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2022 Position Previews: Outfield

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: Nashville Regional-Georgia Tech vs Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Center field is locked down for the next two years, but who will flank the fastest man in baseball? Will anyone lock down a corner outfield spot early, or will both LF and RF be platoon positions all year?

Outfield

Returning Starters

#51 So. CF Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield, Jr.

(.336/.451/.414 with 8 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 38 RBI, and 47-53 stolen bases)

Eat your heart out, Councilman Dexhart, because there’s a new Enrique Shockwave in town. Though I was crazy high on the fastest man in baseball coming into the 2021 season, even I didn’t foresee the offensive impact he’d have at the top of the lineup.

We knew he was fast, of course. I wrote this in the 2021 Outfield Preview:

The 6’1” 160 lb lefty from Hialeah, FL has a game that should remind you of Juan Pierre, as this young man is faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast. 6.26 in the 60 yard dash fast. Put him in center field and cover half of the outfield fast.

...but like Mighty Carter Young the year prior, it’s safe to say we were all pleasantly surprised Bradfield was as advanced at the plate and in the field as we saw in his freshman campaign. The Juan Pierre comp is even probably too low for the Hialeah Flash.

All we want from Shockwave is to continue to progress linearly, like he did throughout his freshman campaign. Keep being the spark plug that fires the engine of the offense from the leadoff spot. Keep robbing gap doubles like the damned hamburglar. Keep scaring the ever-loving bejesus out of opposing pitchers and catchers when taking a lead off first.

All he needs to work on is refinement to sand out the edges of his game. Sure he can steal off almost anyone, but can he anticipate off-speed pitches and watch film so he knows a pitcher’s move a beat faster? Sure he can bunt for a base hit, but can he pull it back and rifle it over the third bagger’s head for extra bases when the opponent has a wheel play on? Sure, he can run down a gapper, but can he anticipate where the ball will go before it even hits the bat, Andruw Jones style? In other words, he’s already got his bachelors in speed, but can he hit the baseball classroom to make it a Ph.D. before his Diamond Dore career is through?

I say this year is when he completes his M.S. (Masters in Speed). The kid’s a star.

Likely Starters/Platoon Players

#34 Jr. OF/UTL Spencer “Dr. Jones” Jones

(.274/.346/.421 with 5 2B, 3 HR, and 10 RBI)

With Bradfield and Thomas locked in to CF and RF respectively, LF was an open battle between Cooper Davis, Jones, LaNeve, and Vaz in 2021. Bradfield is still locked in at CF, Thomas is... well... let’s just say he’s gone and left under strange circumstances, and Cooper Davis exploded his face in the beginning of 2021, and then was outplayed by the younger guys when he finally returned. As a senior, he graduated and moved on.

Dr. Jones got 24 starts, LaNeve the Yard got 19, and Cloney Kemp got 11, so I’ll list them in that order (*Note that not all of the aforementioned starts were at LF, and either Jones or LaNeve could be prime candidates to DH if they don’t win a corner OF job).

Jones has been tantalizing us with his potential as a two way player his three years in gangster pajamas, but sadly, arm injuries prevented him from ever getting onto the mound. This offseason, he decided to abandon pitching training and focus solely on batting and outfield defense. It certainly could pay off for the lanky lefty, as he clearly has power potential and the arm to nail would be runners tagging up from 2nd on deep flies to RF. Will he unlock it in 2022? Here’s hoping.

#19 Jr. OF Troy “LaNeve the Yard” LaNeve

(.286/.326/.583 7 2B, 6 HR, and 22 RBI)

You can be forgiven if you look at the nickname and the power numbers listed above, and don’t think they add up. You would be wrong, but you would be forgiven. As mentioned above, the OF was stacked in 2021, so LaNeve mostly got playing run towards the end of the season. In fact, nearly all of his starts (and power numbers) came in May and June. LaNeve has the best shot at reprising the Stephen Scott role in the Commodores offense. If his glove gets to adequate, Shockwave should be able to cover for his relative lack of range. If his defense is a liability, however, expect him to get the lion’s share of platoon ABs at DH.

#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.

A Potential LF/DH Platoon Guy

#16 So. UTL Jack “Whitey” Bulger

(.274/.369/.414 7 2B, 5 HR, and 28 RBI)

I’m not going to lie... Bulger looked rough on defense when he got a shot at LF last year. However, there’s some pop in that bat, and he could compete for playing time at DH, Catcher, First base, and if he’s really worked on his defense, LF. Probably more of a backup catcher/platoon DH guy, though. I’m really not sure where to fully preview him, but the bat can play.

The Freshmen

In addition to those profiled here, all freshmen profiled in the infield position preview, such as Diaz, Gordon, and Vastine, could all play LF if needed (or if their bats are too good to keep out of the lineup).

OF Kenneth Mallory, Jr.

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

Kenneth Mallory, Jr is a 2021 OF/LHP, 1B with a 6-3 185 lb. frame from Lawerenceville, GA who attends Mountain View. Flashed an extra large, athletic build with very strong lower half. Long limbs showing some room to fill in the future. Ultra projectable build. Primary Outfielder tracking the baseball well staying behind it all the way through throws. Over the top arm action with a smooth release showing a very accurate arm to all bases. Secondary Firstbaseman proving to have good feel working around the baseball. Good feet underneath him as he showed raw mechanics. Arm accurate from all angles. Lefthanded hitter starting with a square stance working into a leg kick with high hands. Linear swing path showing a gap to gap type approach as he squared up the baseball. Gets extended at times showing he can drive the baseball for power to the pull side. Good Student.

Perfect Game Rating: 9.5

OF Christian Smith

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

Christian Smith is a 2021 OF/1B with a 6-2 180 lb. frame from Atlanta, GA who attends Grady. Tall and slender young build with plenty of physical projection left. 6.84 runner in the sixty, has good quickness in the outfield and shows range, fields the ball cleanly out front, arm strength still developing. Left handed hitter, hits from a spread and open stance with a short and quick swing path to the ball, has good looseness in his hands, best contact is when he’s directional through contact, moves the ball around the field with a high contact approach. Young athlete who should keep improving as he gets stronger. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

Perfect Game Rating: 9