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Roster Thoughts: Taking Stock After MLB Signing Day

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Where the roster stands after 12 players and 4 commits sign with Major League Teams.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the keys to Vanderbilt’s 2019 CWS Championship season was roster stability from 2018’s team which came one half inning from reaching Omaha. We returned our entire weekend rotation of Drake Fellows, Patrick Raby, and Mason Hickman. Further, the only starting position player we lost to the draft was SS Connor Kaiser. Beyond that, we brought in another top recruiting class, as College World Series Most Outstanding Player Fr. RHP Kumar Rocker eschewed millions from MLB teams to play for the Commodores.

There was a reason we began and ended the season at #1.

It may be hard to believe—what with 12 of the 13 players drafted off the 2019 team signing deals with the teams that drafted them—but Vanderbilt will likely have more impact players returning and/or freshmen joining the program that any other team in NCAA baseball.

While the lineup only had to deal with the loss of one position player, 8 commits from the 2018 class signed with the MLB teams who drafted them, including 5 of the 7 Vanderbilt Commits ranked in the top 50 Nationally (in fact, of those, only Kumar Rocker remains, as Austin Becker has since transferred to Texas Tech).

This year, we will have to replace 6 lineup regulars, but return the best rotation in baseball, and bring in yet another #1 overall recruiting class—one that lost only 4 players to the draft.

Let’s take a look at our roster for next year:


Returning Starters—Position Players

CF Jr. Austin Martin — .392/.486/.604 in 65 games (65 starts)

*Note: Martin mostly played 3B this season, but is currently playing CF for the US National Team, and Corbs has repeatedly said he is our best defensive CF.

2B Sr. Harrison Ray —.276/.358/.397 in 66 games (64 starts)

C Sr. Ty Duvall — .275/.418/.413 in 63 games (35 starts)

*Note: Duvall split starts between Catcher and Designated hitter, and though he had about as many ABs as Julian Infante, many of his games at DH were not recorded as starts due to Corbin’s strategy of naming starting pitchers as DH on the lineup card.

OF Jr. Cooper Davis — .331/.441/.421 in 35 games (31 starts)

Clearly, returning 4 starting position players (3 after Davis’s midseason injury) from the 2019 CWS Championship team is a far cry from returning 8 position players from the 2018 Super Regional team. Still, of the four returning, we have two senior leaders/defensive stalwarts in Duvy and Ray; the top leadoff hitter in the SEC prior to his injury in Cooper Davis; and the no doubt best hitter in college baseball, likely 2020 Golden Spikes winner, and no doubt 2020 MLB Draft top of the first round pick in Austin Martin. Would we have been better positioned had C Philip Clarke and CF Pat Demarco returned? Of course. Still, while we may not be returning quantity, we are certainly returning quality.


Returning Possible Starters—Position Players

3B/1B/DH Jr. Jayson Gonzalez — .357/.471/.446 in 25 games (13 starts)

OF So. Isaiah Thomas — .368/.405./.684 in 21 games (6 starts)

SS So. Tate Kolwyck — .667/.750/1.333 in 4 games (0 starts)

3B/1B/DH So. Justyn-Henry Malloy — .067/.364/.067 in 14 games (0 starts)

C/1B/DH So. Dominic Keegan — .227/.320/.273 in 15 games (0 starts)

1B/DH So. John Malcom — .000/.000/.000 in 2 games (0 starts)

On most teams, players like Jayson Gonzalez and Isaiah Thomas would not only have been starters, but integral to a team’s success. It is a testament to just how stocked our 2019 team was that both players combined for fewer than 20 starts in the field. In 2020, they will be counted on to produce.

Perhaps the toughest player to replace will be Ethan Paul’s steady presence at SS. The likely favorite to replace him is rising sophomore Tate Kolwyck. Kolwyck is advanced with the glove, but must improve as a hitter to come even remotely close to approximating Chili P’s value. Note: there is some good news on that front with respect to Kolwyck’s play in the Northwoods League this summer:

Further, though I have no idea where J-Hen Malloy will play in the field, I’m confident Corbin and Astronaut Mike Baxter are going to find a way to get his prodigious bat into the lineup. He is currently tearing up the New England Collegiate Baseball League, hitting .333 with 4 HR, 4 2B, 21 BB, and 15 RBI in 20 games at third base for the Newport Gulls.

*Note: Isaiah Thomas is on the same summer team as J-Hen, and is also raking: .353 with 3 HR in 14 games.


Incoming Freshmen—Position Players (Perfect Game National Ranking in parentheses)

SS Tyler McKenzie (67)

SS Carter Young (105)

C Maxwell Romero Jr. (110)

SS Nick Maldonado (131)

C Chris McElvain (148)

3B Troy LaNeve (209)

C CJ Rodriguez (215)

3B Parker Noland (489)

SS Will Duff (500+)

OF Ryan Keenan (500+)

With the team having to replace Ethan Paul and Philip Clarke, it should surprise no one that this class is heavy on shortstops and catchers. Max Romero Jr. has been a standout player this summer, and is likely the favorite to win the backup job. If all goes well, he will be the starter as a sophomore. The shortstops will have to battle sophomore Tate Kolwyck for the starting SS job, but seeing as shortstops are often the best athletes (and, of course, defensive players) on their high school teams, they will likely compete for both IF and OF positions in the years to come.

Though not ranked as highly as some of the others by Perfect Game, Farragut HS 3B Parker Noland reportedly turned down $489,000 from the Toronto Blue Jays to play for the Dores, so don’t be surprised if he fights for playing time early.

