Image credit: Michigan coach Erik Bakich and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin (Photo by Teddy Cahill)
OMAHA — Michigan and Vanderbilt will this week meet in the College World Series championship series. Both teams swept through their bracket in Omaha, going 3-0 to reach the finals.
As the two teams prepare to battle for the national championship, we examine what a combined starting lineup might look like. Some tough calls must be made, particularly in the outfield and middle infield. But if there were a super team of the Michigan Commodores or the Vanderbilt Wolverines, this is what it might look like.
This is the second year of the exercise. You can see the Arkansas-Oregon State super team from last year here.
Catcher: Philip Clarke, Vanderbilt. Clarke has developed into a solid defender behind the plate and is hitting .301/.382/.470 with eight home runs. That gets him the nod over classmate Ty Duvall, who he splits time with at catcher and DH, and Michigan’s Joe Donovan.
First base: Jimmy Kerr, Michigan. Both teams have strong senior leaders at first base. Kerr, a third-generation CWS player for Michigan, gets the nod here after his impressive performance in the NCAA Tournament, as he has hit .341 with six home runs in 10 games.
Second base: Ethan Paul, Vanderbilt. After starting 110 straight games for the Commodores at second base, Paul this season moved to shortstop. The senior has had a strong season at the plate and is hitting .316/.387/.505 with nine home runs. He’s a solid defender at shortstop but on the Vanderbilt Wolverines, he’s moving back to second base to form an elite double-play combination with Jack Blomgren.
Third base: Austin Martin, Vanderbilt. One of the most talented players in the 2020 draft class, this was the easiest decision of the whole exercise. Martin is hitting .406/.498/.629 with 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases and is a strong catalyst at the top of the lineup.
Shortstop: Jack Blomgren, Michigan. As previously mentioned, Blomgren pushes Ethan Paul to second base due to his strong defensive skills. He’s also having a productive season at the plate, hitting .304/.411/.396 with seven stolen bases.
Left field: Jordan Brewer, Michigan. The outfield was a difficult puzzle to put together. Brewer, the Big Ten player of the year, moves from right field to left field in deference to JJ Bleday. Brewer (.329/.389/.564, 12 HR, 25 SB) provides plenty of offensive production and athleticism to the lineup.
Center field: Jesse Franklin, Michigan. Franklin is a premium 2020 draft prospect and has impressive all-around tools. He is hitting .262/.392/.484 with 13 home runs and has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, hitting .325 with 11 RBIs in 10 games.
Right field: JJ Bleday, Vanderbilt. Bleday, the SEC player of the year, is one of the best hitters in the country and is a prototypical right fielder. He is hitting .354/.470/.711 with 26 home runs, the most in the nation.
DH: Stephen Scott, Vanderbilt. Scott got squeezed out of the outfield, but there’s still room for his powerful bat in the lineup. The senior is hitting .331/.450/.595 with 14 home runs.
Starting pitchers: Tommy Henry, Michigan; Karl Kauffman, Michigan; Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt. There were tough decisions to be made here, as well. Ultimately, the picks are the two Michigan starters who have gotten their team to this point in Henry, who on Wednesday threw a shutout against Florida State, and Kauffman, who has four quality starts in the NCAA Tournament, and Rocker, who is the most talented pitcher in Omaha. Vanderbilt’s Drake Fellows and Michigan’s Jeff Criswell also merit consideration, and both figure to factor into the championship series in a big way.
Relief pitchers: Tyler Brown, Vanderbilt; Jake Eder, Vanderbilt. Brown, the SEC reliever of the year, is an elite weapon at the end of games for Vanderbilt. The sophomore righthander is 3-1, 2.31 with 17 saves this season. Eder provides a good lefthanded complement. Brown’s classmate is 2-0, 2.97 and is averaging two innings per appearance this season. Criswell could also have gotten a nod here, as he’s been used as Michigan’s bullpen ace in super regionals and the CWS.