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2021 Position Previews: Infield

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Baseball season starts Friday with a home series against Wright State. I will write position previews once per day on: 1) Starting Pitching, 2) Relief Pitching, 3) Infield, 4) Outfield, and 5) Catchers.

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 03 Vanderbilt v Clemson
He’s back.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unlike our pitching rotation—which looks to be set in stone—the infield position group is in flux, with many positions likely to continue to be an open competition for the early part of the season. As such, I will go position by position, breaking down the returning starters (when applicable), as well as the top competition they will face.

Short Stop

Returning Starter

#9 So. SS Carter “Young Gun” Young

(.328/.373/.377 with 3 2Bs and 12 RBI)

Young was sold to us as a freshman similar to the book on Connor Kaiser when he was a freshman—all glove, but the bat is a work in progress. Kaiser’s bat eventually came around his junior year (with his power coming in the postseason), but the glove was silky smooth from the outset. Young didn’t make plays as easily as Kaiser did (who does?), but he did look solid at short, and is the odds on favorite to keep the job in 2021. Beyond that, his bat was waaaaaaaaay more advanced than we had been led to believe. He’s never going to be a power guy, and he needs to improve his batter’s eye so as to walk more often, but that hit tool can play right now. Write this one in Sharpie on the lineup card. He should play every day (or pretty much every game).

The Top Competition

#20 Fr. SS/2B Jack O’Dowd

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Jack O’Dowd is a 2020 SS/2B/3B with a 6-2 190 lb. frame from Nashville, TN who attends Lipscomb Academy. Long and lean projectable build, lots of room to get stronger especially in the upper half. Left handed hitter, hits from an upright and open stance with a high hand load, long power oriented swing with plenty of barrel whip, looking to pull and lift the ball, hands are loose and fast through the one, projects big power with this approach as he continues to get stronger and mature physically. 6.83 runner, works side to side well and is light on his feet for his size, soft hands out front, profiles to second or third base in the future. Very good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

MLB.com Top 200 Ranking: Unranked.

Perfect Game Rating: 10.

#17 Fr. UTL C.J. Pittaro

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

CJ Pittaro is a 2020 SS/2B with a 6-2 198 lb. frame from Hamilton, NJ who attends Hamilton East-Steinert. Big and strong athletic build. 6.92 runner, has smooth and balanced actions on defense, polished footwork, good hands and gets rid of the ball quickly, has middle infield athleticism now but size might eventually more him to third base. Left handed hitter, hits from a balanced crouched stance, gets good drive off his back leg but lower half tends to lock up, has very fast and strong hands, handles the barrel well with mid field to pull side line drive contact, high average contact with real bat speed. Outstanding student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

MLB.com Top 200 Ranking: Unranked.

Perfect Game Rating: 9.5.

Second Base

Returning Starters

None. Harry Ray locked down the 4 spot on the field, but graduated.

Presumptive Starter

#2 Jr. IF Javier Baz (JuCo Transfer from LSU-Eunice)

Baz tore the cover off the ball at LSU-Eunice, hitting .364/.509/.515 with 14 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, and 39 RBI as a freshman. Last year, in the Covid shortened season, he opened up as hot, if not hotter than he was as a freshman, with a .365 average, 2 HR, 13 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. He will have to hold off a bevy of young kids trying to take his job, but at the moment, seeing as he has a good track record with the bat and glove in the JuCo ranks, I’d pencil in Baz at 2nd.

Oh, and he can do this:

Top Competition

#20 Fr. SS/2B Jack O’Dowd

(See above.) If O’Dowd doesn’t win the shortstop job, he will be firmly in the competition to start at 2nd this year. Worst case scenario, he backs up both spots and occasionally gets to DH. He’s good.

#6 Jr. IF Tate “Little Man” Kolwyck

(.174/.296/.391 with 3 2Bs and 12 RBI)

Little Man Tate has exploded on the scene in practice and Fall Ball every year, but has yet to perform up to the hype during the regular season. It was understandable, given the depth we had in 2019, that he only got 4 appearances (3 AB) as a Freshman. He did, of course, go 2/3 that year with 2 2Bs and an RBI, so the hype train kept rolling into 2020.

To be honest, his 2020 was a disappointment, and though he got into 11 games (6 starts), he found himself on the bench by March.

The potential is certainly there. Will 2021 be the year Tate puts it all together and forces his way into the lineup? Here’s hoping.

#17 Fr. UTL C.J. Pittaro

(See above.). It wouldn’t surprise me if Pittaro is forced to redshirt this year.

