as good a catch and throw guy as you’ll see in college baseball. And they’re fine in the infield, certainly not bad. Turner and Kemp aren’t pretty all the time. Kemp makes amazing plays, but you hit a ground ball right at him and he can struggle with it, but he generally makes the plays. Conde is solid, he’s not a top-tier SEC shortstop but he’s solid, done a good job. I thought early on that defense might be an issue for them, but Conde and Turner on the left side have turned out to have good seasons. But no, I don’t think there is a weakness. They run, they defend, everybody in the lineup is hitting .300. They’re deep on the mound, left and right, lot of looks. If you put four baseball coaches in a room and designed a team, this is how you’d do it.”