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Vanderbilt Postseason Baseball Mail Bag: Answers to Your Questions

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

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

*Note: After writing my responses, I had to move Shoogymgshoogs’ question to the top spot. You will see why. I wrote all of my answers before seeing the tweet embedded in my update to my answer to his question. You may begin melting down in the comments now. I will likely do the same, but will hold off on an article about it until the player himself actually signs elsewhere.


Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Why didn’t we wear our gangster pajamas in Hoover or Corvallis? (Or the obligatory Christian Little question: Will we see the first rounder next year?)

Uniform questions are tough, as I never know why they make those decisions. As for the Christian Little question, yes, I think next year we see him round into 1st round prospect form. There’s just too much arm talent for him not to, and, on top of that, he’s a competitor. The goal needs to be to stretch him out in the offseason. If he’s not in the starting rotation and pitching like a potential Ace next year, something will have gone horribly wrong.

*Update: As I was writing this article, the following was tweeted out. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.


Questions from BarnDore1950 & AspenVU:

I am going to jump ahead to next year with a two part question: !) With Keegan and Jones gone, what the hell are we going to do for bats next year? 2) Given the success of some of our rivals dipping into the transfer portal (Auburn comes to mind right away, but there are others) do you see Corbin being a little more willing to go the portal route to pick up a good bat or two?

&

Do you see a need to step into the juco market or transfer portal? What other changes might be considered by Corbs to regain the footing?

I’d like to be able to tell you we will be able to seamlessly replace Keegan and Jones’s offensive production, but that would be a bald-faced lie. While there is certainly the potential that Gavin Casas could return from his knee injury and be a top power bat, expecting him to produce like Dr. Jones or The Dominator would be rank lunacy.

I do think Silent Cal Hewett could continue his ascent towards stardom, Jack Bulger (if he makes it through the draft) could increase his power production, Parker Noland (if he returns for his senior year) could do the same. Davis Diaz has a lot of work to do on pitch recognition, but the talent is certainly there. Carter Young could certainly bounce back to 2020 and 2021 form. Who knows which freshmen (Polk? Gordon? Will Vastine ever be more than a defensive specialist?) will step up in their sophomore seasons as Silent Cal did this year? Oh, and though we’re definitely not getting Druw Jones through the draft, there will be some talented freshmen hitters coming to campus. Will any of them force their way into the lineup with a strong fall?

As you can see, there are way more questions than answers right now.

I’ll let the beat writer answer the transfer portal stuff (read the thread):

Of course, former Diamond Dore and owner of one of the toughest necks in existence, Rhett Wiseman weighed in on the other side of things:

I agree with both of them (let me explain). I’m in agreement with Aria over Tim Corbin’s roster building strategy, but also in agreement with Rhett’s Neck that the college baseball world has changed. Corbs can’t look at what Tony “The Calf” Vitello’s doing over at The School to the East and not recognize that currently ignoring the transfer portal (save for the rare acquisition of Javier Vaz) is beneficial to his team. It would not shock me if this year he tries to grab a power hitter or two (corner OF, 1B, and/or DH type) to account for Keegan and Jones no longer being in the lineup. The transfer portal has made the 11.7 scholarship thing even more of an albatross for teams like Vanderbilt.


Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

Looking ahead to next year, which bench players do you see improving enough to claim a starting role, which current starters do you see being in danger of losing their role, and which current starters do you see really stepping up and being big contributors next year?

As i’ve said before, I think Silent Cal is on the path to stardom. Beyond that, I’d say that Hewett, Bulger, and Noland will likely be the middle of the order bats counted on to drive in Shockwave, et al.

As for the first part of this question, it’s really the, “Who are next year’s candidates to pull a Silent Cal?” I have four contenders: Matthew Polk, Gavin Casas, Rob Gordon, and Jonathan Vastine.

The first two showed something at the plate this year, and there should be openings in a corner OF spot, 1B, and DH in 2023. I’d say Polk is the odd’s on favorite to claim one of those OF spots, and Casas is the same for 1B or DH. Gordon could be used either in the IF or OF, and Vastine can play SS, 2nd, or 3rd (but, of course, only if the bat shows up).


Question from Dinard’oh & Parker10:

Related: how much NIL would it take to get Druw Jones on campus?

&

Is there any possible chance that somebody as a Vanderbilt alumni can get Druw Jones a big enough offer(NIL) to come and play at Vanderbilt even though he will more than likely be drafted 1 or 2?? Not a question but, I am an Orioles fan but sometimes they are brain dead when it comes to drafting players (ex. Austin Martin) and as much as I would love to see Druw Jones as an Oriole I would love to see him come to Vanderbilt even more.

