With seven offensive starters and the usual plethora of talented pitchers, Vanderbilt’s 2010 squad is set to build upon its NCAA regional final appearance of a year ago.
The Commodores, as has been the norm under head coach Tim Corbin, gelled at the end of year with their third Southeastern Conference tournament final appearance in four years and their fourth straight NCAA tourney showing.
Many of the offensive performers saw their first extensive action a year ago and with a year’s experience, Coach Corbin is confident this team should be a solid offensive unit.
"With the exception of a few players, we had very little experience in the batting order last year, but you could see us getting progressively better as the year went along," said Corbin. "I am encouraged that we return more experience and a lot of at bats to this club. It’s a mix of solid speed and gap type hitters."
The one area that lacks an abundance of experience is on the pitching staff where the top three pitchers in terms of innings, Mike Minor, Caleb Cotham and Nick Christiani all left due to the MLB draft.
That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare as the staff has a promising mix of young hurlers to go along with veteran performers with significant SEC and postseason experience.
The team was fortunate enough to spend a week overseas, playing four exhibition games in Japan as well as visiting Hong Kong. The extra time of practice and the bonding experienced while traveling and learning about different cultures should only bolster a team that wants to take the Vanderbilt baseball into areas it has yet to see in the postseason.
The Commodores broke in an entirely new infield a year ago with the lone veteran with extensive experience being catcher Andrew Giobbi. This year the entire infield returns, anchored by fifth-year seniors Giobbi and Brian Harris at shortstop.
Giobbi missed 16 games after suffering a broken hand in the sixth game of the year and ended up with a .289 average to go along with a career best six homers and 41 RBI. He will start the year behind the plate and is versatile enough to play some at first and in the outfield.
Harris, who entered 2009 as more of a defensive specialist, developed into an offensive catalyst as he hit .299 with nine homers and 45 RBI. He earned first-team All-SEC honors and also was named to the SEC All-Defensive team after committing just seven errors all year at short.
"We have eight years of college experience with Andrew and Brian in two valuable positions," said Corbin. "This is good leadership on the field."
Junior Curt Casali had a breakout season at first base, even though that wasn’t where anyone expected him to play in 2009.
Casali was slated to start behind the plate but suffered an injury to his right arm prior to the season that required Tommy John surgery. The Connecticut native opted to wait till after the season to have the surgery and instead started in all 64 games, predominantly at first base. He ended up hitting .336 and led the team with 59 RBI, while also tying for the team lead in homers with 10. He had the surgery over the summer and has been cleared to return to the catcher’s spot. He will see significant action at both first as well as behind the plate.
"Curt has come back very well from Tommy John surgery and will help us at some point towards the middle of the year," said Corbin. "It’s rare when a college team can put together two catchers like Andrew and Curtis."
A pair of sophomores, Riley Reynolds and Jason Esposito, return to man second and third base, respectively. Both displayed solid defensive skills in addition to offensive potential.
Reynolds earned Freshman All-America honors last spring after hitting .332 with 15 doubles and 12 stolen bases in 63 games. He had the team’s longest hit streak at 19 games which also ranked as the third longest in the SEC. The Missouri native stayed in Nashville over the summer to work out and gained 10 pounds and should add to his numbers from 2009.
Esposito ended the year with a .287 batting average with four homers, 13 doubles and 42 RBI. He also showed stellar defensive skills at third base with just four errors in 35 non-conference games. Additionally Esposito displayed good base running instincts, leading the team with 20 stolen bases..
In the fall Coach Corbin mentioned the quality of depth the team has on the team and that is really evident in the infield. Sophomore Drew Fann will serve as a backup at catcher after playing in 18 games a year ago, batting .306 in 11 starts. Freshman Nate Gonzalez, who missed the fall with an injury, could be a player to watch in the future.
True freshman infielder Anthony Gomez showcased a slick glove during the fall and proved to be a tough out at the plate. He will back up Harris at short and has the potential to a long-term starter in the future.
Junior college transfer Bryan Johns played shortstop for JUCO champ Howard College last year and brings experience to the middle infield. He will see time at second base.
Andrew Harris redshirted last year and will back up Esposito at third base. He is a versatile player that can play three different infield positions and should get an opportunity on the field this year.
Defense has always been a backbone feature under Coach Corbin and he believes that this year the team will once again display slick gloves in the field. "The fact that we bring back our entire infield would lead me to believe that we can have a very good defensive unit," said Corbin.
The Commodores lost two starters in the outfield in Steven Liddle, an All-SEC performer who signed with the Minnesota Twins and Jonathan White who graduated and signed with the San Francisco Giants.
The lone returner is sophomore Joe Loftus who converted from the infield to play leftfield a year ago. He hit .263 with four homers and 28 RBI and will make the switch to rightfield. Loftus flashed power potential at times last year and the coaches believe he is ready for a breakout season in 2010.
Sophomore Aaron Westlake is expected to man leftfield after a great redshirt freshman year at the plate. Westlake had blood clots in his arm as a true freshman in 2008 that cut his season short. He received a medical redshirt and bounced back in a big way in 2009, leading the league in hitting with a .377 batting average, while also belting 10 homers with 57 RBI. He was one of three Commodores named Freshmen All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball. Because of the injuries to Giobbi and Casali, Westlake volunteered to catch last year despite never having played the position. This season the sophomore from Redding, Calif., will make the move to left while also seeing time at first base.
