2019 Preseason Top 25 Capsule No. 1 Vanderbilt
Last Year: 35-27 (16-14 SEC); reached super regionals.
Final Ranking: No. 17.
Head Coach (record at school): Tim Corbin (645-317-1, 15 years).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: OF JJ Bleday (No. 29).
The Good News: Vanderbilt returns nearly everyone from a team that fell just short of a trip to Omaha, losing in extra innings to Mississippi State in the decisive third game of the Nashville Super Regional. Eight regulars from the lineup are back, including leading hitter JJ Bleday (.368), top power hitter Stephen Scott (15 home runs) and speedster Austin Martin (22 stolen bases). The Commodores’ full weekend rotation also returns, led by veteran righthanders Drake Fellows and Patrick Raby. The Commodores have five seniors on their roster, including Raby and Scott, which is a luxury for a program that is used to seeing its players get drafted and sign following their junior year. In addition to a strong, veteran core, Vanderbilt added the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Leading the freshmen is righthander Kumar Rocker, who ranked No. 13 on last year’s BA 500 and figures to quickly make an impact on the mound.
The Bad News: The one lineup regular Vanderbilt must replace is shortstop Connor Kaiser, who was a three-year starter. The Commodores have options to fill that hole, including senior Ethan Paul and sophomores Jayson Gonzalez and Austin Martin. Paul is likely to get the nod, moving over from second base, but replacing one of the best defensive shortstops in the country is no small task. Vanderbilt must also sort out its bullpen. It lost hard-throwing righthanders Chandler Day and Reid Schaller to the draft but has plenty of pieces to fill those holes. Vanderbilt never identified a closer last year and again doesn’t need to this season, but it does need to determine who it can trust in high-leverage situations.
Player To Know: Ethan Paul, SS.
Paul has been a regular in the lineup since arriving in Nashville and has played all over the infield. This year, he is expected to move from second base to shortstop to replace Kaiser. Paul last year showed off some dynamic tools—he hit 10 home runs and stole 18 bases, both career highs—but also saw his strikeout rate spike. If he can be more consistent at the plate, he’ll be in for a big senior season.
Path To Omaha: Vanderbilt has everything it needs to return to the CWS for the first time since 2015, when it finished as the runner-up. The Commodores’ pitching staff has the potential to be one of the best in the country, its lineup is deep and can beat opponents in different ways and they last year ranked fifth in the country in fielding percentage (.981). Vanderbilt is in the enviable position of having an ultra-talented freshmen class but not needing to rely on it. The Commodores’ experience will be an asset throughout the regular season, when they will have a target on their backs, and during the postseason, when they are already battle tested.
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