First, to put a stop to the irrational hope, Druw Jones, barring something completely unforeseen, such as a Brady Aiken/Kumar Rocker ambiguous medical thing causing the team that picks him not to sign him, is going to go #1 or #2 in this year’s MLB Draft. Even if the Orioles smooth-brain it, the Diamondbacks won’t let him drop past them. Jones will command something between an $8-10 million signing bonus. He will be playing in the low minors next year. Put any other thought right out of your head.


Question from ConquerandPrevail:

Which [...] SEC teams advance to [Omaha], and which SEC [teams] won’t make [Omaha]?

You can see from my brackets that this question originally pertained to the Super Regionals, and also about host teams, but I think it’s worth answering now (if only slightly modified for time reasons).

In the Super Regional round, 5 SEC teams remain, none play each other, and three games will not involve teams in our conference. Of course, if you factor in the fact that Tejas and Boomer Sooner will be joining our conference soon enough, that number would jump to 7 and 1, respectively.

As such, I’ll just go matchup by matchup, picking winners and in how many games.

Tejas vs. ECU

Tejas in 2. If ECU had the pitcher who was suspended in the beginning of the year for taking performance enhancing drugs (*note: said pitcher claimed to have bought a supplement at a nutritional chain store), who is currently pitching on The Cape... they would have a chance. They don’t. Tejas will outmuscle them.

Boomer Sooner vs. Virginny Tech

Boomer Sooner in 3. This one could go either way, and I quite literally had to flip a coin. In going to watch a few Boomer Sooner games this year, I came away unimpressed, but it’s undeniable they have been one of the 5 hottest teams over the last few weeks. I may very well be wrong on this one.

Touchdown Jebus vs. The Chuggers

Chuggers in 3. If I’m wrong here, it’s because the Chuggers won in 2.

Louisville vs. aTm

Louisville in 3. aTm is fundamentally sound, has an extremely strong bullpen, and enough pitching to beat anyone. However, Louisville’s offense is putting up video game numbers. I’ll roll with the hot bats here.

Woo Pig Sooie vs. North Cackalacky

Arky in 3. UNC has been really strong of late, but Arky’s just a solid, professional team. I think UNC makes a mistake or two, and Arky pounces. If this was in Omaha, UNC would hit a foul ball to the first baseman that’s dropped, therefore applying the Woo Pig Buckner curse to Dave Van Horn’s squad. Unfortunately for North Cackalacky, this will be in Chapel Hill.

Ole Piss vs. Southern Piss

Ole Piss in 3. I don’t know. Neither of these teams should be here. Had Vandy not imploded the final weekend of SEC play against Yellow Shoe, and therefore had not been placed in the Corvallis Regional, I’m not sure either of these teams is in Supers. I’ll cede the floor to the Human-Elk Hybrid with no knee ligaments.

War Tigers vs. War Beavers

Oregon State in 3. This is probably going to be the best series of all the Super Regionals. It all comes down to whether OSU Ace Cooper “Genital” Hjerpes was harmed by pitching in relief on Monday. The War Beavers will all but assuredly still give the War Tigers Hjerpes in game one (their series doesn’t start until Saturday). If he’s in top form, the Beavs win Game One. If he’s not, Sonny “Big Capicola” DiChiara and the War Tigers offense should have the advantage. Whomever wins Game One takes this series in three.

UConn vs. Stansbury

Stansbury in 2. This should not be particularly close.


Question from VU1970:

When we were the CWS runner-up in 2015, it took us four years to get back to the CWS. How many years will it take to get back after last year’s runner-up finish?

Seeing as Vanderbilt is never going to go the 26 year old beer leaguer transfer portal team path, it’s less of a question of “how many years?” and more of a question of getting two stocked recruiting classes back to back through the MLB Draft, developing them, and getting key juniors (drafted after the 10th round) to come back for their senior year when they recognize we’re in prime position to win the whole damned thing.

Our current freshman class has the looks of being one of them, especially on the mound. At the plate, you can squint and see it, but no, there are no Enrique Shockwave, Austin Martin, Bryan Reynolds, or Pedro Alvarez type no-doubters in our current freshman class.

Luckily, we will have Shockwave back for his junior year, as well as an ascending Silent Cal, and a potentially ascending Jack “The Bulge” Bulger. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Also, the strength of the incoming freshman commits are also on the mound. That said, of the above list of no-doubters as freshmen, two of them—Bryan Reynolds and Austin Martin—were not exactly perceived as the “jewels of their incoming class” by scouts (or me), until, you know, the first week of their frigging freshman campaigns, when it was frighteningly obvious they would be, and perhaps already were, stars.