Junior Jordan Wormsley, a four-year veteran in the program, will see time in centerfield and steady the outfield defense. He has seen most of his action in his career as a defensive replacement but also has a career .324 batting average in 35 games.
Andrew Giobbi has also taken reps in the outfield and could see time in left along with freshman Regan Flaherty, the brother of former Commodore All-American shortstop Ryan Flaherty. The younger Flaherty displays a nice left-handed swing, like his older brother, and will see action in the outfield, at designated hitter and at first base.
Mike Yastrzemski is another versatile freshman outfielder that can play any of the three spots. He will see time in centerfield and is already a mature player who pays attention to the details with a solid everyday routine.
Freshman Connor Harrell will also see time in the outfield and enters the spring as the backup in rightfield. He is a gifted athlete who can throw, run, hit and hit with power and should be a cornerstone in the program’s future.
"Our only losses are in the outfield, but we return Joe Loftus," said Corbin. "Westlake and Giobbi have taken a lot of reps in the outfield this fall and they could find themselves in corner spots. We may end up playing someone new in centerfield right away."
A year ago Aaron Westlake started at this spot in 40 games. This year several players should see time at designated hitter when resting from starting at other positions.
Bryan Johns, Andrew Harris and Regan Flaherty could also see time here as well.
Offensively this team should have a very balanced lineup with a mixture of strengths and run scoring ability.
"Our offense should be very balanced – it’s a mix of gap guys who can hit the ball over the outfielders heads and decent base running speed," added Corbin. "I don’t see any dead spots in the lineup."
Despite losing pitchers who combined for 21 of the Commodores 37 wins last season, the staff has several younger players ready to step up this year.
Leading the way is sophomore fireballer Sonny Gray, who earned Freshman All-American honors a year ago after going 5-1 with a 4.30 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 58.2 innings of work. He will anchor the weekend rotation after making just four starts in 22 appearances a year ago. Gray excelled over the summer for the USA Collegiate National Team and has already been invited back to pitch for them this summer.
Junior Taylor Hill and sophomore Jack Armstrong also had strong summer and fall seasons and will join Gray in the starting rotation.
Hill went 2-1 with a 5.05 ERA in 2009 and had 43 strikeouts in 41.0 innings of action. He was 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA for Chatham last summer and threw six innings of shutout ball in the Commodores 1-0 win over Aoyama Gakuin in Japan last November.
Armstrong pitched sparingly a year ago as he worked on harnessing his exceptional abilities. After just 7.2 innings of work with VU, he pitched for Wareham in the Cape and made the All-Star team after going 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 35 innings of work.
Junior Chase Reid is another experienced player who will also start and could see action in relief. He went 3-0 with a 4.46 ERA in 19 appearances in 2009 with 38 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 34.1 innings. He has come through in clutch late-game situations in relief in his first two years here and has an opportunity to build on that in his junior season.
Another veteran returning is senior Drew Hayes who turned down an opportunity to move on into professional baseball with Seattle. He went 4-3 with a 5.56 ERA in 18 appearances a year ago, including six starts. He has a powerful arm with 51 strikeouts in 43.2 innings and could spot start in addition to working in relief.
Junior southpaw Richie Goodenow is the most experience hurler out of the bullpen and will once again be counted on in tough situations. Primarily a left-handed specialist, the Nashville native went 1-1 with a 4.87 ERA last season with 25 strikeouts and just seven walks in 20.1 innings.
Sophomore lefthander Grayson Garvin showed flashes of his potential as a freshman, recording 18 strikeouts in just 12.2 innings of work. Redshirt freshman Corey Williams had a strong fall and is another lefthander the Commodores can turn to.
Freshman Sam Selman was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 14th round by decided to come to school and develop his game. As his game comes together he could see time out of the bullpen.
Keenan Kolinsky rounds out the collection of southpaws that could pitch out of the pen this year. The coaches say he throws with a football mentality and compare him to former Commodore Cody Crowell.
Will Clinard benefited from his year as a redshirt and is considered one of the team’s most improved players. The righthander will pitch in relief and could see action as a starter during the midweek.
Two other right-handers Navery Moore and Mark Lamm had off-season surgeries and should be able to contribute at some point during the season.
Moore pitched in just three games as a true freshman and showed in the fall that he would be more of a factor this year before aggravating a knee injury that required surgery.
Lamm, an athletic pitcher with a live arm, got injured during the summer and required Tommy John surgery. He has shown tremendous progress in his rehab with athletic trainer Chris Ham and could bolster the staff later in the season.
Russell Brewer will close out games for the third straight season. He had a team-best 2.96 ERA in 25 appearances a year ago with four saves. He struck out 39 with just nine walks in 27.1 innings and enters the year with 12 career saves. Brewer excelled in the Cape for the second straight year, recording 10 saves and making the All-Star team with Chatham.
Another player that also could see time at the end of games is Joe Loftus who flashed a live arm in relief appearances in the fall.
In all the pitching staff has plenty of promise and should develop under one of the finest pitching coaches in the country in Derek Johnson. "We have been fortunate at Vanderbilt to have talented arms on our pitching staff and a coach like DJ who can develop them to their maximum potential," said Corbin. "In losing Mikie Minor and Caleb Cotham, it allows our younger kids to get great experience early and that experience will pay off as the year goes along."
The trademarks of Vanderbilt baseball under Tim Corbin are in place: solid pitching and defense with offensive performers that put the ball in play. This mixture has been successful in the past and this year’s team will look to build upon that foundation.