2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 1 Vanderbilt

Image credit: Kumar Rocker (Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

Last season: 59-12 (23-7 in SEC); won College World Series.
Final ranking: No. 1.
Coach (record at school): Tim Corbin (740-354-1, 17 years). 

Top 100 draft prospects: 3B Austin Martin (No. 3), LHP Jake Eder (No. 50), RHP Tyler Brown (No. 76).

The good news: The reigning national champion Commodores boast perhaps the best combination of position player and pitcher in the country. Martin is the most dynamic player in the country and could play nearly anywhere on the diamond for the Commodores but will likely reprise his role at third base. Righthander Kumar Rocker has an argument as the nation’s best pitcher after his sensational June that helped Vanderbilt win the national title and won him both Freshman of the Year and CWS Most Outstanding Player honors. Beyond that duo, Vanderbilt’s five or six best pitchers are better than that of any other team in the nation. Righthander Mason Hickman started and won the decisive game of the CWS finals and closer Tyler Brown finished second in the country in saves last season and then pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Lefthander Jake Eder was excellent out of the bullpen and is coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. Righthander Jack Leiter was the highest ranked player in last year’s draft not to sign and is lauded for advanced feel on the mound. Leiter also leads the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, giving Vanderbilt plenty of young talent to mix in this spring. 

The bad news: Vanderbilt will need its young players—both newcomers and those who spent last year as backups or role players—to step up in many instances. Gone are SEC Player of the Year JJ Bleday, Friday starter Drake Fellows and six seniors, a group that includes shortstop Ethan Paul and righthander Patrick Raby, who set the program’s career wins record. In another year, Bleday might have won National Player of the Year honors and replacing his offensive production will be no small feat. The Commodores led the nation in home runs (100) and ranked fifth in slugging percentage (.514) and many of the players responsible for providing that thump in the lineup are now in pro ball, starting with Bleday and his 27 home runs, the nation’s most. This year’s Vanderbilt offense likely won’t be as powerful, but players who are getting a bigger opportunity this spring will need to bring the thunder. They’ll also need to bring their gloves considering Vanderbilt posted a .980 fielding percentage last season, the 10th best nationally. Freshman Carter Young will be asked to step in at shortstop and has a strong defensive reputation, while sophomore Isaiah Thomas will likely take over in center field. 

Player to know: Jake Eder, LHP. Though Eder was a Top 100 prospect in the 2017 draft coming out of high school, he’s been able to fly under the radar a bit through two years at Vanderbilt while either serving as the team’s midweek starter or setup man. He has a chance this spring to take on a larger role and is coming off an impressive summer on the Cape, which has helped position him as a potential first-round pick in June. That jump could earn him a spot in the weekend rotation or perhaps see him pitch out of the pen as a relief ace. No matter where he settles, he’ll pitch important innings for the Commodores and scouts will be closely watching. 

Path to Omaha: Over the years, Vanderbilt has come to be known for its pitching prowess. Last year’s national champions were the exception, as they flexed their muscles at the plate for much of the season until the pitching staff hit its stride down the stretch. This year, it’s a return to the norm for Vanderbilt. Its frontline arms are unmatched, and they should be able to lead the Commodores back to the College World Series. To repeat as national champions, they’ll need their inexperienced hitters to step up around Martin and seniors Ty Duvall and Harrison Ray. But much like the lineup last year shouldered the burden while the pitching staff grew and developed, the pitching staff is good enough to carry the load through any early growing pains for the offense. 

C Ty Duvall, Sr. .275 .418 .413 5 42 189
1B Dominic Keegan, So. .227 .320 .273 0 1 22
2B Harrison Ray, Sr. .276 .358 .397 2 38 232
3B Austin Martin, Jr. .392 .486 .604 10 46 268
SS Carter Young, Fr. HS — Selah, Wash.
LF Cooper Davis, Jr. .331 .441 .421 0 19 121
CF Isaiah Thomas, So. .368 .405 .684 3 10 38
RF Matt Hogan, So. .000 .364 .067 0 0 4
DH Spencer Jones, Fr. HS — Carlsbad, Calif.
RHP Kumar Rocker, So. 12 5 3.25 99.2 114 0
RHP Mason Hickman, Jr. 9 0 2.05 96.2 129 3
LHP Jake Eder, Jr. 2 0 2.97 39.1 41 4
RP Tyler Brown, Jr. 3 1 2.19 49.1 65 17
RP Ethan Smith, So. 4 0 3.27 33 47 0

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