Two years ago, we had one of the best defensive catchers ever to strap on the tools of ignorance in the college game in C.J. Rodriguez. Even though the original plan to replace him was to put offensive stalwart Dom Keegan back there, thereby replacing runs saved with RBI, I wrote the following in last year’s Catchers positional preview:
Though losing both Rocker and Leiter is no picnic, it could be argued that the biggest potential downgrade from 2021 to 2022 is at catcher. This is not to slight the catchers on our current roster; rather, quite literally no college catcher was on the same planet as C.J. “Chi Chi the Frame God” Rodriguez in terms of pitch framing wizardry, overall defense, and handling a rotation.
Of course, the great Dom Keegan Catching Experiment did not exactly work, and by the end of the year, Dom was the mainstay at 1st base and Jack Bulger started behind the plate (which, you know, some of us were calling for from the jump). In fact, Bulger started every game in the Corvallis Regional.
The ‘23 squad returns The Bulge in what might be his final year in gangster pajamas (if all goes well, MLB teams might come calling), as well as top defensive backup Alan Espinal, and freshmen Logan “Run Protector” Poteet and Cade “Bird” Law.
The Likely Starter
#16 Jr. C Jack “The Bulge” Bulger
.269/.363/.368 6 2B, 5 HR, and 25 RBI in 58 games (57 starts)
Should we be concerned that The Bulge put up basically the same stat line as in 2021 [.274/.369/.414 7 2B, 5 HR, and 28 RBI in 50 games (41 starts)] in 16 more starts and 55 additional at bats?
Well, yes and no. Yes, we should be concerned that Bulger all but plateaud at the plate—not living up to the power potential promised in the freshman year. However, he improved by leaps and bounds defensively, and ended the year as Corbs’ most trusted man behind the plate.
Now, is he Chi Chi the Frame God defensively? Not remotely. What he is is a solid college catcher.
Now that he’s got more experience behind the dish, do not be surprised if that relative comfort shows up in his offensive stats. Now I don’t expect a Dom Keegan style breakout season from The Bulge, but he does have that sort of power potential in his bat. It would not shock me if Bulger doubles his power production this year (10+ 2B, 10+ HR, 50+ RBI), and locks down the #4 or #5 spot in the lineup. As you’ll see in the coming previews, he will have no shortage of hitters ahead of him in the lineup getting in scoring position. He’ll be one of the ones counted on to drive them in, as both Dom Bombs and Dr. Jones are plying their trade in the minors.
The Top Competition (Defensively)
#45 Jr. C Alan Espinal
.211/.250/.253 with 1 2B and 2 RBI in 18 games (1 start)
Espinal has struggled to find playing time, and has basically been limited to being a defensive replacement in his first two years at Vanderbilt. He had a grand total of 19 AB in ‘22 and 5 in ‘21, so his numbers are well into “small sample size” territory. What I can say is I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him defensively. While he’s unlikely to unseat Bulger this year, he is a solid, dependable back-up.
#5 C Logan “Run Protector” Poteet
Take all this with a grain of salt, as last year, Corbs gave the prized #5 to Anthony Migliaccio, who is no longer on the roster...
...but this is as true now as it was last year:
#5 has traditionally be the number given to stud Vanderbilt catchers. Corbs himself chooses the numbers for everyone on the squad, and though we fully expect The Dominator to begin the year behind the plate, neither Keegan, Bulger, nor Espinal could have been all too happy that a freshman got the number given to Chi Chi the Frame God, Phil “The Hitman” Clarke, Jason “The Rain” Delay, and Spencer “The Gift” Navin.
I’d pump the brakes here, though, as Poteet was the #2 ranked catcher—no, not nationally, but in the state of Tennessee.
Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:
Okay, maybe that’s unfair, but neither Poteet nor Law are the highly ranked super-stud catcher we normally see associated with Vanderbilt on the recruiting trail. Poteet is the #58 overall catcher in class. Let’s hope he surprises us.
#44 C Cade “Bird” Law
Poteet was the #2 catcher in the state. Law was #3. Nationally, there appears to be a drop-off, as he is the #131 catcher in his overall graduating class. Not sure I expect either Law or Poteet to get all that much playing time this year, with Bulger and Espinal on the roster, but I’ll keep my eye out.