College Preview Capsules: No. 7 Vanderbilt

No.  7 Vanderbiltvanderbilt
2015 Record (Ranking): 51-21 (2). RPI: 13.
Coach (Record at school): Tim Corbin (567-271, 13 years)
Postseason History: 14 regionals (active streak: 10), 3 CWS trips (active streak: 2), 1 national title (2014).

Vanderbilt held its ring ceremony for last season’s College World Series finalists Jan. 12 at halftime of the men’s basketball team’s victory against Auburn. After the ceremony that night, coach Tim Corbin went home and put his latest ring where he keeps all of his championship rings: his underwear drawer.

The rhythms of the college baseball calendar make it necessary to move on to the next season as soon as the last one ends. So Corbin has long since turned the page on the 2015 season that saw Vanderbilt go 51-21 and make its second straight College World Series finals, where it lost to Virginia in a reversal of the 2014 championship series. The ring ceremony was just a momentary return to last year’s glory.

2016 Lineup
C Jason Delay, Jr. .283 .373 .394 1 23 0
1B Tyler Green, R-So. .238 .304 .238 0 0 0
2B Tyler Campbell, Sr. .229 .297 .286 2 26 6
3B Will Toffey, So. .294 .380 .420 4 49 8
SS Connor Kaiser, Fr. HS—Overland Park, Kan.
LF Ro Coleman, Jr. .295 .402 .394 1 26 5
CF Bryan Reynolds, Jr. .318 .388 .462 5 49 17
RF Jeren Kendall, So. .281 .394 .530 8 40 19
DH Alonzo Jones, Fr. HS—Columbus, Ga.
Pos. Name, Year W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Kyle Wright, So. 6 1 1.23 59 62 4
LHP John Kilichowski, Jr. 3 4 2.84 67 64 2
RHP Jordan Sheffield, Jr. 5 2 2.85 60 55 0
RP Ben Bowden, Jr. 6 1 2.89 37 49 2

“We always move forward quickly,” Corbin said. “That’s both good and bad. It’s good because we stay in the present. It’s bad because we should really celebrate doing the things that are so difficult to accomplish.”

What Vanderbilt accomplished over the last two years was immense. The Commodores won their first national title in 2014 and then came a win away from repeating as champions in 2015. But the core of those teams is now mostly gone. From last year’s team alone, Vanderbilt lost shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall draft pick, and its entire weekend rotation, including Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Carson Fulmer.

But it is not in Corbin’s nature to dwell on the past. The Commodores are moving on with the players they have on this year’s roster—players who are plenty talented in their own right. Outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Jeren Kendall could both be first-round picks in each of the next two years, and the pitching staff is loaded with elite arms who have been waiting for their opportunity. To top it off, Vanderbilt brought in the No. 1 ranked recruiting class this fall, its record 11th straight Top 25 recruiting class.

Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Philip Pfeifer combined to start 44 games and throw more than 300 innings last season. Corbin and pitching coach Scott Brown are considering a group of about a half-dozen pitchers to fill their spots, including Ben Bowden and Jordan Sheffield, and Kyle Wright, who earned Freshman All-American honors last spring while serving as the Commodores’ closer. Also in the mix are freshmen righthanders Chandler Day and Donny Everett and junior lefthander John Kilichowski, who opened 2015 in the rotation.

Corbin said as he evaluates the rotation candidates, he’s looking for consistent mentalities and durability. He thinks several Commodores have the ability to pitch in the rotation even if they haven’t had the opportunity to prove it yet.

“They just haven’t been in those roles for us, but that’s OK,” Corbin said. “It’s just a matter of them being the best version of themselves—not trying to replicate anyone or anyone’s performance.”

The infield may also be young with Swanson and first baseman Zander Weil now playing in the minor leagues, and freshmen Alonzo Jones, Connor Kaiser and Ethan Paul pushing for time in the middle of the infield. With so much turnover, it might be natural for Corbin to lean on returning stars such as Kendall, Reynolds and third baseman Will Toffey, a draft-eligible sophomore.

But Corbin isn’t asking that they be anything more than good teammates.

“I just want them to be good players,” he said. “I just want them to be helpful to guys in the program. Nothing more, nothing less. There are a lot of ancillary ways that they have things thrown at them, and I just will not throw more at them when they’re here. I just want to be a supportive person.”

Corbin knows there will be a learning curve as the young Commodores grow into their new roles. But Vanderbilt has the team and coaching staff to make it a smooth transition.

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