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2022 Position Previews: Infield

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

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Mississippi State v Vanderbilt Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, our pitching rotation looked set in stone before the season, while our infield seemed more in flux. This year, you can put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it, as the infield may well be our biggest strength, both defensively and offensively.

That’s not to say there won’t be competition for positions, or that the infield—specifically 2nd and 1st base—will not be an open competition for most of the year. Rather, the mix of star power and depth on the infield bests all other position groups this year.

Let’s take a look at who seems dug in, who will have to force their way into the lineup, and who will compete for 2nd and 1st base (now that Dom Keegan seems likely to begin the season at Catcher).

Short Stop

Returning Starter

#9 Jr. SS Carter “Mighty Carter Young” Young

(.252/.341/.559 with 15 2B, 5 3B, 16 HR, and 52 RBI)

As a freshman, Mighty Carter Young exceeded expectations, and put up .328/.373/.377 with 3 2Bs and 12 RBI in a Covid-shortened 2020 season.

Following that season, I wrote the following:

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).

Last year, he switched up his game to a power-first offensive identity, and though he led the team in extra base hits, there’s a golden mean between AVG/OBP and power he should seek in 2022 if he wants to live up to his first round prospect billing. Can he do it? Absolutely. Carter Young has the ability to be Dansby Swanson-esque in both the field and at the plate (or at least Dansby at SS and Ethan Paul at the plate, which... come on... you’d take that). His hair is more mine during quarantine that Dansby the Mansby’s epic flow, but we can’t all have perfection in all aspects of life. Just most. We can be perfect at most. We’re Vanderbilt men, after all.

Some of you may be confused by that effusive praise, considering what you saw of Mighty Carter Young in Omaha, but you need to know he was hurt. Wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t Omaha type hurt. He’s back now, and poised to shoot up MLB draft boards. Just you watch.

The Top Competition

#11 Fr. SS Davis Diaz

Though Perfect Game doesn’t have a grade on him, MLB.com likes him as a top 100 player. Here’s the MLB.com scouting report on the smooth SS:

Perhaps the best player from Northern California in this Draft class, Diaz has been on the national radar for some time now, playing for USA Baseball’s national 12U team back in 2015 and the 15-and-under team in both 2017 and 2018. He had a solid showcase showing in 2020, including being named to the all-tournament team at Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship.

While Diaz doesn’t have one tool that jumps off the page, he does a lot of things really well. The right-handed hitter has gotten stronger and does have the chance to eventually be a better than average hitter. He’s shown the ability to make hard contact and send line drives to all fields, with that added strength sure to help him get to more power in the future. He’s an average runner who has good instincts.

Those instincts have helped him on the defensive end as he’s shown an ability to play shortstop in high school despite that lack of first-step quickness. He has decent hands and an average arm, with many thinking that, plus the lack of range, will necessitate a move in the future. He’s offered scouts a new look by catching this spring and has shown a solid release and good hands behind the dish. Whether that addition to his profile is enough to sign him away from his Vanderbilt commitment remains to be seen.

MLB.com Top 250 Ranking: #71.

Second Base

Returning Starters

*#6 Sr. IF Tate “Tater” Kolwyck

(.290/.371/.507 with 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, and 25 RBI)

*Though Tater is the returning starter at 2nd, word out of Hawkins is he will start the season at 1st.

The Tater put up great numbers in the beginning of the 2021 season before breaking his hamate bone (which saps even the best hitters of their power for months after they return). He will either start at 2nd base or 1st base, as Dom Keegan will begin the year behind the plate. I’d play Tater at 2B (and a bigger, less mobile guy at 1st, like Gavin Casas, though Casas is still working back from offseason knee surgery). The truth is that Tater may stick at 1st, but his best defensive position is 2nd. The reason? Because with Vaz, Diaz, Gordon, Noland, et al able to man 2nd base quite easily, Corbs will simply have a lot of options to play at my old position.

Probable Starter (if Tater is at 1st as we keep hearing)

#2 Sr. IF Javier “Cloney Kemp” Vaz

(.238/.396/.286 with 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, and 5-5 Stolen Bases in 23 games played)

Vaz could either start in 2nd, LF, or be a super utility sub this year. However, with his stellar play down the stretch last year, it would not shock me if he won the job at 2nd. Here’s what I wrote in his “Player Report Card:”

Cloney Kemp was a revelation in the postseason, as he contributed stellar LF defense, showed the potential to be a top of the order bat, and was a terror on the base-paths. Many, yours truly included, thought the LSU-Eunice JuCo Transfer might win the second base job in the beginning of the season, but that was not to be. Though clearly talented, Vaz struggled to find playing time throughout most of the 2021 season.

