Vanderbilt captured its second national title with a thrilling series win over Michigan in 2019. Can it emulate that season in 2020 after being named the second-best team in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25? Find out in our breakdown.
Below are a few facts to consider when evaluating the 2020 Vanderbilt club:
2019 record: 59-12 (23-7 SEC)
Coach (record at school): Tim Corbin (740–354–1 in 17 seasons)
Ballpark: Hawkins Field (3,700)
Postseason history: 18 regionals (active streak: 14), 4 CWS trips (last in 2019), 2 National Titles (2019)
VANDERBILT FALL REPORT: How the Commodores are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of Vanderbilt's 2020 season, we've graded the Commodores in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Vanderbilt in 2020.
Vanderbilt's projected lineup
|C||Ty Duvall, Sr.||.275/.418/.413||5||42||0|
|1B||Dominic Keegan, So.||.227/.320/.273||0||1||0|
|2B||Harry Ray, Sr.||.276/.358/.397||2||38||21|
|3B||Austin Martin, Jr.||.392/.486/.604||10||46||18|
|SS||Carter Young, Fr.||Fr. -- Selah, Wash (HS)|
|LF||Cooper Davis, Jr.||.331/.441/.421||0||19||6|
|CF||Isaiah Thomas, So.||.368/.405/.684||3||10||1|
|RF||Matt Hogan, So.||.000/.200/.000||0||0||0|
|DH||Tate Kolwyck, So.||.667/.750/1.333||0||1||0|
Vanderbilt's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Mason Hickman, Jr.||9-0||2.05||96.2||129||28||3|
|SP #2||Kumar Rocker, So.||12-5||3.25||99.2||114||21||0|
|SP #3||Jake Eder, Jr.||2-0||2.98||39.1||41||16||4|
|Closer||Tyler Brown, Jr.||3-1||2.19||49.1||65||9||17|
Grading the Commodores: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
Vanderbilt will be without five of its top six hitters from last year’s national title team, but this is a lineup that should get better as the season progresses.
Austin Martin is the ringleader of the offense. Martin blossomed as a premier player and prospect for the Commodores last season and is back for more. Meanwhile, speedy Harry Ray hit .276 last season and is ready to establish more consistency this spring. Ty Duvall has impressive power potential and should be a more consistent force at the plate, while Isaiah Thomas and Cooper Davis are athletic players expected to have strong campaigns.
Freshmen Will Duff, Parker Noland and Spencer Jones also have a chance to factor heavily into Vanderbilt's offensive plans. Duff is a speedster with good on-base skills, Noland has good strength in his 6-1, 195-pound frame, and showed good barrel skills during fall workouts and Jones is a left-handed hitter with impressive upside.
Matt Hogan, Dominic Keegan and Justyn-Henry Malloy are some other sluggers to watch. Mallow has good raw power and could be an impact bat, Keegan has some exciting raw power and Hogan has shown the ability to spray the ball around the diamond over the past couple of months.
Chances are good the Commodores will find power production from different avenues this spring, but there’s no doubt it’s a question mark as Opening Day looms in the distance.
Vanderbilt had one of the nation’s most feared lineups from a power standpoint last season. Several players, including JJ Bleday, had big-time power, and the Dores enter the 2020 campaign without a staggering number of home runs from last year’s team — 78. In addition to Bleday, who had 27 bombs last year, Stephen Scott and Julian Infante each had double digit home runs, and several others had five of more.
The good news? Vanderbilt at least enters the season with some power production.
Martin showed some power last season and is back for more, while Duvall certainly has some big-time power potential in his frame. One guy the Commodores will miss from a power standpoint is Jayson Gonzalez. Gonzalez showed impressive power during fall workouts but will miss the spring after taking a leave of absence.
Justyn-Henry Malloy is another guy with impressive power potential if he can show consistency and work his way into the everyday lineup, while newcomers Matt Hogan, Dominic Keegan and Spencer Jones are worth watching, too. Hogan and Keegan showed power potential in the fall, while Jones was impressive in stints as he worked his way back from a broken arm.
We get the feeling Vanderbilt will find power production. From whom? We’ll see.
What the Commodores don’t have in terms of sheer big-time power throughout the lineup they will make up with athleticism and speed. This will be a supremely athletic and speedy lineup.
Martin and Ray are the two top returning speedsters. Both had double digit stolen bases last season, with Ray surprising some by going 21-for-24 in stolen bases. The speed doesn’t stop there for Tim Corbin’s club.
Cooper Davis was an electric hitter atop the lineup early last season and is back for more this spring. He can make things happen with his legs. Thomas is another athletic and fast runner, Hogan has above-average speed.
With five to six guys who can make things happen with their feet, the Commodores should be rather versatile offensively throughout the 2020 campaign.
We mentioned the number of new faces the Commodores have in the field. And though there’s some turnover there, the defense is still in good shape.
It will be interesting to see what the Dores do with Martin when the season begins. Right now, Corbin has Martin slated to start at third just like last season. However, his position at the next level could be center field, and there’s also a chance he starts up the middle. At any rate, Martin will flourish at whatever position he plays this spring.
