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2024 Position Previews: Outfield

Baseball season starts Friday (2/16) against Florida Atlantic. I will publish position previews about every other day on: 1) Catchers, 2) Outfield, 3) Infield, 4) Relief Pitching, and 5) Starting Pitching. Today, we take a look at those who are trying to fill the lightning quick shoes of Enrique Shockwave.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 28 SEC Baseball Tournament - Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt
If he’s even, he’s LaNeven.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Two thirds of our Outfield is gone, and Enrique Shockwave covered all of it. Who will catch all the balls? Who will steal all the bases (and our hearts)? Who will anger me when they try to be a power hitter rather than the slap and run guy God made them? Will R.J. “Kept Weird” Austin move off of 2nd Base, and head out to Center Field, Austin Martin-style? Is it unrealistic to expect Troy LaNeve to have developed 80 grade speed in the offseason?

All these questions and more will be answered below.*

*No they will not.

Regardless, we have had to get over colossal losses before. We’ve had to bid adieu to the likes of irreplaceable athletes like Kumar Rocker, Dansby “The Mansby” Swanson, Chi Chi “The Frame God” Rodriguez, and Ted Skuchas (wrong sport, but it still stings). We’ve even had to witness Mississippi State happiness in Omaha (puke). We’re built tough. We can do this.

Though I expect most of the outfield positions to be an open competition until SEC play starts on the Ides of March (keep your head on a swivel, Caesar), here are the names to watch for with respect to the defensive positions with the most surface area.

The Starters (Well, at least the ones competing to start, I think)

#21 Sr. OF Calvin “Silent Cal” Hewett

.243/.329/.324 4 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 8 RBI and 11-11 SB in 47 games (14 starts)

Last year, I wrote the following:

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.

2023 did not exactly go as planned, obviously, for Hewett. I mean, just take a look at his numbers as a sophomore:

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

I mean... Dear God. We could have used that guy in the lineup last year. So yeah... if Silent Cal returns to his sophomore form, he’ll start all year. If not? Well, expect either R.J. Austin or Jacob Humphrey in center field. It’s the biggest question mark in the lineup except for the next guy I think might start as a corner OF. (Yeah, the OF is really up in the air right now.)

#19 5th Yr. Sr. OF Troy “LaNeve the Yard” LaNeve

.262/.326/.500 1 2B 3 HR and 14 RBI in 21 games (8 starts)

LaNeve looked like a Stephen Scott type three years ago, had a down year two years ago, and has spent the last two years trying to get that surgically repaired shoulder healthy. All reports from those who watch practices (mainly beat writer Aria Gerson) are that LaNeve is finally healthy. He damned well better be, as we need his power stroke in the lineup this year. He could be a direct R.J. “Ogre” Schreck replacement if all goes according to plan. If not? Best not to think about it.

Come on, Stephen Scott Super-Senior Season for LaNeve, please and thank you!

#42 So. UTL R.J. “Stone Cold R.J.” Austin

.257/.351/.390 11 2B, 0 3B, 7 HR, 43 RBI and 4-7 SB in 62 games (62 starts)

Stone Cold R.J. Austin is a stone cold lock to be in the lineup all season. I just don’t know what position he’ll play. Regardless, 2024 could be the year Stone Cold finally turns into a star. This will be absolutely necessary for the success of the ‘24 team, no matter where Austin lines up defensively. Due to the makeup of this team, root for Stone Cold in CF (or as a corner OF) this year, as we have a glut of capable middle infielders, but are much weaker in the outfield. Like Austin Martin before him, CF should be a pretty seamless transition for an athlete the caliber of R.J.

#1 JR. UTL Matthew “Young Hickory” Polk

.280/.353/.427 8 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 23 RBI and 4-4 SB in 48 games (46 starts)

Young Hickory is another hopeful breakout candidate amongst the Diamond Dores competing for an OF jerb. I like the kid’s bat, and he’s easily got enough speed and athleticism to thrive in the OF. Even if he doesn’t win a starting jerb, I expect he will play a lot in ‘24.

#10 Jr. UTL Jacob “The Humphrey Dance” Humphrey

.317/.523/.421 8 2B, 5 3B, 9 HR, 29 RBI and 33-38 SB in 54 games (54 starts at UMASS Lowell)

The Humphrey Dance is our Poor Man’s EBJ replacement, as he’s likely now the fastest guy on the team (and best base stealing threat). Apart from that, I can’t really comment, as I didn’t exactly watch any UMASS Lowell games last year. Further, the more I type UMASS Lowell, the more I think of the slow handy man from Wings. Pretty damned good nickname I just thought up on the spot, though, right? Anyway, I would have about the same expectations for this guy that you had for Javier Vaz a few years back.

The Freshman we all hope will win an OF job or 1B/DH this year...

#26 Fr. INF Brayden “Honeycomb” Holcomb

The 6’4” 257 lb mountain of a man is the top freshman we got through the draft this summer (though it would be understandable if you think that’s actually Ethan McElvain or Cam Kozeal). He’s got the most power potential on this team, and I have to assume, much like Chris Maldonado last year, the second he cracks the starting lineup, he will never relinquish his spot. He’s likely our starting 3B next year (provided Davis Diaz is drafted high enough to forego his senior year), but where will he play this year? Odds are he’ll be the DH, but he should have enough athleticism to play a corner OF spot.

The Bench

#18 Jr. OF JD Rodgers

.333/.429/.333 1 RBI in 11 games (0 starts)

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.”

#32 So. OF Cooper Holbrook

*No stats in ‘23.

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 So. OF Devin Kodali

*No stats in ‘23.

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.

The Freshmen