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2021 Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #4: Answers to Your Questions

Letters... we get letters... we get stacks and stacks of letters...


Question from lidore16:

After 10 games, how would you grade the catching position in terms of defense and offensive production? I know Corbs likes to platoon behind the plate with such illustrious duos as Delay/Ellison and Duvall/Clarke. Against GA St. it seemed like Romero was poised to seize the job but his batting stats actually look pretty similar to CJ’s, apart from RBIs and slugging. How do you see the competition in that position shaking out over the course of the season?

At this point, I’ve got to give the catching tandem of CJ “Chi Chi” Rodriguez and Max “Power” Romero Jr. an A on offensive production and an A- on defense.

The defensive grade is only slightly dinged because Chi Chi has had two brain farts I’ve noticed thus far—one of which resulted in a passed ball. Talent wise, he’s a gold glover, a framing savant, and is usually good at blocking even the nastiest Kumar Rocker slider. His pop time has been fine thus far, as well, and his throws have been on line. Max Power is good at all of those things, as well. He has a stronger arm, but is less able to steal a strike with a magician style frame job. Chi Chi has thrown out a respectable 40% of would be base stealers to Max’s “Don’t even think about it” 60%, but each have only had 5 stolen base attempts (so go ahead and yell SMALL SAMPLE SIZE on this one). The real statistic that’s telling is that opposing managers haven’t really even tried to steal on them, as Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield has more stolen base attempts by his lonesome than the entirety of our opponents through 11 games. And that’s with opposing coaches knowing they will have to shoot the moon to plate any runs against Vanderbilt’s other-worldly pitching staff. Rock, meet hard place.

Offensively, both have been great. Chi Chi (.350/.536/.400 with 1 2B and 3 RBI in 6 starts) is more of a line drive singles hitter to Max Power’s, well, power (.333/.500/.867 with 2 HR 2 2B and 9 RBI in 5 starts). Still, both have more than held their own at the plate. Any coach would take a .250/.350/.400 type catcher who is as good with the glove as either of our guys. Both are actual forces at the plate, though Chi Chi is a good plate discipline, high OBP type to Max Power’s brute slugging force. I’ll give the slight nod to Max Power here, but Chi Chi is no slouch at the plate.

In short, other than maybe the University of Miami with Adrian del Castillo (total package) and maaaaaaybe the University of Florida with Nathan Hickey (major league power bat, but there’s no chance he sticks at catcher at that level), every other college coach would willingly slice off a finger to have either CJ or Max on their roster. Scratch that. Sully would still do it, and just move Hickey to 1st or DH. And that’s not even accounting for Jack Bulger, who has only been in LF because of the Diamond Dore logjam at the catcher position.

(Note: I’m a hard grader, too—ask my students.)

Question from Johnny ‘10:

Can we please stop getting picked off, especially when there’s no intent to steal? So frustrating. Who is winning the 3B job long-term? Will we see a platoon DH this year (Gonzo/Noland/Romero/Rodriguez/Spencer Jones/Whitey Bulger)? If not, who takes the spot?

I share your frustration regarding how often our boys get caught sleeping on the base paths. In fact, this has been my angriest tweet of the season thus far:

As for who will win the 3B jerb, I think it will be Parker Noland (who, as you all know, can’t lose). However, Gonzo has certainly looked good enough out there to keep it. I just think Noland is a stronger defender at the hot corner, so Gonzo will likely be DH more often as we move into SEC play. You really can’t go wrong with either, of course. Beyond that, there is a clear logjam at DH, as we have too many good bats (I know, it’s a great problem to have). Personally, I’d like to see Max “Power” Romero Jr. in there against righties and Gonzo against lefties, but we’ll see how it all shakes out. We could quite easily do a platoon at both 3rd and DH all year. Of the six mentioned, I would say Spencer Jones looks like the odd man out. His future’s on the mound, anyway. Just not this year, as that arm needs to heal after shaking hands with Tommy John. Jones could easily be a weekend starter in ‘22.

Question from shoogymgshoogs:

How do we handle a Keegan absence? Does Noland stick at first like yesterday since Jones can’t play in the field?

I’m honestly not sure. I would like to give Max “Power” Romero Jr. a shot at 1B when he’s not catching, as it gets his power bat in the lineup, and as long as he has cross-trained at 1st in practice, it’s the easiest defensive position to master. Likely the best defensive option we have right now is freshman Gavin Casas, who though he hasn’t got a start yet, has gotten 6 AB in mop up duty thus far. The best offensive solution may well be to have Gonzo at 3rd and Noland at 1st (or vice versa), but I personally think Casas can handle the job. He has light tower power and is hitting .333 with a 2B through 6 AB. I’d just plug Casas in for the week or so Keegan needs to get out of Covid protocol (and pray that it’s just a Covid protocol thing for Keegan and Luke Murphy, rather than either being actually sick). I mean, Jack Bulger was far from the best defensive option in LF when Cooper “The Ontario Barrel-Maker” Davis was recovering from his face exploding, but Corbs ran him out there every game until Coop returned.

Question from parlagi:

How do you see Rob Manfred’s changes to the minor leagues affecting Vanderbilt baseball in the long run? Or NCAA baseball as a whole?

To be honest, what Rob “Right Said” Manfred has done to minor league baseball (culling about a third of all minor league teams; limiting the draft to 5 rounds last year and likely 20 rounds this year) is just gross. Right Said Manfred might be too sexy for his shirt, but he’s not good for baseball.

