clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Position Previews: Outfield

Baseball season starts Friday 2/17 with The College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, TX (against TCU, Okie State, and Tejas). I will publish position previews about every other day on: 1) Catchers, 2) Infield, 3) Outfield, 4) Relief Pitching, and 5) Starting Pitching.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If the infield is the position group most in flux (with the most boom or bust potential, as well), and catcher seems stable but not exactly star-studded, the outfield not only seems pretty set, but is our best positional group by far. As a group, the outfield is likely to be comprised of our most impactful bats, our best baserunners, and likely our best defenders.

In fact, the only problem we have is that there are only three defensive spots for our outfielders. Of course, I will make the case for one of them—one who has more than paid his dues—at DH in this post, as well.

In other words, this is the fun-time, happy-go-jacky positional preview you’ve been waiting for.

The Starters

#51 Jr. CF Enrique “Shockwave” Bradfield

.317/.415/.498 10 2B, 5 3B, 8 HR, 36 RBI and 46-46 SB in 62 games (62 starts)

Off the heels of a freshman campaign that saw him nab the starting center field job, the leadoff spot, and our hearts [.336/.451/.414 8 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 38 RBI and 47-53 SB in 67 games (67 starts) in ‘21] and help lead the team to the CWS Finals, it was safe to say we had high expectations for young Shockwave in his season of the wise fool.

Though he played All-SEC caliber defense, went a perfect 46-46 in stolen bases, kept his patient batter’s eye, and put up the best overall stat line of the likely returning starters—only Silent Cal Hewett bested Shockwave in average and OBP—there was still some room to criticize his game. Specifically, though his decision to prioritize power over contact in his ‘22 approach may have yielded 7 extra dingers and bumped up his slg% by 0.84, my inner Missy Elliot was left pondering, “Is it worth it?”

Let me work it. Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it.

I completely get how the modern stat-head prefers stats like OPS (on base plus slugging) over the back of the baseball card batting average hegemony of our youth. With that in mind, Bradfield’s ‘22 (.913) bested his ‘21 (.865) by a pretty good margin. However, his heightened power output actually resulted in 2 fewer RBI, 9 fewer free passes (BB and HBP combined), and only generated 9 more runs scored. On a team that had Calvin Hewett, Spencer Jones, and Dominic Keegan hitting behind him on a regular basis, combined with the fact that with his speed, a single or walk is the equivalent of an extra base hit, prioritizing OBP—specifically, more walks and bunt/slap singles—would likely have given those big boppers more chances to drive him in.

This is all speculation, sure, but it’s quite common for a speed, defense, and OBP type player to try to turn himself into a power hitter after a year of increased attention by MLB scouts. Call it the Willie Mays Hayes Sophomore Season Effect, if you will. In short, in the first few weeks of the ‘22 season, it was quite common for us (well, certainly me) to be calling for “Pushups!” ala Lou Brown in the comments of game threads. By the end of the year, Shockwave was back to playing to his strengths, so I can only conclude Corbs agreed with us.

Specifically, in the first 8 games of the season—against Okie State, Evansville, Army, and Central Arkansas—Bradfield went 5/26 (.192) with 7 BB and 8 K. Though doesn’t keep track of ground balls vs. fly balls, exit velocity, or, you know, anything that can help me prove my point other than telling you to trust my memory... I’m telling you to trust my memory.

In 2023, Corbs will need the speedy table-setter to be the best player on the team, and to do so Kumar Rocker style—by leading by example in doing what’s best for the team every day. With two years of the weight room and training table, Shockwave should be able to match, if not exceed, the power production of last year while having a OBP-forward approach that prioritizes contact, patience, and speed. Even on the fat pitches in hitter’s counts, he should strive to make hard contact, bang the wall and sprint around the bases over trying for loft. A Platonic ideal of Enrique Bradfield likely slashes .350/.450/.500, swipes over 50 bags, and scores around 80 runs. Combine that with gold-glove-level defense and you’ve got a Golden Spikes Finalist and 1st round pick in the 2023 MLB Draft.

He can absolutely meet, if not exceed, those numbers with the right approach.

#21 Jr. OF Calvin “Silent Cal” Hewett

.329/.437/.494 2 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 18 RBI and 5-6 SB in 33 games (21 starts)

If Bradfield is the constant, it’s the two guys who will flank him in the outfield—Hewett and Schreck—that may well be the variables who determine whether this team has an offense that can do enough damage to help our deep and talented pitching staff take us to Omaha.

Silent Cal, though he only garnered 7 AB in 2021, forced his way into the lineup in ‘22 and is a no-doubt starter for his junior season. If he has a full season of starters’ at bats, you can expect those counting stats of extra base hits, runs scored, and RBI to basically triple. He was that valuable when he was finally made a starter last year. If Shockwave’s name will be written in Sharpie in the leadoff spot, there’s a strong chance it’s Cal batting right behind him.

