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Vanderbilt Pre-Season Baseball Mail Bag: Answers to Your Questions

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

Mail Photo by Bernd Weißbrod/picture alliance via Getty Images

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

After a relatively disappointing year last year not hosting a regional, and losing 2 major players for this year, what are your expectations for this season?

First, I expect the pitching to be excellent—both talented and deep. Not “Kumar and Jack as your top two” excellent, but still the best pitching staff in all of college baseball. There is not one pitcher I expect to get significant innings that I’m not really excited about. Heck, some that will just get a few innings due to the overall depth of the staff are pretty exciting, too.

As for the bats? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

See my position previews for more on that.

As for an overall, well, the sports media members who vote on such matters have the Dores within the top 10-15 teams in the polls, but 5th in the SEC (and 3rd in the East). I think that’s about right. We could pitch our way to a National Title (if the bats give us just enough run support to do so), or we could be about where we were last year.

Expectations should be at “Regional Host, but not a National Seed.” Let’s also say 2nd seed in the East and a top 4 overall seed for the conference tourney in Hooverville. We’re likely not as strong as LSU or The Chuggers, but we’re in that tier right after them with Ole Piss and the Jorts. If we exceed these expectations, great. If we’re not at least one of the top 25 teams in the country, something will have gone horribly wrong.

Question from Dinard’oh:

Who do you see having a breakout year and becoming a legend amongst the AOG crowd? Related, does anybody have hair as good as Dansby this year?

Second question first, no one in Vanderbilt athletics has come within a mile of Dansby’s shampoo model hair. The best in the past few years was Scotty Pippen Jr.’s Cornetto Fro.

As for breakout player, let’s go with one pitcher and one hitter.

Pitcher: Andrew “The Duke” Dutkanych. Though at the moment, Corbs has only announced Carter Holton as Friday’s starter and somewhat surprisingly Hunter “Mr. Manager” Owen for Saturday, it would shock me if The Duke isn’t in the weekend rotation by the start of SEC play. Corbs gave him Rocker’s number. You don’t do that to a guy you think will need too much seasoning before being thrown into the limelight. Though Holton will likely be our most consistent pitcher all year, The Duke has a chance to be the best.

Hitter: Calvin “Silent Cal” Hewett. He’s got an unorthodox batting stance and swing—think a young Hunter Pence, but one who dives into pitches and dares pitchers to plunk him for the free pass—and he’s a lunch pail mentality player who forced his way into the lineup last year. He was far from the most heralded recruit, but he’s gritty as hell, and no one’s going to take his spot from him without a fight. If he was 6’11”, he’d be a baseball playing Ted Skuchas. There exists no higher form of praise.

Question from VandyStud:

What will be your biggest surprise player this year?

I’ll assume you meant “Who,” as unless we’ve got an Air Bud on the team, the answer will have to be a human. I’ll also give you one pitcher and one hitter here.

Pitcher: Hunter “Mr. Manager” Owen. As I live about a 10 hour drive from Nashville, I’m not able to attend practice. However, The Tennesseean’s beat writer, Aria Gerson, has, and has talked up Hunter Owen as the 2nd best pitcher on the squad all offseason. Given her continual praise, and Corbs and Brownie’s agreement (Owen was named the Saturday starter in this week’s opening College Baseball Showdown, and will face Okie State), I’m intrigued. Last year, I saw a future #3 or #4 college starter (which usually means you’re in the bullpen on a Vanderbilt team) out of Owen, as he really only had two pitches, and didn’t do anything to make me stand up and take notice. However, for Corbs to pick Owen ahead of Devin Futrell, Andrew Dutkanych, Sam Hliboki, Patrick Reilly, and other contenders, he must have grown a whole hell of a lot as a pitcher this offseason.