To answer your question, capping the 2020 MLB draft at 5 rounds (and capping UFA signing bonuses at $100K) directly affected the Diamond Dores in a positive way. We likely don’t have veteran pitchers Ethan Smith and Hugh Fisher on the 2021 squad if the 2020 draft was normal, and there’s a very good chance Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield and Jack “Whitey” Bulger would be plying their trade in the minors right now, as well. We only lost Robert Hassell III and Pete Crow-Armstrong to the 2020 Draft, and quite literally no one in the know expected them to go to college.

Similarly, so many rosters throughout college baseball are absolutely loaded with freshman and returning senior (and some returning 5th or 6th year seniors, even) talent, that the sport is quite clearly better for it (which makes my answer to the next question below even more hilarious). I could see a way where Manfred ruining the minors is good for NCAA baseball—so good, in fact, that baseball moves up to being a revenue sport (think of those college towns who had minor league teams and now don’t... those fans are going to migrate over) and finally gets funded with 25-30 scholarships per team. I have to assume that is ESPN’s end game, as it wasn’t that long ago that most SEC baseball games even weren’t televised. If Manfred’s culling of the minors does not coincide with more scholarships available for college baseball players in the coming years, then that’s just really shitty for the baseball players. My two cents.

Question from parlagi:

Will Missouri reach double digit wins, and do you remember ever seeing any SEC team be so bad?

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an SEC team as bad as the current iteration of the Missourah Tigers (spits), though I’m also not sure why you’re asking me to compare a current Big XII team to all other SEC teams. They do show up on our schedule this year, as we play two series against Big XII foes (the other being this week’s three game set against Okie State), so I might as well look into it.

First, no, I cannot recall an SEC team that has looked this bad against inferior out of conference opponents. For comparison’s sake, the 2019 version of the Kentucky Wildcats were ass terrible (7-23 conference record), but even they went 19-6 out of conference.

Missourah (spits) can usually hang their hets on starting pitching, but not this year, as they have a collective 8.48 ERA through 12 games of decidedly meh competition. It’s jarring just how far they’ve fallen from being the team of Max Scherzer. Their current .242 team batting average is on par with what they usually do AFTER running through the buzzsaw of conference play; not before—they’ve never been a team that can tear the cover off the ball, but even with that in mind, they’re looking rough this year—but their pitching has fallen so hard, the Kansas Jayhawks are considering hiring them to be their next head football coach.

They are currently 3-9 in OOC play (lol), but let’s get granular.

Week 1: Lost 3 out of 4 games to the Grand Canyon University Fightin’ Bryce Drews’ of The Internet.

Week 2: Split a 4 game series with Omaha (sorry, whom???).

*Note: I didn’t even know either of these first two opponents had a baseball program, and I’m not entirely certain they’re not just beer league teams.

Week 3: Lost all four games played in the Frisco College Baseball Classic against Dallas Baptist, OU, and Arizona.

This week, they play the St. Louis Billikens and the Indiana State Fightin’ Larry Birds. Bet accordingly.

Oh, and for the last part of your question... hmm... ah screw it, I’ll go with no. No, they will not record double digit wins this year. They are ass.

Question from VandyFrog:

Are we a dynasty at this point? It would appear we are the closest thing in CBB right now but I don’t know how well recognized that is. I notice when I converse with fans of other SEC baseball teams they admit Vanderbilt is a “good team”, or “should make it to the CWS”, but they don’t talk about us like you would Alabama in football. What do you think it will take to get there?

Yes. We are. As is Oregon State. Those two are the “Alabama and Clemson” of college baseball in the last 10 years. I’d actually say that the “dynastic baseball program to dynastic football program” analogy is tough, though, and the main analogue here would be Vanderbilt Baseball and Duke Basketball. The main thing at work here is that with feetball, each team has 85 scholarships, and the Alabamas and Clemsons (and to a slightly lesser extent, the Georgias, Floridas, Ohios State, and Oklahomas) pretty much get everyone they go for. Of course, Vanderbilt baseball gets pretty much everyone they go for to commit to them, as well, though the NFL doesn’t come in and scoop up the creme de la creme 18 year olds for their nonexistent minor leagues. Beyond that, Alabama more or less getting their top 85 players is a completely different world than Vanderbilt having to negotiate around the 11.7 scholarship cap. Here’s where the entire state of Mississippi starts yelling about Opportunity Vanderbilt, but the truth is that players who want to come to Vanderbilt average having to pay north of $20K per year for the opportunity.

Think about the NFL Draft for a second. Traditionally, the top two rounds are where the NFL gets most of its size/speed freak stars, and a disproportionate number of those types of players attend Alabama and Clemson. Beyond that, feetball is a sport in which size and speed are pretty much everything (especially at the college level), whereas baseball is a high variance sport where even the worst teams can win one game in a three game series. There just aren’t any Cinderellas with CFP/BCS era National Championships.

In baseball, however, Coastal Carolina won in ‘16, Arizona in ‘12, and even freaking Fresno State won it all in ‘08, and they were a 4 seed (meaning they were ranked amongst the bottom 16 teams in the 64 team tournament). That would be like if Florida Gulf Coast, Loyola-Chicago, or the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers had won the whole shebang during March Madness (voice over: they didn’t). The biggest “Cinderella” in feetball was Boise State beating Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and those were the #8 and #9 ranked teams, respectively. Neither were even going to get a chance at the title.

Since 1998 (when the BCS/CFP era of football began), 15 different college baseball teams have won a title. 15! In that same era, the team with the most titles is Oregon State with 3.

With feetball, of course, since 1998, only 11 different teams have won titles, and Alabama has 6 of them. In the last 10 years, it has gotten even worse, as only 5 different teams have won titles, with Bama taking half of them.

In other words, when it comes to baseball, of course Vanderbilt is a dynasty. As is Oregon State.