For the second straight season Vanderbilt will open its season at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona at the 2020 MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. Last season, the Commodores left Arizona sitting at 2-1 before rolling their way to the College World Series championship.
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Vanderbilt is the lone returner in the 2020 field, as nationally ranked Michigan, 2019 NCAA tournament team UConn and Cal Poly join the Commodores in what should be a fun tournament. Cal Poly and UConn get opening day from Arizona rolling, but the nightcap features the 2019 College World Series rematch between Vanderbilt and Michigan. The game will be aired on MLB Network at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 14.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2020 tournament.
Vanderbilt and Michigan look to return to Omaha
The 2019 College World Series was certainly a memorable one. Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker piled on memorable performance after memorable performance while Michigan kept surprising people to the very last pitch of the season. Now, both teams find themselves in the top 15 and ready for another run to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
Michigan will have to replace a lot on the mound. Its veteran 1-2 combo in Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann is gone, but Jeff Criswell — who had a nice run out of the bullpen in the CWS — is back to anchor a rotation that will probably go through some early bumps and bruises as it finds its new identity. Big bats Jordan Brewer and Jimmy Kerr are also gone, but Jordan Nwogu and Jack Blomgren highlight a cast of returnees that should carry the torch. The outfield looked stacked, but now the Wolverines will have to overcome the loss of Jesse Franklin to injury for the start of the season.
Vanderbilt loses the 2019 home run leader (JJ Bleday) and some other experienced hitters and pitchers. The scary part? The Commodores should have very little trouble replacing them. Austin Martin — who led the team with a .392 average and 87 runs scored — should be on everyone’s Golden Spikes and Dick Howser watch list all season long. Mason Hickman was strong on the bump all of last season and will be joined by breakout freshman star Kumar Rocker in what should be one of the more feared SEC weekend rotations.
College baseball fans are treated to a thriller right on opening night that pits the national champs against the national runners-up. Hickman and Criswell shut down the 2019 season, as both pitched parts of the decisive Game 3, with Hickman striking out 10 in six one-run innings to get the win for Vanderbilt. Just eight months later, the two should be on the mound once again opening the long journey on the Road to Omaha.
Can UConn baseball make it three trips to the NCAA tournament in a row?
The Huskies have ended each of the past two seasons in the NCAA regionals of the DI baseball tournament. Making a third in a row, however, will be tricky in a challenging American Athletic Conference.
UConn came out and surprised plenty last season, taking two of three from 2019 preseason No. 4 Louisville on opening weekend. In fact, those Huskies showed they had the moxie to hang with ranked opponents all season long, especially with that strong showing against Oklahoma State in the regionals. The Huskies will have to do the same in 2020, closing the opening weekend against No. 2 Vanderbilt and then No. 13 Michigan.
This team loses quite a bit from those last two teams, but should have enough to at least challenge Houston and East Carolina in the AAC. You’ll want to keep an eye on the Fedko brothers — Christian and Kyler — as well as All-AAC reliever Caleb Wurster in the back of the bullpen. This team will have some adjusting with so many new faces — two-way freshman star Reggie Crawford should make an instant impact — so this will be a good test right out of the gates.
Cal Poly’s non-conference test starts against Michigan
The Mustangs have a challenging enough run in the Big West this season as Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine all look like solid contenders for the title. So maybe it’s good they play Michigan and Vanderbilt on consecutive days to open the season.
But it doesn't stop there. After the MLB4 tournament, Cal Poly has four against BYU (a 36-win team a year ago), one against reigning Mountain West champion Fresno State, three more against Michigan, four against Oklahoma, three against San Diego State and one against Stanford — all before the calendar flips to April.
The Mustangs were 17-7 in the Big West last year, so we know they can handle the conference grind. If they can come out ahead of that ridiculous non-conference schedule — including the opening weekend in Scottsdale — this could be a tournament-bound team.
2020 MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament schedule and how to watch
|Date||Matchup||Time||How to watch|
|Feb. 14||Cal Poly vs. UConn||3 p.m. ET||MLB.com|
|Feb. 14||Vanderbilt vs. Michigan||7 p.m. ET||MLB Network|
|Feb. 15||Cal Poly vs. Michigan||3 p.m. ET||MLB.com|
|Feb. 15||Vanderbilt vs. UConn||7 p.m. ET||MLB.com|
|Feb. 16||UConn vs. Michigan||Noon ET||MLB.com|
|Feb. 16||Vanderbilt vs. Cal Poly||4 p.m. ET||MLB.com|