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Position Preview: Starting Pitcher

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To opposing batters: good luck. Hahahahahahahahaha. (breathes) Hahahahahahahahaha.

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

With just 9 days until the start of the season, we turn our attention to the Beowulfian strength of our 2020 roster: Starting Pitching.

*Click here for the Outfield Preview, Catcher Preview, First Base Preview, Shortstop Preview, Second Base Preview, and Third Base Preview.

Departures

#66 Jr. RHP Drake “Safari Planet” Fellows (13-2; 4.09 ERA)

#29 Sr. RHP Patrick “Mad Dog” Raby (10-1; 3.08 ERA)

You would expect a team that lost both its all time wins leader (Mad Dog) and their Friday Ace (The Planet) to have a weakened rotation. Let’s all laugh at that notion for a while, because (gestures vaguely at our roster).

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

(breathes)

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

With Raby and Fellows in the Reds and Padres organizations, respectively, let’s take a look at who will take the mound for the Diamond Dores once weekly.

This is your once annual reminder that Vanderbilt doesn’t rebuild, it re-loads—especially when it comes to the pitching staff.

Returning Starters

#80 So. RHP Kumar “White Castle” Rocker (12-5; 3.25 ERA)

#44 Jr. RHP Mason “The Stonecutter” Hickman (9-0; 2.05 ERA)

By the end of the year, Rocker and Hickman were our best two starting pitchers. They will be the Friday and Saturday one-two punch of dominant aces in 2020, and literally every other college baseball team will be jealous (heck, some MLB teams might even be).

We are a school that has produced a Cy Young winner, a slew of first round picks, and two CWS titles in the past decade... and our 2020 rotation might be our best yet.

Read that again.

Let’s consult the ol’ Anchor of Gold Field Guide for a second:

White Castle: Nickname of current Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker. This should be self-explanatory, as he packs a craver case of nasty sliders each time he takes the mound. Pitched perhaps the greatest game ever thrown by a college pitcher against Duke in this year’s Super Regionals. We get two more years of this. Squeeeeee!!!

Like with Austin Martin earlier, I really shouldn’t have to even type one word about the hands down most dominant pitcher in college baseball. He turned down offers of $4 million + from MLB teams to don the black and gold. He will all but certainly be the first pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. He can huck it up there in the high 90s, has a knee-buckling slider, and got better with every start during his freshman year. Again, you must remember... he did everything he did last year at 18. Let’s enjoy these next two years as he gets even better under the tutelage of Scott Brown, and send a basket of mini muffins to his mother for instilling in him the importance of a college education.

With The Stonecutter, he might not be as flashy as Rocker, but he’s just as effective. Hickman is steady-as-she-goes on the mound, and is not someone who ever gets rattled. There’s a reason he was on the mound in every game that sent us to the next round this postseason, and was trusted with the ball in the biggest one of them all. In the title winning CWS Game Three vs. Michigan, it was Hickman on the mound, and he gave is exactly what we expected—6 innings of 1 R, 4 H, 10 K ball. In the game that got us to the finals, while people may mostly remember Luke Smith’s heel turn, Hickman gave us 6 innings scoreless. While he wasn’t as strong in the Super Regional clincher against Duke, it’s important to remember that we were up by 6 runs by the time Hickman allowed one in, and left the game with the good guys up 9-2. Similarly, in the Regionals against the Indiana State Fightin’ Larry Bird’s Moustaches, Hickman made sure it was never in doubt, pitching 7 innings of 1 R, 3H, 9K ball in a blowout 12-1 game.

You know the confidence you had in ‘15 when we went into our first title defending season with Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler on the mound? This is that. Oh, and we’ve got a whole shitload of guys who can be our 2015 version of Kyle Wright...

The New Guys

#22 Fr. RHP Jack “Lights Out” Leiter (N/A)

#43 Fr. RHP Michael “Banjo” Doolin (N/A)

#40 Fr. RHP Sam “Hliboki Bartokomous” Hliboki (N/A)

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

I’ll paste what I wrote after MLB signing day:

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.

(drools)

The Reliever Who Will Battle It Out With The Freshmen

#39 Jr. LHP Jake “Eder of Souls“ Eder (2-0; 2.97 ERA)

You know Eder as the man with the ball in his hand, collecting the three inning save when we won our 2nd title this past June. If he stays in that role, we will have the best one-two punch of Set-up man (Eder) and Closer (Brown) in all of college baseball. However, if he can hold off Leiter, Doolin, and Hliboki and win the Sunday starter jerb, we may well have to change the name to Jake “Innings” Eder.

The truth is, Jake was always expected to be a starter when he passed up a pretty sizable MLB bonus to pitch at Hawkins Field.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about the big lefty when they ranked him the #11 prospect in the Cape Cod League:

11. Jake Eder, LHP, Orleans (Junior, Vanderbilt)

Eder was one of Vanderbilt’s most-trusted relievers this spring and helped the Commodores win the national championship. After their triumph in Omaha, he reported to Orleans, where he pitched impressively in the rotation.

Eder certainly passes the eye test at a listed 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. He has a smooth delivery that generates easy velocity. His fastball sits in the low 90s and reaches 94 mph with the chance for more velocity down the line. He has a good breaking ball and is developing a changeup, giving him the makings of a solid three-pitch mix. He pitches with average control. Eder’s biggest knock right now is that he hasn’t proven himself as a starter for an extended period of time. He’ll likely have a chance to do so this spring at Vanderbilt, but the early look scouts got of him this summer as a starter for Orleans was an encouraging one.

In fact, I expect him on the mound two Sundays from now against Cal Poly St. Luis Abysmal in the MLB4 tourney in Scottsdale, AZ. Not only does Eder give us a lefty in the rotation, he’s one heck of a talent on the mound. Hell, if Jack Leiter didn’t do the same thing Kumar did in ‘18, and spurn offers of $4 million + by MLB teams, we’re not even having this conversation.

With two mid-week games against South Alabama (Feb 18th and 19th) at The Hawk, Leiter and one of freshmen Hliboki or Doolin (or maybe even sophomores Chance Huff or Ethan Smith—sweet sassy molassy, we’re deep!) will still be able to start in our first five games.

I expect the Sunday starter job to be a battle all year, as we’ve got at least 6 pitchers who would be weekend starters on any other team in baseball (hell, our closer, Tyler Brown would be the Friday starter on most of the teams in our exceptionally tough conference).

I mean... wouldn’t you just hate to be one of the teams on our mid-week schedule?