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Opening Series Preview: Vanderbilt vs. Michigan, UConn, and Cal Poly.

The Diamond Dores kick off their title defense in the MLB4 Tournament in Scottsdale.

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game Three Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Vanderbilt starts the 2020 season the same way they started 2019—at the MLB4 Tournament in Arizona. Beyond that, they start 2020 against the same team they faced in last year’s CWS Finals. Harbingers abound.

Though they face three teams—Michigan, UConn, and Cal Poly—respectively, all eyes will be on game one (Friday, 6pm CT MLB Network).

Both teams will have many recognizable stars from 2019, but both teams’ biggest offensive threats—Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday and Michigan’s Jordan Brewer—have moved onto the minor leagues. Their biggest returning bat is OF Jordan Nwogu, while ours is 3B Austin Martin. Beyond the big bats, Vanderbilt lost more offensive firepower, while Michigan lost more pitching, as Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann are gone.

Both are expected to be NCAA Tournament teams, with Vanderbilt ranked #1 or #2 in every national publication, and Michigan enters ranked #13. Both have high expectations for the season, but I do expect Michigan’s losses to be more substantial than Vanderbilt’s, as no one has our pitching depth, and our young bats have great potential. As you well know, we lost our 2019 wins leader in Drake “Safari Planet” Fellows and All-Time wins leader in Patrick “Mad Dog” Raby, and we’re looking even stronger as a pitching staff in 2020 than 2019.

Michigan will give the ball to Jeff Criswell, their #3 starter from last year. He will be the toughest test our young hitters will face this weekend.

Game two against UConn will test our young hitters, as well, as UConn was a 2019 Tournament team, too. Of course, we will have perhaps the greatest advantage on the mound possible, as Rocker gets the ball on Saturday, whereas their guy... well... he’s no White Castle.

Game three is against a .500 team from the Big West—though, in fairness, they did fare much better in conference play (17-7) than out (11-21). We should be heavily favored against Cal Poly, as well.

*Note: Corbs has yet to post the lineup, but we will let you know as soon as he does.

On the Mound

FRIDAY 6pm CT MLB Network: Vanderbilt Jr. RHP Mason “The Stonecutter” Hickman (9-0, 2.05 ERA) vs. Michigan RHP Jeff “Big Watercress” Criswell (7-1, 2.72 ERA)

Big Watercress (*Note: the surname Criswell denotes someone who came from “Cresswell,” a stream where watercress grew in Derbyshire) was Michigan’s #3 starter in 2019. He did not get a start in the CWS Finals, but did throw for 5 innings in a losing effort in game three in relief of Karl “Andy” Kauffmann. The Dores did just fine against Big Watercress that day—getting him for 6 hits, 3 runs, and 3 BBs in 5 IP. He did manage to K 7 Dores in the process, though. He also closed out game one—2/3 IP scoreless. We will know a lot about our young hitters after this game, as Criswell is a veteran pitcher who should test them.

Vanderbilt will counter with the winning pitcher from the title game. I’ll leave it at that.

SATURDAY 6pm CT MLB.COM: Vanderbilt So. RHP Kumar “White Castle” Rocker (12-5, 3.25 ERA) vs. UConn Jr. RHP Colby “Jack” Dunlop (7-4, 4.31 ERA)

Despite the name, Colby Jack does not, in fact, throw the cheese. He sits in the mid to high 80s. He appeared in 19 games as a sophomore, with 10 starts.

Vanderbilt will counter with the best pitcher in all of college baseball. Advantage Vanderbilt.

SUNDAY 3pm CT MLB.COM: Vanderbilt Jr. LHP Jake “Eder of Souls” Eder (2-0, 2.97 ERA) vs. Cal Poly Fr. RHP Drew “The Thorpedo” Thorpe (N/A)

The Dores will have a massive pitching advantage on Sunday, as they will face untested freshman Drew Thorpe. Not much is known about Thorpe yet (obviously), but he is a tall righty (6’4” 195 lbs) who throws in the high 80s (clocked at 88mph at his last Perfect Game event). In other words, he’s not going to blow it by anyone, and though he has no Perfect Game recruiting grade, he was the #10 ranked recruit in the state of Utah (#2 RHP). Utah is not exactly known for their baseball.

The Dores will counter with the Eder of Souls. Though Jake was a set-up man for the national champions last year, his pedigree is that of a starter, and he did an admirable job starting in the Cape Cod League this past summer. The big lefty (6’5” 220 lbs) can get it up there with the four-seamer (sits in the low 90s, but can pump it up to the mid-90s when he needs to). He has a solid slider, as well, and is developing his changeup. The latter will likely be the key as to whether he is able to stave off fierce competition from freshman righties Jack Leiter, Michael Doolin, and Sam Hliboki all year. If he can throw the change effectively, he has the stuff to be dominant, and should hear his name heard in the first couple of rounds this coming June.