Ray has improved his footwork up the middle and will solidify second base, while if Martin doesn’t play shortstop, look for freshman Carter Young to play shortstop. Young still has some work to do at the plate but is an advanced defender and can absolutely be an asset in that regard. Behind the plate, the Commodores get a good one back in veteran Duvall. Duvall had a chance to play professional baseball this past summer but chose to return to the Music City for another season. Duvall is a stable defender who gives the Dores a veteran presence at a need position.
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The outfield is expected to be strong. We mentioned the possibility of Martin being out there. But even if it’s not him, it’s athlete central for the Commodores. Cooper Davis and Isaiah Thomas both have impressive speed and athleticism, while Matt Hogan is a good athlete with above-average speed.
Starting Pitching: 70
The Commodores have a chance to be as good as it gets on the mound in college baseball. They have one of the nation’s most popular arms in sophomore right-hander Kumar Rocker. Rocker earned legend status last season by throwing a no-hitter against Duke in Super Regional action before pitching brilliantly in Omaha.
Rocker put together yet another solid fall, showing a fastball 89-93 and up to 94 mph during the fall, along with his trademark low-80s slider. Rocker made a point to emphasize the 85-87 mph changeup during fall workouts, and that pitch also continues to evolve.
Fellow right-hander Mason Hickman also will be in the weekend rotation. Hickman quietly put together terrific numbers last season and is ready to take yet another step forward this season. Hickman will attack hitters with a fastball ranging 88-91 and up to 92 mph, along with a quality curveball at 76-77 mph.
Finally, look for veteran left-hander Jake Eder to round out the rotation. Eder went 2-0 with a 2.97 ERA last season, and we’re intrigued to see how he performs in the rotation after making 19 appearances last season — all out of the bullpen. Eder has shown a fastball up to 94-95 mph in the past, though during the fall, he was more 88-91 mph with the offering as he was emphasizing his command. Eder also will attack hitters with a sharp curveball at 73-76 mph, but the big key moving forward will be his ability to command the power stuff.
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Should anyone stumble, look for highly touted freshman right-hander Jack Leiter to enter the weekend rotation. Leiter was the highest-ranked prep prospect to arrive on campus this past fall, and he certainly lived up to that billing. Leiter has huge upside, sitting 94-97 and up to 98 with his fastball, while also sitting 89-93 mph with the offering after a few innings. He has a devastating curveball at 76-78 mph, along with a quality changeup at 82 mph. As you might suspect, Leiter is mature for his age and is ready to be an immediate contributor.
There’s certainly a chance that All-American right-hander Tyler Brown could end up in the weekend rotation at some point, but it’s increasing likely that he’ll begin the season in his usual spot — at the backend of the bullpen.
Brown is college baseball’s premier reliever, along with UCLA’s Holden Powell. He tallied 17 saves and had a 65-9 K-BB mark last season. This past fall, he showed a fastball around 90 mph, along with a filthy plus slider at 83-86 mph. Brown also continues to make strides with a low-to-mid 80s changeup.
In a bit of bad news, Vanderbilt will be without hard-throwing left-hander Hugh Fisher after he had Tommy John surgery this past fall. The good news? Vanderbilt has plenty of other ultra-talented options.
Like Brown, Ethan Smith is another right-hander to watch. Smith could easily move into that closer role should the Commodores have a change of heart and move Smith to the weekend rotation. Smith has a huge arm, sitting mid-90s and up to 96 mph with his fastball, along with a nasty power slider at 84-87 mph.
Other returning arms to watch include Chance Huff, Luke Murphy and Erik Kaiser. Huff will sit 90-91 mph with his fastball, along with solid command of an 81-83 mph slider, Murphy is a 6-foot-5, 175-pounder, who sits 88-91 mph with his fastball, along with a slurve and true slider and Kaiser sits 88-90 mph with his fastball, along with a slurve.
Some young arms in the mix out of the pen include Michael Doolin, Nick Maldonado, Thomas Schultz and Sam Hliboki. Doolin sits 88-90 mph with his fastball along with a 74-76 mph curveball with 11-to-5 depth. He reminded our Aaron Fitt of Mason Hickman during fall workouts. Maldonado is a right-hander with clean arm action and a fastball 87-88 mph along with a quality curveball at 73-75 mph, while Schultz sits 87-89 mph with his fastball and also possesses a promising changeup and a slow curve. Finally, keep an eye on Hliboki, who has a lot of projection with his lanky frame and sits 86-87 mph with his fastball, along with a slurve at 77-78 and a changeup that needs to improve.
There’s no doubt the Commodores have several new faces from an offensive standpoint. But there’s still some experience there, too, with the return of Martin, Ray and Duvall, among others. And others such as Cooper Davis and Isaiah Thomas earned a decent amount of playing time during the national title run last season too.
The Dores have a wealth of experience on the mound as the season approaches. We don’t need to tell you how cold-blooded and hard-nosed Kumar Rocker is. Mason Hickman is an established, high-level starting pitcher, and Jake Eder is an experienced arm that oozes with premium potential. Vanderbilt also has plenty of experienced and high-quality pieces at the backend of the bullpen, too, with right-hander Tyler Brown and others leading the charge.
Vanderbilt will have the leadership and experience needed — especially on the mound — to make yet another strong run at a national title. There’s also the Tim Corbin factor. He and his staff always have their team ready to roll.