2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 6 Vanderbilt
Last year: 13-5
Final ranking: No. 11
Coach (record at school): Tim Corbin (753-359-1, 18 years)
The good news: Vanderbilt returns the most talented one-two rotation punch in the country in third-year sophomore righthander Kumar Rocker and second-year freshman righthander Jack Leiter, the top two pitching prospects ahead of the 2021 draft. The 2020 season cancellation means that neither has pitched as much as expected at this point in their careers, but their track records so far are excellent. Rocker has a 3.06 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 114.2 innings, and Leiter gave up just five hits and three earned runs in 15.2 innings in his debut season. The pair will give the Commodores the upper hand every weekend. And it’s not as if quality drops off after those two, as the team will have the likes of third-year sophomore righthander Ethan Smith and second-year freshman righthander Thomas Schultz, two highly-regarded arms in their own right, to round out a rotation that will be about as good as it gets in college baseball.
The bad news: The onus will be on Vanderbilt to prove that its offense is more consistent than it was last season. The 2020 lineup surrounding Austin Martin was filled with a combination of new faces and veterans who were stepping up into big roles, and things just hadn’t come together yet when the season ended. The numbers taken at face value, including a .277/.378/.391 team line, don’t look all that bad, but there were spells when scoring runs was a struggle, especially against good pitching. Over the last weekend of the season, the Commodores scored seven runs in a 1-2 showing against quality competition. With Martin, plus veterans like Ty Duvall and Harrison Ray, gone from the lineup, it will be an even more inexperienced bunch this time around. That means that the likes of third-year sophomore outfielder Isaiah Thomas, fourth-year junior outfielder Cooper Davis, second-year freshman shortstop Carter Young and freshman outfielder Enrique Bradfield, all of whom have either limited or no experience in the SEC, will have to get up to speed quickly.
Player to know: Isaiah Thomas, OF.
Thomas is the first name that comes to mind when you talk about new centerpieces of the Vanderbilt lineup. A .258/.313/.532 line from last season suggests that he hadn’t quite put it all together, but there were signs of a coming breakout. For example, on March 1, in a rubber game against Hawaii, he put the Commodores on his back, going 3-for-6 with two home runs, including a walk-off three-run shot in the 11th inning. He also ended up leading the team in homers with four and was second on the team, behind only Martin, in doubles with five. A dynamic athlete, Thomas brings a lot to the table, including plus speed, a plus arm, which makes him a good fit in right field, and the type of plus raw power that inspires confidence that he can be a middle-of-the-order masher in the SEC. If that’s what he becomes in 2021, it bodes well for Vanderbilt’s overall improvement offensively.
Path to Omaha: Like all SEC teams, Vanderbilt’s path to Omaha is somewhat fraught with danger, just given how competitive the league is. It doesn’t take being off your game very much during the regular season to go from being a conference title contender to being a team battling on the periphery of the host discussion, for example. That said, assuming the Commodores ride outstanding pitching to a successful regular season, as expected, their success in the postseason will likely come down to how well the offense can support the pitching staff. Even if Rocker and Leiter are throwing shutouts, you have to score runs against good pitching to win in the postseason.
10 MiLB Prospects In Need Of A Productive Second Half
Breaking down 10 highly regarded prospects in need of a strong second half of the season.
|C||C.J. Rodriguez, R-Fr.||.289||.370||.356||45||0||8|
|1B||Dominic Keegan, R-So.||.242||.324||.303||33||0||4|
|2B||Tate Kolwyck, R-So.||.174||.296||.391||23||1||4|
|3B||Jayson Gonzalez, R-Jr.||Did Not Play|
|SS||Carter Young, R-Fr.||.328||.373||.377||61||0||12|
|LF||Cooper Davis, R-Jr.||.348||.416||.435||69||0||5|
|CF||Enrique Bradfield, Fr.||HS -- Plantation, Fla.|
|RF||Isaiah Thomas, R-So.||.258||.313||.532||62||4||13|
|DH||Parker Noland, R-Fr.||.259||.324||.310||58||0||11|
|RHP||Kumar Rocker, R-So.||2||1||1.80||15||28||0|
|RHP||Jack Leiter, R-Fr.||2||0||1.72||16||22||0|
|RHP||Ethan Smith, R-So.||3||0||1.42||19||23||0|
|RP||Sam Hliboki, R-Fr.||0||0||0.00||16||16||2|
|RP||Chris McElvain, R-Fr.||0||0||4.82||9||7||0|