In fact, it wasn’t until May 28th, in a SEC Tournament game against Ole Piss, that Vaz was allowed to come to the plate more than once in a game. He would go 1-2 with a 2B and a run scored (of course, it would be the only run we would score in that 1-4 loss).

His best game of the year was the first Super Regional game against East Carolina, where he went 2-3 with a 2B and an RBI against one of the best pitchers we faced all year—Gavin Williams. He was instrumental in that 2-0 Ace vs. Ace win.

Once Corbs went to him in the Regionals against Atlanta, Vaz made sure he stayed in the lineup. He is potentially a second lead-off hitter, excellent base runner, and Tony Kemp style Swiss Army Knife Utility Man in the field. I don’t care where he plays on defense in 2022, but he should absolutely be in the lineup. He more than earned that with his postseason run.

The Top Competition

Again, though the position may well be fluid, with Corbs putting many different players in at 2nd, 1st, and even LF (note that all listed here could play LF, as well), you will want to watch out for freshmen Davis Diaz and Rob Gordon. See above for info on Diaz. See immediately below for info on Gordon:

#3 Fr. SS Rob Gordon

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

Rob Gordon is a 2021 SS with a 6-1 174 lb. frame from Smyrna, GA who attends East Cobb Baseball Home School. Slender live bodied build with huge physical projection remaining. Very quick first step on defense, shows plus range is balanced through the ball, plays low and under the ball, refined footwork, has quick hands and a very quick and compact release from multiple arm slots, has a feel and a flair for playing defense. Right handed hitter, deep hand drop load, short and direct swing, gets to his front side well with his swing, line drive gap to gap approach. Excellent student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Perfect Game Rating: 10

*Note also that both Diaz and Gordon could play 3B, SS, or 2B if needed. LF, too, one would imagine.

Third Base

Returning Starters

#25 So. IF Parker “Can’t Lose” Noland

(.260/.336/.407 with 3 2Bs and 11 RBI)

Though Jayson Gonzalez fought hard, Parker Noland won the job at the hot corner last year. He should hold it down all this year, as well (unless he has to take over at another position due to injury). Noland is steady as she goes at the hot corner, and has only shown the tip of the iceberg of what he can potentially do with the bat. Noland is my best bet for a true breakout offensive performance, as he’s basically Will Toffey. Remember what Toffey did during his junior year, especially in the postseason? Go ahead and put all of those expectations on Noland, as, well, this:

The Top Competition

Both no one and everyone. Again, see above. There’s no real true third baseman nipping at his heels, but Diaz and Gordon could do the job. Best not to turn it over to them, as I don’t see either getting taken out of the lineup once they claw their way in. Also in consideration for reps at the hot corner is #1 Fr. UTL Matthew Polk:

#1 Fr. UTL Matthew Polk

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

Matthew Polk is a 2021 OF/IF with a 5-11 170 lb. frame from Long Beach, CA who attends Richard Gahr. Medium athletic build with some present strength and more to come. Very quick twitch athlete, has explosive actions in everything that he does. Right handed hitter, hits from a quiet spread stance with a pretty simple and short load and shift, aggressive hitter who attacks the ball with bat speed and doesn’t get cheated, has impressive bat speed and ball comes off the barrel hard, showed power and the ability to lift and drive the ball. Fast to the ball in the outfield with a quick exchange, shows good arm strength with carry when he stays behind the ball. Plays with energy and performs. Good student, verbal commitment to UCLA Vanderbilt. Named to the Underclass All-American Games Top Prospect List.

Perfect Game Rating: 9.5

First Base

*Returning Starters

#12 Jr. UTL Dominic Keegan

(.354/.427/.638 with 17 2B, 3 3B, 15 Hr and 57 RBI)

*Similar to the Tater, though the Dominator held down the cold corner in 2021, he will be moving to behind the plate to begin the 2022 season. If he struggles at handling the pitching staff, framing strikes, or blocking balls in the dirt, he will be right back at first, moving Tater to 2nd.

Probable Starter (if Dom is behind the plate as we keep hearing)

#6 Sr. IF Tate “Tater” Kolwyck

(.290/.371/.507 with 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, and 25 RBI)

*See above.

The Top Competition

#39 So. IF Gavin “The House” Casas

(.200/.373/.300 with 1 2B and 1 RBI)

With Dom Keegan entrenched at 1st last year, Casas only saw 10 ABs. Still, Corbs has been praising his power bat to anyone who will listen. Still, “The House” will likely not start at the cold corner, as he’s still rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. If he gets back into form, this could be another Troy LaNeve type late-season power bat. Heal up and bring that thunder when you’re ready, young fella. He could compete for 1B or DH.