Similarly, players like Dansby “The Mansby” Swanson, and JJ “Bledinger” Bleday did not enter the realms of clear stardom until their sophomore years.

In other words, when I see the clear “classes stacked up” and upperclassmen coming back, like we saw in ‘13-’15 and ‘19-‘21, I’ll let you know.

I’d say, if things break well, we’re likely 2 years away from competing for a National Title again (Holton and Futrell’s junior years).


Question from dore31:

Do you think Carter Young will be playing in gangster pajamas at the Hawk next spring?

If you had asked this at the beginning of the year, I would have laughed. After this year, especially the months long slump that defined his junior season, if I were his advisor (agent, but they’re not allowed to call them that yet), I would tell him to come back for his senior year to try to bounce back.

MLB.com currently has Young at #159 in their prospect rankings (5th-10th round, basically), and Prospects Live has him similarly rated at #125. However, both of their scouting reports lean heavily on his past performance, so it will be interesting to see where the final ratings put him, as the draft this year goes from 7-17 to 7-19. That’s over five more weeks of watching tape, traveling to the cape, getting scouting cross-checkers together, et al.

There’s not a whole lot of comparables to other perceived first round shortstops going into their junior year having as rough of a draft year as Carter Young did in ‘22. The first name that popped into my mind was former Arky SS Casey Martin, as he had similar strikeout/pitch recognition problems that pushed him to the bottom of the 3rd round in 2020, where the Phillies took a chance at his power potential and defensive upside. Martin has been pretty terrible in his brief minor league career thus far (.196/.277/.306 with 30 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 55 RBI, and a whopping 165 strikeouts in 147 games played over the past two seasons, topping out in High A ball), but his college stats actually looked like this:

Casey Martin Stats

2018

.345/.418/.556 with 14 2B, 0 3B, 13 HR, 49 RBI, and 64 strikeouts in 67 games played.

2019

.286/.364/.548 with 21 2B, 4 3B, 15 HR, 57 RBI, and 79 strikeouts in 66 games played.

2020

.271/.386/.458 with 5 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, and 22 strikeouts in 15 games played.

For comparison, here’s Carter Young’s three years at Vandy:

Carter Young Stats

2020

.328/.373/.377 with 3 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 12 RBI, and 17 strikeouts in 18 games played.

2021

.252/.341/.559 with 15 2B, 5 3B, 16 HR, 52 RBI, and 84 strikeouts in 61 games played.

2022

.207/.327/.383 with 6 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 26 RBI, and 66 strikeouts in 56 games played.

I’m just not sure how you draft him after this year, except for as an upside flyer and/or future utility infielder. Bonuses for those types are likely much lower than what Carter Young had envisioned coming into this year. I’d bet he returns, and hope he returns to form. Our team would have looked a lot different with pre-injured shoulder Carter Young at SS, and our team next year sure could use that guy.


Question from Your Uncle Mike:

Travis Jewett or nah?

Though the bats performed as we would have wanted them to from Saturday through Monday in the Corvallis Regional, it fair to question whether or not Hitting Coach Astronaut Mike Baxter is on the hot seat. Tim Corbin is obviously in “build him a statue” territory, and Scott Brown is one of the best pitching coaches in the country. If you were to point to one area that could be improved upon with respect to coaching, yes, it is definitely the hitting coach. While Astronaut Mike Baxter has surely done a good job as Vanderbilt’s hitting coach, again, it is certainly fair to wonder whether we could improve here.

Again, though it looked like everything came together during the bulk of the Corvallis Regional, the offense was supposed to carry this team this year, and, well... it was more than a bit of a letdown.

In particular, Carter Young and Davis Diaz’s mid to late season slumps will stick in your craw, as should the two strike approach of many hitters throughout the bulk of the season. I know you might only remember the All-World Enrique Shockwave you saw in the back half of this season, but even the great EBJ’s approach was maddening in the first third of it, with him pulling a Omar Epps as Willie Mayes Hayes in Major League II, as he got too happy with his own power improvement, and swung for the fences rather than going for his own Platonic Ideal of a high OBP, high contact hitter who steals bases so frequently, a BB is basically a 2B.

However, if you’re going to blame Baxter for Shockwave’s beginning of the year maddening approach, you would also have to praise him to fixing it mid-year and turning him back into a force. If you’re going to blame Baxter for the unforeseen fall of Carter Young, you would also have to praise Astronaut Mike Baxter for the meteoric rise (and all but perfect approach) of the unbelievably raw Dr. Jones, as well as the professional ABs from both Dom Keegan and Silent Cal Hewett.