Third Base

Returning Starters

#25 So. IF Parker “Can’t Lose” Noland

(.259/.324/.310 with 3 2Bs and 11 RBI)

Noland fought his way into starting 14 games as a freshman. Defensively, he was smooth at the hot corner, with a .971 fielding percentage (only one error). He had moderate success at the plate, but his power never manifested. I see him as a breakout candidate for 2021, as he has a sweet stroke, and the more top quality pitching he sees (the added benefit of having those all-world arms to practice against), the better he’s going to get. He’s got some thunder in that bat, too. I say 2021 is the year it comes out.

Top Competition

#99 Sr. IF Jayson “Gonzo” Gonzalez

(.357/.471/.446 with 2 2Bs, 1 HR, and 10 RBI)

*Note: These statistics are from 2019, as he was not on the team last year.

Gonzo is back on the team in 2021 and is firmly in the competition for playing time at 3B, 1B, and DH. I tend to see him more as a 1B/DH, though, as Noland is much better with the glove at the hot corner than Gonzalez is. Still, Gonzo has light tower power—an attribute that is not exactly in great supply with this 2021 squad—so Corbs will likely try to get his bat in the lineup.

If you’re looking at Gonzo through rose colored glasses, he could provide the type of middle of the order RH thump similar to Zander Wiel or Julian “Chinfante” Infante (let’s be really optimistic and say the sophomore version of Chinfante). However, his power has largely been fool’s gold throughout his Vanderbilt career.

If he can put it all together, though... look out. He’s tool’d up, and can hit it on top of Memorial Gym. While I don’t see him getting a lot of playing time at third, I want his bat in the lineup, whether it’s third, first, or as the DH.

#39 Fr. IF Gavin “The House” Casas

He’s got a 100mph exit velo power bat. His name is Gavin Casas and he hits dingers. Like Gonzo, I think he’s likely to be more in competition for 1B/DH, but he could fill in at the hot corner if we need him.

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Gavin Casas is a 2020 1B/RHP/3B with a 6-3 225 lb. frame from Pembroke Pines, FL who attends American Heritage. Big and strong build, especially in the lower half. Left handed hitter, open stance and a wide base to start, long and loose swing with plenty of loft, puts the ball in the air and gets very good carry, front hip can go early looking to pull the ball, leverage power swing he executes well. First base tools on defense, has good mobility for his size and plenty of arm strength for first base. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

MLB.com Top 200 Ranking: Unranked.

Perfect Game Rating: 10.

First Base

*Returning Starters

#12 Jr. UTL Dominic Keegan

(.242/.324/.303 with 4 2Bs and 4 RBI)

*Keegan was the starter at first by March 2020, but I wouldn’t consider him firmly entrenched at the position (Corbs has him listed on the roster as UTL, which may be telling, or may be because he can fill in at catcher). Expect 1B to be an open competition until someone kicks down the door. It might take a while.

Top Competition

#99 Sr. IF Jayson “Gonzo” Gonzalez

(See above.)

#39 Fr. IF Gavin “The House” Casas

(See above.)

#34 So. UTL Spencer “Dr. Jones” Jones

(.206/.333/.324 with 4 2Bs and 3 RBI)

Dr. Jones split time at first with Dom Keegan and the since transferred Justin-Henry Malloy. Last year, Jones was all potential. His bat seemed a tick slow catching up to the college fastball, but he had a good eye. I still think his future is on the mound, but expect Dr. Jones to be in the competition for 1B/DH—especially if his arm is not yet fully healed and strong enough to pitch.

#16 Fr. UTL Jack “Whitey” Bulger

Bulger can muscle anything over the fencing they’ve got set up. The exit velocity off his bat is an eye-popping 105mph. He’s going to have a tough time taking catching reps from C.J. “Chi Chi” Rodriguez, but he’s got the power bat to get early ABs at 1st and DH.

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Jack Bulger is a 2020 C/RHP/3B with a 6-0 205 lb. frame from Bowie, MD who attends Dematha Catholic. Very strong and athletic build, pretty mature physically, especially strong lower half. 6.79 runner, is very quick behind the plate, stays low and flexible in his set up, gets rid of the ball very quickly with plus arm strength, very clean overall actions, definitely has the physical tools to stay behind the plate defensively. Right handed hitter, rotational hitter with good use of his strong hips, line drive swing plane with a bit of lift out front, makes loud and hard contact with excellent exit velocity speeds, works the middle of the field and repeats his mechanics and timing well. Well rounded tool set for a catcher. Very good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

MLB.com Top 200 Ranking: Unranked.

Perfect Game Rating: 10.