#3 Grad. OF RJ “The Ogre” Schreck

.288/.401/.486 9 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 37 RBI and 8-8 SB in 47 games (47 starts) *at Duke

In the insta-transfer era of the past three years, Vanderbilt has largely stayed out of the old man transfer market, watching glorious chonkers like Sonny DiChiara go on dinger parades for the likes of Auburn and half of The Chuggers being old enough for their doctors to recommend a colonoscopy.

With a team in sore need of offensive thump in the lineup after losing both Keegan and Jones, Corbs welcomed perhaps the best bat that Kumar Rocker faced in his ‘19 playoff no-hitter.

If Schreck matches his ‘22 back of the baseball card numbers, we’ll take it, but what really has us hopeful that he can approximate the production we got out of Spencer Jones last year was his ‘21 offensive output: .337/.435/.635 8 2B, 0 3B, 18 HR, 52 RBI and 11-12 SB in 54 games (54 starts).

He’s had 4 years of facing ACC pitchers. He could be poised for a monster year for the Diamond Dores.

The Bench

As it seems likely Bradfield, Hewett, and Schreck will start every game (barring injury) in the OF this season, I’ll not spend as much time previewing the rest.

#10 Sr. OF TJ “Return of the Mac” McKenzie

.313/.353/.563 1 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, and 6 RBI in 15 games (2 starts)

McKenzie has more than paid his dues, spending most of his first three years as a Diamond Dore sitting on the bench. Last year, he exceeded his combined at bats from his first two years by 800%. Okay, that’s because he had only one at bat as a freshman and one as a sophomore. Still, in his 16 at bats as a junior—playing mostly as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, and late game defensive substitute—he popped. Further, his 2 run bomb off of future Ace Andrew “Dutch” Dutkanych led his team to the win in the David Williams Goldfather Classic this fall. That moment was foreshadowed by McKenzie’s ‘22 NECL summer league play, in which the power barrage continued, and he hit 7 HR in 28 games.

Can McKenzie finally slug his way into the lineup as a senior? At the very least, he has to be a strong candidate for DH/4th OF.

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

.176/.310/.353 with 2 HR and 7 RBI in 20 games (9 starts)

LaNeve looked like a Stephen Scott type two years ago, but had a down year in ‘21, and his offseason shoulder surgery has him unlikely to be in the mix at the start of this season. He could be a great power hitting pinch hitter, back-up OF, and/or left-handed half of a DH platoon (with, say, TJ McKenzie) when he is finally back to full health. Think of him like a potential trade deadline acquisition to help us down the stretch, if all goes well.

#18 So. OF JD Rodgers

*No stats in ‘22.

From his player page:

Head coach Tim Corbin on Rogers: “JD is one the most improved players on our team. He went off to the Northwoods League this past summer and developed in every area. His combination of strength and speed are at a very high level. He has been able to take his physical abilities and refine them into baseball skill. He can drive the ball to all sides of the field, and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots. He is also the first player in program history to win the Omaha Challenge in his first two years. Love his work ethic and personality.”

The Freshmen

#32 OF Cooper Holbrook

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him (Grade 9.5/10):

Cooper Holbrook is a 2022 1B/3B, OF with a 6-3 190 lb. frame from Mount Pleasant, SC who attends Porter-Gaud. Extra-large, athletic build with square shoulders and long limbs, projectable build with room to fill. Moves well for size, posted a 6.79 60-yard dash. Primary first baseman, fields the ball out front with a wide base, will continue to refine overall footwork, shorter arm action on throws across and shows accuracy to intended base. Righthanded hitter, begins with a slightly open stance and a high hand set and back elbow at the plate; moves into contact well and swings with intent. Quickness to hands and creates nice separation with extension out front. Longer swing path through the zone and the ball jumps off the barrel to pull side, coils well at start of swing and comes out, occasionally gets mistimed. Tools to project upon in the box. Very good student.

#23 OF Devin Kodali

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him (Grade 9/10):

Devan Kodali is a 2022 OF/ with a 6-3 180 lb. frame from New York, NY who attends Poly Prep Country Day. Showed good speed with a 6.71 second 60 yard dash, Primary outfielder with a long frame and room to fill, showcased a full arm action while doing a good job getting on top of the baseball as it comes out nicely, has some athleticism in the footwork working through the ball. Righthanded hitter, starts with an even stance and high hands, showed a line drive approach spraying the ball mostly up the middle to the opposite field line, bat path has some loft to it with fluidity and good bat to ball skills through the hitting zone. Very good student. Verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.