The Vanderbilt Commodores gave us a spring and early summer of 2014 to remember, claiming their first national championship in a SEC-sanctioned sport winning the baseball title on June 25 in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a night dreamed of by Vanderbilt faithful forever and will never be forgotten, especially by those lucky enough to witness the moment in person.
But that was last season, last year, a different team, a different time. This is a separate quest, one fully independent of the last one. Coach Tim Corbin, much in the way Alabama football coach and four-time national champion Nick Saban looks at things, has been quick to say this is separate. As such we are not and do not have to defend anything. So you will never hear defending national champions anywhere around the baseball program, which was last year.
Raise the curtain on this season, and Vanderbilt is a consensus national preseason #1. Some say this is one of the great teams ever assembled. But championships are never won on paper. If they were, then 2014 would not have been the first one. On the surface, this team does have everything. A year ago, it was 2015 that was seen as ‘The Year.’
As always, the Commodores are led by outstanding pitching. Players some consider will be the top-two picks in June’s MLB Draft, Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler, lead them. The third starter is Tyler Ferguson with the mid-week guy and next ace in line, sophomore John Kilichowski. If you get through any of them and to the bullpen, you have such arms as Philip Pfeifer and Ben Bowden to deal with. If you are still in the game by then, you have Hayden Stone and freshman Jordan Sheffield to break through against at the end—simply the best staff in the country.
At the top of the batting order is College World Series MOP Dansby Swanson. Swanson is the on-field leader without question, and a consensus all-American, even switching to short from second. He is a legitimate contender for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best player. Stepping in at second is another CWS hero, Tyler Campbell, though he is likely to see quite a bit of time at DH with the entrance of freshman Penn Murfee. Zander Wiel and freshman Will Toffey will man the corners at first and third, and each should provide some power.
The outfield is headlined by Bryan Reynolds, also a prime contender for the Golden Spikes. The ultra-patient Reynolds is one of college baseball’s top hitters and can certainly flash some leather, as well. Joining him in the corner outfield slots is Rhett Wiseman, another all-star contender. In centerfield, Nolan Rodgers gets the first chance but expect heralded freshman Jeren Kendall to make it his soon enough. Tournament hero Ro Coleman will get his fair share of action also.
Vandy opened the season winning two-of-three over a surprising Santa Clara squad last weekend. Fulmer and Pfeifer overpowered the Broncos 4-0 in the opener, and then the two teams split a Saturday doubleheader brought on by the impending storm. Santa Clara won the opener 7-6 with Coleman providing a 10th inning walk-off, 6-5 in game two.
The recent storm’s effects on Vanderbilt saw Wednesday’s game at Belmont postponed and the weekend home series against Illinois-Chicago canceled altogether. Quickly arranged was a series in Port Charlotte, Florida, against a quality Indiana State team. Vandy is turning into snowbirds, like everyone else would like to about now.