*Note The only position players in the 2019 class poached by the MLB were: SS Anthony Volpe (1st round, NYY), OF Trejyn Fletcher (2nd round, STL), and OF Blaine McIntosh (13th round, NYM).

**Note #2: Not all of these commits will actually have a spot on the team, but 2019-2020 rosters will likely not be updated until the Fall.

Returning Pitchers (projected roles in parentheses)

RHP So. Kumar Rocker (Friday Starter) — 12-5, 3.25 ERA in 19 games (16 starts).

RHP Jr. Mason Hickman (Saturday Starter) — 9-0, 2.05 ERA in 10 games (13 starts).

RHP Jr. Tyler Brown (Closer) — 3-1, 2.19 ERA in 31 games (0 starts; 17 saves).

LHP Jr. Jake Eder (RP/Set-Up Man) — 2-0, 2.97 ERA in 19 games (0 starts; 4 saves).

RHP So. Ethan Smith (RP/Possible Midweek Starter) — 4-0, 3.27 ERA in 17 games (0 starts).

LHP Jr. Hugh Fisher (RP) — 2-0, 4.41 ERA in 22 games (0 starts; 4 saves).

RHP So. Chance Huff (RP/Possible Midweek Starter) — 2-0, 6.38 ERA in 8 games (4 starts).

RHP Erik Kaiser (RP) — 0-0, 12.00 ERA in 11 games (1 starts).

RHP RS Fr. Makenzie Stills (RP)

Vanderbilt’s pitching, once again, will be the envy of every NCAA baseball team. We return the 1-2 punch of Rocker and Hickman, and have a veteran bullpen led by the best closer in the nation (who is currently the closer on the US National Team). Not only that, we’ve got some phenomenally talented reinforcements on the way (see below).


Incoming Freshmen—Pitchers (Perfect Game National Ranking in parentheses)

RHP Jack Leiter (15)

LHP/1B Spencer Jones (31)

RHP Michael Doolin (98)

RHP Sam Hliboki (150)

RHP Thomas Schultz (416)

*Note The only pitcher in the 2019 class poached by the MLB was RHP Kendall Williams (2nd round, TOR).

The strength of the 2019 class is starting pitching, as Leiter, Jones, and Doolin all have the stuff and makeup to be frontline starters. Leiter and Doolin, in particular, have plus command, and should be ready to start early in their Vanderbilt careers. Leiter, like Rocker before him, turned down a multi-million dollar signing bonus (he was reportedly offered north of $4 million) and should force his way into the weekend rotation early next year. Jones may have the best projectable stuff of them all, but suffered an elbow injury his Senior year in high school, and may not be ready to pitch by the start of next season. Of course, he may be good enough with the bat to start at 1B or DH as a freshman, and may eventually be a rare two way player good enough to pitch and bat for Vanderbilt’s gold standard program.


Impact from the 2019 MLB Draft:

Departing Seniors:

SS Ethan Paul — (9th round, PIT)

OF Stephen Scott — (10th round, BOS)

RHP Patrick Raby — (17th round, CIN)

1B Julian Infante — (36th round, MIA)

Departing Underclassmen:

OF JJ Bleday — (1st round, MIA)

RHP Drake Fellows — (6th round, SD)

C Philip Clarke — (9th round, TOR)

LHP Zach King — (13th round, MIA)

LHP Jackson Gillis — (13th round, MIL)

LHP Joe Gobillot — (16th round, TB)

LHP AJ Franklin — (17th round, KC)

CF Pat DeMarco — (17th round, NYY)

Commits Who Will Not Make It To Campus:

SS Anthony Volpe — (1st round, NYY)

RHP Kendall Williams — (2nd round, TOR)

OF Trejyn Fletcher — (2nd round, STL)

OF Blaine McIntosh — (13th round, NYM)

Transfers (out):

RHP Austin “Big Walnut” Becker (Texas Tech)

RHP Justin Willis (UConn)


Andrew VU ‘04’s Way Too Early Rotation and Lineup Projections

Lineup:

  1. LF Cooper “The Ontario Barrel-Maker” Davis
  2. 2B Harrison Ray
  3. CF Austin “Bond Car” Martin
  4. 1B Jayson Gonzalez
  5. C Ty Duvall
  6. RF Isaiah Thomas
  7. 3B Justyn-Henry Malloy
  8. DH Spencer Jones OR John Malcom OR Dom Keegan OR Parker Noland (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
  9. SS Tate Kolwyck

Pitching Rotation:

Friday: So. RHP Kumar “White Castle” Rocker

Saturday: So. RHP Mason “The Stonecutter” Hickman

Sunday: Fr. RHP Jack “Lights Out” Leiter

Mid-Week: So. RHP Ethan Smith OR Fr. RHP Michael Doolin

Main Bullpen Contributors:

Closer: Jr. RHP Tyler Brown

Set-Up Man: Jr. LHP Jake Eder

So. RHP Ethan Smith

Jr. LHP Hugh Fisher


Final Thoughts:

In sum, we will have the best pitching staff in all of baseball—rotation and bullpen both—and though we will have to replace the lion’s share of our at bats, we have tons of talented youngsters champing at the bit. Oh, and we’ve still got Austin Martin.

This is another CWS roster, though one that might take some time to find its footing defensively, and as such, may see multiple players at key infield positions until Corbs finds a defense that can gel. The main roster battles will be in the infield, as SS, 3B, and 1B are all up for grabs (provided Corbs moves Martin to the outfield as predicted). Our offense may take a step back, accordingly (you don’t lose Bleday, Clarke, Paul, and DeMarco and not feel it), but our pitching staff should be able to make up for it.

Strap yourselves in... this ride is far from over.