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Position Preview: First Base

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Who will replace Chinfante and his boom stick?

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game Three Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With 17 days before first pitch out in the MLB4 Tournament in Arizona, we continue our position previews with what is often the least important defensive position—the cold corner—first base.

Returning Starters

None.

Departures

#22 Sr. 1B Julian “Chinfante” Infante (.231/.326/.457)

It’s not often defense is the main reason a team will miss a departing first baseman, but here we are. The Mighty Chin had a .994 fielding percentage at the cold corner, and though he had 12 dingers, his bat was not what one comes to expect from a corner infielder. Chinfante looked special at the plate in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but slumped from those expectations in both his junior and senior years. We will miss him for his defense, leadership, and Disney Prince chin that caused a special dirtbag pitcher from Louisville to melt down for no reason.

D-bag.

Via con dios, Chinfante. Good luck with the Marlins’ farm clubs.

His defense and leadership will be hard to replace. His bat? That we can replace, and likely even improve upon, with the following options:

The American Shohei Ohtani

#34 Fr. 1B/LHP Spencer “The Gift” Jones (N/A)

It’s been a minute since Vanderbilt has had a Brendan McKay type—a player good enough to crack both the lineup and rotation on a top college team. If you can’t tell, I’m excited about this kid making it to campus.

The 6’7” 215lb southpaw was ranked the #2 LHP prospect in the 2019 class by Perfect Game (#31 prospect overall).

Here’s what I had to say about him in the 2019 Vanderbilt-centric MLB Draft Primer:

LHP Spencer Jones

Why am I including the 6’7” LHP/1B in this article when I predict him not to be drafted until day three? Well, he was trending towards being selected in the top half of the first round until he fractured his throwing elbow. If I’m correct, and he makes it to campus, it will be interesting to see if he’s on the Shohei Otani plan—takes over for Julian “Chinfante” Infante at first base while he rehabs his throwing arm for the year. He has the talent to actually be a two way player for our team. That is a rarity.

Range: Rounds 20+.

MLB.com Top 200Ranking: #71.

Prediction: Not chosen tonight, but likely chosen in the later rounds as a team taking a flier on a top tier talent they have little chance of signing.

With his elbow injury—though he is reportedly healthy now—and the plethora of arm talent competing for a starting pitching role, it is unlikely Jones will be rushed into prime time on the mound. However, much like Ohtani last year, Jones is good enough to impact the team even if he’s not getting the ball once weekly.

At the plate, Jones packs a pull-heavy power bat, and though he’s a big man (who presumably needs a big shredder), the dude is fleet of foot—clocked at a 6.76 60 yard dash. Beyond that, Corbs seems interested in giving him a chance at first base, as Jones got the starting nod in all three pre-season exhibition games (against Oklahoma State and Michigan). In those three games, Jones showed out—batting 4-11 (.364).

Ladies, it may well be time to write love notes on your eyelids for young Dr. Jones.

Consider Jones the favorite.

The Squeezed Out Catcher/DH

#12 So. C/1B/DH/UTL Dominic Keegan (.227/.320/.273)

Keegan played sparingly last season (15 games; 0 starts), and registered 5 hits in 22 at bats. With catcher Ty Duvall returning for his senior year, Keegan is likely to find few options to play behind the plate, but he will have a good shot to get playing time at 1B and DH. He’s a right handed power bat who can generate excellent exit velocity,

The sophomore power bat went 5-12 with a HR, 3B, and 3 RBI in three pre-season exhibition games.

The Human Hyphen: Justyn-Henry-Ricky-Bobby

#42 So. UTL Justyn-Henry Malloy (.067/.364/.067)

Ricky-Bobby neither Shaked, nor Baked during his freshman campaign. Though he got 15 at bats in 14 games in ‘19, Ricky-Bobby managed just one hit. He’s much more talented than that slash line, of course, but will face an uphill battle for playing time at either corner infield position or DH. Keep your eye on him, though, as he has the bat talent to break out. Eventually.

The Conclusion

It’s likely a battle between Jones and Keegan, and could even be a L/R platoon. I suspect they will platoon the two of them early and let the position sort itself out. I’m rooting for Jones, as he has the higher upside, but I can’t see Corbs locking him into an every day role just yet—especially as his future is likely on the mound. That’s my gut feel right now, at least.

*Note: Fr. IF Parker Noland could be in play here, as well, but with Jayson Gonzalez leaving the team for the year, he’s much more likely to be in the mix at 3B, so I will preview him there.