Today, let's take a look at the corner infield positions (1B and 3B): our departing players, returning players, and the positional battles to come. On Sunday, we'll look at the catchers (Ellison and Delay, mostly) and pitchers (where it doesn't appear any role, outside of Kyle Wright on Fridays or Saturdays, is locked in).
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree; in Nashville, we've got Hawkins Field.
1B Zander "Awesome X" Wiel
2015 Stats: .316/.406/.571, 19 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 13-16 sb-att
Awesome X, a 3 year starter who graduated this past May, is currently riding busses in plying his trade for the Rookie Ball Elizabethtown Twins. We will miss his power bat and infectious smile.
Wiel was a streaky hitter, but when he was on, was the thumper at clean-up all lineups crave. He was also one of the few players who sticks around to graduate (though his redshirt year likely had something to do with that), and was thus a great role model and locker room presence. He will be missed.
#9 3B Will "Youth Hockey" Toffey
2015 Stats: .294/.380/.420, 20 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 49 RBI, 8-12 sb-att
Sophomore L/R 6'2" 195lbs
Youth Hockey (did we mention he could have gone to Yale on a hockey scholarship) Will Toffey has already locked up the hot corner for the next two years. He's got good hands, a strong arm, and a line drive stroke which stays in the zone long enough to get a piece of most every pitch. Toffey, along with Jeren Kendall, broke out as freshmen last year, but each have the skills to emerge as The Man this year. With a year in the weight room, Toffey is expected to be more of a power threat this year, and will likely fill in for Zander Wiel in the clean-up slot. Toffey has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order masher this year, and will likely see his RBI totals skyrocket with the likes of Coleman (or Jones), Kendall, and Reynolds setting the table. Can he speed up his pitch recognition to unleash his power stroke? We shall see, but he certainly has the raw tools to do so. Last year, he struggled early - especially w/r/t recognizing off speed stuff - but Corbs stuck with him and was awarded with a Freshman All American season. Toffey is certainly trending upward (as he was one of our most reliable players in the postseason), and may just challenge Kendall and Reynolds for the role of Team MVP (if things break correctly).
So Who Will Replace Awesome X at First?
You're not going to like this answer, but word out of Hawkins field is a collective shrug. Not that we don't have players capable of manning 1B - we do - but it does not appear as if anyone has fully locked up that job quite yet.
Here are the main contenders (ranked in order of my best guess as to who will get the most playing time):
#55 1B/DH Tyler "Generic Baseball Name" Green
Sophomore R/R 6'6" 230lbs
2015 Stats: .238/.304/.238, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0-2 sb-att
With Zander Wiel locked in as a 3 year starter, Tyler Green was never going to play much in 2015. As Wiel's main back-up, the lanky righty from upstate NY started 3 games, appeared in 17 (mostly at the end of blow-outs), and only recorded 21 at bats on the season. As such, I'm going to tell you to ignore the stat line above, especially w/r/t power numbers. Mr. Green Jeans is a big man, and he needs a big shredder.
In other words, with regular ABs, expect Generic Baseball Name to deposit quite a few over some fencing they have put up. Unless Perfect Game confused him with another Tyler Green (and this is certainly possible, as according to Baseball Prospectus, two Tyler Greens and two Tyler Greenes have played pro ball, with two of them suiting up for the Phillies), this Tyler Green has undergone quite the growth spurt since high school, as he is currently 6 inches and 60 pounds bigger than he was listed on the prep circuit. Could he be baseball's version of Luke Kornet? Sure. Oh, and he played youth hockey, as well (seen below about to be clubbed to death by Will Toffey).
Green, like many northeastern, cold-weather prospects, was likely to take a year to become acclimated to big time, SEC baseball. Well, he's had that year, and is the current Dore most likely to be able to step in and approximate what Awesome X gave us from the plate last year. He'll likely start out batting 6th or 7th, but has the potential to be quite the thumper. At 6'6", it shouldn't be possible to throw it by him at 1B, either.
As for the next two - Kyle Smith and Penn Murfee - I'll mainly copy and paste what I wrote about them on the Outfield Preview, but add in a few 1B specific things. I'm lazy, and I really don't want to write many more words on Kyle Smith. Shut up.
#39 OF/1B Kyle "Man Mountain" Smith
Senior R/R 6'4" 220lbs
2015 stats: .063/.211/.125, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1-1 sb-att
*Note: The guys at D1Baseball.com believe Smith will get the starting nod. I don't. Agree to disagree.
I've been told Smith is getting serious consideration for the LF, 1B, and DH spots. Perhaps this is all simply the respect due a senior who's stayed in the program despite little playing time, or perhaps Smith has finally come through on the massive power potential he showed as a freshman. We shall see. He can certainly thump one, but barring a garbage time double in the postseason last year, Smith would have batted .000 for the season. Defensively, he's not as strong as Tyler Green at 1B, but he should be able to play a passing first.
#16 IF Penn Murfee
R.S. Sophomore R/R 6'2" 190lbs
2015 stats: .256/.330/.385, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 2-4 sb-att
I could have written an entire article titled "Where Do You Put Penn Murfee?" Murfee came in as a 2B, but barring an injury to Tyler Campbell, the defensive drop-off is just too high for this to happen, especially as Corbs will likely be breaking in a freshman SS. He's in the mix (with Green, Smith, and Sabino) for Zander Wiel's vacated 1B spot, and last year his bat, at times, showed promise. Murfee also received some reps in the OF last year, and while not elite, was serviceable. With all world defenders Reynolds and Kendall manning the other two spots, any deficiencies on defensive range would be pretty much covered. As such, LF might be a way to get Murfee's bat into the lineup, especially against LHPs. Of the 1B candidates, Murfee would have, by far, the best defensive range, but the shortest reach. He could certainly play the easiest position on the diamond, defensively, though, so no need to worry about that.
#11 IF/UTIL Liam Sabino
Sophomore R/R 6'1" 185lbs
2015 stats: .240/.231/.320, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2-4 sb-att
Like Tyler Green, Sabino only got into 17 games (3 starts) and accrued only 25 ABs as a freshman, so you can go ahead and take that stat line with a grain of salt. He's a Perfect Game 3rd Team All American from the Poconos (East Stroudsburg, PA). On many teams, he's their starting SS or 2B, but on a loaded team like Vanderbilt, he'll likely play the role of Utility Man/Super Sub. He was the #1 player (and, obviously, #1 SS) in the state of Pennsylvania, so there's still a chance he can put all his tools together. I have a feeling you'll see him all over the diamond as he tries to get a foothold in a position in which he can win consistent playing time. He's an intriguing player, but I don't see a starting position for him in the cards at the moment.
On the D.L.
#22 IF Julian Infante
Freshman R/R 6'3" 205lbs
The freshman from Miami was said to be firmly in the mix for the 1B job, but a recent broken wrist will likely force him to redshirt this year. He has an intriguing set of tools, and could compete for 1B, 3B (was ranked as the top 3B prospect in Florida), or 2B down the road.