Hitter: I may be wishing this into existence, but I think it’s senior OF/DH TJ McKenzie. In (very) limited at bats last year, he always seemed to do something positive. Beyond that, he’s experienced a power surge of late, and that’s something that’s pretty weak in our current lineup. He will have to claw his way to ABs, but like Hewett last year, if he gets a crack at a starting job, I bet he won’t give it back without a fight.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Vastine. He’s already a wizard with the glove, and there are reports that the bat has shown some life this offseason. I think he can at least be what his partial namesake (Javier “Vaz Deferens/Vaz Offerens” Vaz) was for us, with the tool set to pop much louder.

Question from Chasrad:

It is great to have the mailbag back.

There are 38 players on the roster. The NCAA allows 35. Which 3 players would you see as being redshirted this season?

With our pitching depth being the Mariana Trench this year, it’s going to be really tough for any young pitchers not named Dutkanych to get innings. As such, I’d bet freshmen David Horn and JD Thompson might redshirt.

As for the bats. I’d say freshmen catchers Logan “Run Protector“ Poteet and Cade “Bird” Law will be candidates for the shirt, as Bulger and Espinal should get pretty much all the innings behind the dish. Poteet might be ahead of Law right now, but only due to being given #5.

Question from shoogymgshoogs:

Why did the fish trade JJ to the A’s?

Besides the fact that they’re a poorly run organization, I honestly couldn’t tell you. Back in his draft year, I did think former Jort AJ Puk had a chance to be the best player in the draft (the Phillies had #1 and chose Mickey Moniak over Puk, to my dismay). Since then, though, Puk has been injured a bunch, and has turned into a reliever. A pretty good left handed reliever, of course (4-3, 3.12 ERA, 10.31 K/9 in 2022). Still, due to injuries and ineffectiveness, he only has 29 more Ks in his entire MLB career.

Bleday’s career, on the other hand, is just getting started. At 24, he is 3 years younger than the giant southpaw, and I have to assume his future looks brighter.

Here’s my best guess: The Fish went into this season with no bullpen, really, didn’t sign anyone of consequence, and then panicked and called up the A’s, who are always looking to swap veterans for young talent.

Question from VU1970:

Will this be the year UTK reverts to normal status?

They’ve been the same toxic, annoying, be-mulleted anus drinkers of Franzia as always. That’s what passes for normal in Chuggerville.

As for whether their baseball team will regress to the mean of the last 20 years of Knoxville baseball mediocrity... sadly no. They’re still likely to be extremely dangerous on the mound, and have a lineup full of mid-30s beer leaguers. In the NIL and easy transfer era, they can build a team almost exclusively from poaching current college players on other teams. It’s despicable, but what else would you expect from the mustard throwers?

Question from shoogymgshoogs:

Who decided that our opening weekend games should be on Flobaseball? aka Why are we spoiled with SECN+? Cause then we’re gonna have to subscribe to BTN+ for the Minnesota games....

First, I’m not a fan of this “set up a bullshit streaming service for basically three games” scam business model. Nor am I a fan of any scam business model, scam, or business model. I mean... honestly, why does everything have to be a scam nowadays? Further, once the obvious scam is exposed—like George Santos fabricating his entire existence, or the Jorts obviously not happening $13 mil NIL deal that didn’t actually exist for that one QB recruit, or that whole Cryptocurrency and/or NFTs thing—why can’t we impose actual consequences upon the scammers?

Discuss in the comments.

Back to the actual question... the bullshit streaming service apparently set up by that annoying woman from the Progressive Ads is the only way to watch this weekend’s games (short of attending in person). Parlagi has some experience with the platform and warned us all that it’s basically just a home video solo cam. As such, my suggestion is you just do what I plan to do: 1) Listen on the VU radio stream and 2) Open up the StatTracker. 3) Open a beer. 4) Repeat step #3 as necessary.

After much hemming and hawing, I decided that $30 was too steep a price to pay for poor quality video for 3 damned games (one of which starts while I’m still at work today). Your mileage may vary.