Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 18 Vanderbilt
2017 Record: 36-25-1 (15-13-1 in SEC); reached super regional. Final ranking: No. 18 Coach (Record at school): Tim Corbin (610-290, 14 years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: RHP Patrick Raby (148), SS Connor Kaiser (168).
The good news: The Commodores continue to deliver year after year. Vanderbilt advanced last season to super regionals, produced two first-round draft picks and this fall hauled in yet another top-ranked recruiting class. While the Commodores are unlikely to produce a first rounder this year, they are not lacking for experienced, talented players. Righthander Patrick Raby was the most reliable pitcher USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, as he went 3-0, 0.00 in 19.1 innings. He will front Vanderbilt’s rotation. Shortstop Connor Kaiser, second baseman Ethan Paul and first baseman Julian Infante all return as starters in the infield, and, as juniors, will have to shoulder a bigger load offensively. The Commodores’ freshman class includes 10 players who ranked on the BA500 last spring and should be able to provide some immediate impact.
The bad news: The Commodores have some big holes to fill this year, as righthander Kyle Wright, outfielder Jeren Kendall, third baseman Will Toffey and catcher Jason Delay, who all played key roles throughout their careers, must be replaced. The Commodores have talented options at every spot, but those competitions will need time to play out, and they may not be settled until after Southeastern Conference play begins. Righthander Drake Fellows could return to the rotation, and lefthanders Jackson Gillis and Zach King will be in the mix, as well. Catcher Phillip Clarke and infielders Jayson Gonzalez and Austin Martin could push into the lineup quickly as freshmen, but returners such as catcher Ty Duvall and infielder Alex Brewer will also be in the mix. Junior Alonzo Jones will move from the infield to the outfield, where scouts have long felt his plus-plus speed is a better fit. If he takes to his new position, he is a breakout candidate and could shoot up draft boards.
Returner to know: Julian Infante, 1B: With Kendall and Toffey moving on to pro ball, Infante is now the Commodores’ leading power threat. He hit 11 home runs and drove in a team-high 66 runs last season, but is something of a streaky hitter. Infante will need to be more consistent this season as he becomes the center of attention in the heart of the order. A big season at the plate could also help him rise on draft boards after a lackluster summer in the Cape Cod League.
Path to Omaha: Vanderbilt has the talent to again contend in the SEC and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. But patience will be required early in the season as the Commodores work to find their best alignment in all phases of the game. They may have a little less power both on the mound and at the plate, but with a battle-tested Raby at the front of the rotation and a solid defense, the Commodores are well-equipped for big-game environments.
Is Austin Martin Primed For J.J. Bleday-Type Power Surge?
Martin shined in Omaha and his power surge late in 2019 shared similarities with teammate JJ Bleday’s leap.
C Ty Duvall, So. .375/.516/.500 | 24 AB | 0 HR | 6 RBI
1B Julian Infante, Jr. .315/.387/.518 | 251 AB | 11 HR | 66 RBI
2B Ethan Paul, Jr. .251/.336/.412 | 199 AB | 5 HR | 27 RBI
3B Jayson Gonzalez, Fr. HS – Covina, Calif.
SS Connor Kaiser, Jr. .222/.316/.284 | 194 AB | 1 HR | 18 RBI
LF Stephen Scott, Jr. .227/.347/.311 | 119 AB | 2 HR | 11
CF Alonzo Jones, Jr. .221/.357/.295 | 95 AB | 0 HR | 10 RBI
RF J.J. Bleday, So. .256/.384/.341 | 164 AB | 2 HR | 22 RBI
DH Austin Martin, Fr. HS – Jacksonville
RHP Patrick Raby, Jr. 10-4, 2.73 ERA | 105 IP | 87 SO | 0 SV
RHP Drake Fellows, So. 3-3, 3.30 ERA | 62 IP | 68 SO | 1 SV
LHP Jackson Gillis, So. 0-0, 3.60 ERA | 15 IP | 19 SO | 0 SV
RP Zach King, So. 2-1, 2.56 ERA | 39 IP | 31 SO | 0 SV
RP Maddux Conger, Jr. 2-1, 4.96 ERA | 33 IP | 28 SO | 0 SV