Beyond that, Corbs and Baxter finally unleashed the Vanderbunt in the Corvallis Regional—most impressively the “bunt for two” gambit.

In short, had you asked me earlier in the year, I would have been interested in a return to the Hawk for Travis Jewett, or even a discussion with, say, Campbell’s “Humpin’ to Please” hitting coach, but, for now at least, I think we bring back Baxter. I just hope he doesn’t forget what worked in Corvallis. Same with Corbs.


Question from Dinard’Oh:

what was your opinion of using Schultz to close out the penultimate game?

(feel free to use this question to let out all your frustrations at once)

Okay, let’s go ahead and talk about the two managerial decisions that cost us the Corvallis Regional, a chance for a revenge Super Regional at Auburn, and a possible trip to Omaha.

Of course this comes with all of the caveats that there were many managerial decisions that were successful, and put us even in the position to have a chance to beat one of the toughest teams in baseball in their home ballpark.

1) Deciding to have Javier Vaz sacrifice bunt in the 9th inning, down 1, after Bradfield walked to lead off the inning.

Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield is the best base stealer we have ever had at Vanderbilt. Full stop. Beyond that, he was perfect (46-46) on the year in stolen base attempts. Though there are no guarantees in sports, short of slipping mid steal attempt, there’s essentially no risk in sending Bradfield early in the count while Vaz was up. You have to trust the best base stealer in baseball when, in doing so, you could then bunt him to 3rd, and give Dr. Jones a chance at an easy sac fly. Worst case scenario, the USD pitcher IBBs both Jones and Keegan, and makes the job really easy on Jack Bulger (just don’t hit into a double play). Or—and if you’re me, this is what you do—you have Shockwave swipe both 2nd and 3rd, and make tying the game a mathematical all-but certainty. There are times when it makes sense to give up an out to move a runner up a bag, but this, given both the circumstances and players involved, was not remotely one of them.

Beyond that, when we would face USD again, two days later, both Shockwave and Silent Cal swiped bags with ease off of catcher Caleb Ricketts. Quite literally any advanced scouting (i.e. rudimentary film watching) would have made it quite clear that while Ricketts is pretty good with the bat, he’s a noodle-armed catcher than anyone could run on.

2) Bring in The Mayor (our best closer) for 3 innings in the 7th inning of an 8-0 game against Oregon State, knowing full well we would have to play them again on Monday for the Regional Championship.

This damn near broke me. First, Devin Futrell was cruising, and had only thrown 93 pitches after 6 IP. He had given up 5 hits, walked 2, and Kd 4. He did not look to be laboring at all. He was on more than a full week’s rest. He was up 8 runs. With all that in mind, and considering you will have to throw a Johnny Wholestaff Championship Game the next day, you bring in Futrell to pitch the 7th, and then some combination of middle relievers for the last 6 outs. Corbs and Brownie understood this concept in the Sunday afternoon game, in which they let Maldo pitch to contact for 7 & 23 IP, and then turning to Berkwich for the final 4 outs in a similar eventual blowout (we would go on to win 14-4). Of course, after the 6th inning, it was a 6-3 game. The season was still on the line there, and with it being a 3 run game, I wouldn’t be enthused about warming up Schultz between innings, and potentially burning him for the rest of the Regional, but I would have understood it. Of course, with Vandy being the visiting team, it was 8-3 by the time such a decision would need to be made. Corbs and Brownie correctly realized that 8-3 was no need to panic, so they kept Maldo out for the beginning of the 7th, and then brought in one of their middle relievers—not a back of the bullpen guy, and certainly not their closer—when the starter got in a bit of trouble late in the 7th.

So, if you correctly realize you shouldn’t burn your best reliever up 8-3 in an elimination game, why do you incorrectly determine you should do so in an 8-0 game the next day??? You don’t burn your best reliever who could have been a full-on fireman when Patrick Reilly got (relatively predictably) wild the next day. If your lesser relievers yield a few runs, like three or four, then yes, you absolutely bring him in. Why not give Cunningham, Ginther, Evans, Moore, or Hansen the chance to get 6 outs total, thereby burning exactly zero relievers you would need to use for the championship game? Maldo and Berkwich gave us the gift of relative bullpen depth for Sunday night, so why smash that gift right in your children’s faces on Christmas morning later on that night?

These two moves were maddening. They should not have been made.


