Andrew VU '04:
As I said in the first positional preview (Outfield) last week...
Let's begin with two seemingly incongruous facts:
1) After going to back to back CWS finals and losing the #1, #8, and #24 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, this is going to be a rebuilding year.
2) We are ranked as highly as #3 heading into the season.
Let me add one other semi-incontrovertible fact: We are, at the very least, the 2nd most talented team in all of college baseball (and without a doubt possess the best collection of talented underclassmen). Unfortunately, the most talented team - and I don't think anyone's disputing this right now - is not only in our conference, but in our division. Let's just get this out here: Florida is going to be a beast. Junior LHP A.J. Puk is as close to college baseball has to a Randy Johnson right now, and is likely in the top 3 picks in this coming MLB draft. Logan Shore and Alex "Juggalo" Faedo combine to form the consensus best rotation. While I don't love Buddy "Love" Reed as much as MLB scouts, his CF defense is impeccable, and let's just say he'll be beating more 2 hop grounders than Bing Crosby with a sack of sweet valencia oranges... well, I'm not going to finish that line, but you get the picture. Sophomore J.J. Schwarz is with them, too, with 18 HR as a freshman. Beyond that, aTm and LSU are going to be pretty damned tough, as well. LSU has Alex Lange on the bump on Fridays, and he may be the one pitcher in college baseball more dominant than Puk. They're weaker offensively and defensively than they were last year, though. aTm will be tough, but notably less so now that projected Ace LHP Taylor "Dana" Stubblefield was kicked off the team.
That said, we won't have to win the SEC, or even beat the jorts-clad swamp trash of Gainesville to go to Omaha. Get a #1 seed (hopefully a National Seed) and avoid Florida in Super Regionals, and we've got a damned good chance of making it back to Omaha for the third year in a row.
So what do I think will happen? In short, I don't know. Here's what I do know: We're opening up the year dinged up on the mound, but as soon as we have a rotation of Kyle Wright, Jordan Sheffield, and an eventual Sunday starter from the likely group of John "K-Chow" Kilichowski, Donny "The Element" Everett, and Chandler "Day Man" Day, our rotation has the chance to be more talented than (and possibly better than) even the best in the nation (Florida). Bryan Reynolds, Jeren Kendall, and Will Toffey will be expected to power the offense, but beyond those three, we have a lot of talent, and a lot of question marks. Can Connor Kaiser or Alonzo "Ludicrous Speed" Jones and the Jaguar Action News Team replace Dansby Swanson at SS? Hahahahahahahaha. No. But we don't need them to. If one of them can carve out a rookie year akin to a Ryan Flaherty or Anthony Gomez, we'll be in great shape. Will we have a thumper in the lineup to replace Zander "Awesome X" Wiel? (Shakes Magic 8 Ball) "Ask Again Later." Will Reynolds, Kendall, Toffey, Wright, and Bowden be able to replace Swanson, Fulmer, and Wiel as team leaders? (Shrugs). Point is, no one knows the answers to these questions right now, but with our collection of young blue-chip talent, it's going to be fun as hell to watch and find out.
The past two years, I opened the season with columns predicting we would win the whole damned thing. I was right in '14, and I was pretty much right in '15 (I mean, 2nd place in a series that could have easily gone the right way). I'm not going to predict that this year. Does that mean I'm down on this team? Hell no. It's just going to be an Alabama Football-style rebuilding year. If we coalesce by the postseason, we can, without a doubt, bring home the title. Of course, we may find out we're just one year away.
My prediction: This season will be filled with ups and downs, and due to the expectations built up over the last few years, some bandwagon fans will continually flip out with every loss (VandyBruin, if you so much as hint we should even consider the possibility of firing Corbin, I will murder you in the face), especially if we lose 2-3 SEC series, which is totally likely, and should be expected. However, we close out the last month of the regular season on an absolute tear, prompting the national writers to pen articles like "Is Vanderbilt Secretly the Best Team in Baseball?" like we didn't already know how frighteningly talented this squad is. We will finish 2nd in the East (Florida, short of crashing into the Andes and having to eat A.J. Puk to survive, is winning the conference... just accept it). That said, we're going to get a #1 seed, and will be on the bubble for a National Seed, along with aTm and LSU. I bet the NCAA Committee goes with the other teams. Once we're in the tourney, I see us plowing through Regionals, and provided we don't get matched up at Louisville, we're going back to Omaha. Once there, anything can happen. Get a damned hotel room already.
Enjoy this. This is the best time of the year, and these kids are going to be fun as hell to watch play the best game ever invented (okay, okay, 2nd best, but they don't televise the Meso-American ballgame anymore).
Vanderbilt Baseball: Might as well buy a damned condo in Omaha.
On the Bump This Week:
Friday 2/19 7pm SECN+: Vanderbilt So. RHP Jordan "Stuff" Sheffield v. San Diego Jr. LHP Troy "Georgia County" Conyers
Saturday 2/20 2pm: Vanderbilt Jr. LHP Ben "Dat Gun" Bowden v. San Diego Sr. RHP Gary "Game Hen" Cornish
Sunday 2/21 12pm: Vanderbilt TBA (though I'm pretty sure it's going to be So. RHP Joey Abraham) v. San Diego Fr. LHP Nick "The Logical Positivist" Sprengel
I'm pretty sure all three games will be broadcast on SECN+ (the SECN internet dealie), but only Friday is listed as such thus far. San Diego should be a good opening week challenge for the Dores, especially considering 2/3 of our weekend rotation won't be pitching, but there's no Kris Bryant playing there any more. According to D1baseball.com, their rotation is formidable, but USD's own coach, Rich Hill, said the following about his team:
Hill calls his team a "work in progress," but he dubbed junior outfielders Hunter Mercado-Hood and Ryan Kirby serious breakout candidates.
Jenn "Jon" Greening:
We have a new team to get to know and look forward. A lot of returning players, but a lot of new players for Corbsy to take care of. It'll be interesting to see how this season plays out with each player finding his part, but hopefully it doesn't take as long as it did last season.
Overall I think we'll lose about 12 games. Eight of them will be conference losses. They should definitely win the east, but I think there are some goings-on in the west that we are unaware of and I can't wait for it to unravel during the season. We'll be a number 1 or 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament for sure. I expect to get close to going back to Omaha, but do I expect we'll be just as dominant as the last couple years? Sorry, but no. I think there will be a huge shake-up for conference player of the year. I can't say for sure that a Vanderbilt player will run away with it. But if Sheffield or K-chow really blow up like I think they should this season, they may shine as Team Player.
Vandy "Tiger" PhD:
Well, I'm just a guest spot in this here baseball post. Seems to me we could use some solid DTs because who the hell plays a 4-3 behind a pitcher anymore? And who's going to replace Dansby Swanson's hair? NO ONE! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE!
I am making this prediction with basically no real knowledge of the teams other than VU and LSU but I'm going to go ahead and say we have tears coming our way. Fear not, I do not mean tears like we've had in our other two sports. I mean kind of the tears we faced losing to Texas or Lousiville in supers as the visitor tears. I think we're a solid team, I think VU04 is dead on that we could make it to Omaha. I agree with both Jon that we'll be a 1/2 seed in regionals.
After that it's a crapshoot and we all know it. We'll likely get screwed in terms of getting a horrendous draw again and end up having to face a really great team to get into Omaha. Three years in a row at Omaha would be outstanding, but frankly, as talented as this team is, we're replacing an awful lot.