Question from Dinard’Oh (*asked before Regionals):

This has obviously been a disappointing year. In your mind, what result to end the season would save it from being chucked into the dumpster of ignominy? And, if it’s a different answer, what result would at least give you hope that next year will be better than the last?

Not sure if the way you worded this was inspired by our (extremely likely) loss of Dr. Jones to this year’s MLB Draft, but all I can think of is a different song by Counting Crows:

A long December and there’s reason to believe / Maybe this year will be better than the last.

I’d actually say what we did in the Corvallis Regional (especially after the Game One loss to USD) gave me hope. We competed hard, and really should have won the Regional (save for the two managerial decisions I have talked about ad nauseam in this mail bag). Our two freshmen lefty Aces—Carter “Rev. Holton Heat” Holton and Devin “The Future” Futrell—and the tantalizing potential of rising junior Christian “The Answer” Little, gives us the very real possibility of having the top rotation in all of college baseball in 2023 (sigh, The Chuggers are the other obvious candidate). Beyond that, it’s pretty apparent that, barring a freshman commit coming in and kicking down the door, that should be our 2023 weekend rotation. In fact, I’d go Holton, Little, Futrell. Every single one of them has All-SEC and All-American potential next year. In addition, Patrick Reilly has the potential to be a true shutdown closer. That’s a hell of a starting point. Oh, and if Hliboki and/or Doolin are back to full pitching health and on the roster, our bullpen can go from solid to “the game’s over with a 6th inning lead” reeeeeeeeaaaaaaallll quickly.

Beyond that, Davis Diaz can certainly handle SS defensively, and there’s hope he can return to Diaz de los Muertos form at the plate. Parker Noland also quieted his doubters with his late season charge. I think it’s likely to expect him back as a senior leader and have his name written in Sharpie at the hot corner. Gavin “The House” Casas should be back from his knee injury, and could provide some much needed middle of the order left handed power. Oh, and Shockwave and Silent Cal aren’t going anywhere. The former has a chance to win the Golden Spikes next year, and the latter has a chance to be a star.

On the other hand, so much of our offense will be leaving—Dr. Jones and The Dominator—and I just don’t see any ready replacements for them in the pipeline. Had Isaiah Thomas not entered the transfer portal, I could see him providing a reasonable facsimile of Dr. Jones’s offensive and defensive production in 2023. That’s something to keep an eye on, as entering the portal does not necessarily mean leaving the school, but, you know, it makes it much less likely he will pull a Jayson Gonzalez or Phil Pfeiffer.

While I don’t expect Corbs to be all that aggressive in the transfer portal, if he’s going to be, it’s likely to add a power bat. Either way, we’ll talk about this after the draft—and really, after the draft signing deadline in August—when we have a better grasp at just who will be on the 2023 roster.


Question from HMS’Dore:

What do our pitching and offensive lineups look like on opening day 2023? Obviously you can’t predict transfers, but i’d like to see your take given who we have coming back and commits who are expected to sign.

*See above. Of course, I’m going to wait until after the Draft and Transfer Portal clears, so as to really be able to answer that question, as there’s just so much chaos right now. Ask again after the draft.


Question from Your Uncle Mike:

When do Clanga and NC State play again? Or, what with the way our season has gone, do we, at least, take pleasure out of those teams not making the tournament and us being in.

Prior to the Corvallis Regional, I would have engaged in Clanga and QAnoNCState-based schadenfreude, while also bemoaning our chances in the Corvallis Regional.

After losing in the Finals of the Corvallis Regional, I will engage in Clanga and QAnoNCState-based schadenfreude, while applauding our boys’ efforts for looking, even in defeat, like a team that should have been in Omaha. I will only bemoan Corbs’ decision to bring in The Mayor for a 3 inning save in a game that was already 8-1, knowing we would have to beat the same Beavers team the following day. That, and sac bunting Vaz when Shockwave could have easily stolen both 2nd and 3rd against that noodle-armed German for a Whale’s Vagina Matadors catcher. Aside from those two decisions, we’re still playing. I would not have thought that to be the case following the LSU series and Hooverville.


Question from Gawquon:

There’s a tailgater passing out homemade (tailgate-made?) meals to anyone who walks by outside a regional. What does their hat say that makes you walk over and what does it say that makes you hightail it out of there? (Not limited to teams actually in the tournament.) Also what is it you sit down to enjoy and can I have the recipe please.

If they’re wearing an LSU hat, feel free to join up. Share what you have and they’ll feed you until your gut turns into Boudin. On the other hand, if they’ve got on a “Daddy” hat and fur coat, KILL IT!!! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!