I caught up with the great Tim Corbin recently to discuss his 2018 VU baseball team. The prospects look exciting, the team possibly special. Certainly the tools are in place to have a very good year. Leadership will be derived from the junior class. Returning first baseman Julian Infante brings his .315 bat back to the lineup. Julian brings super power as he slugged 11 home runs last year and drove in 66. His first base skills are solid. Like what Julian can do. Second baseman Ethan Paul didn't hit up to his usual standards last year as he hit .251, but Ethan will bounce back. He did hit 15 doubles last season and is capable of hitting many extra base hits, and hitting 5 to 7 out of the yard this season. Really like Ethan at second. Connor Kaiser will return his exceptional glove to short. Connor is superb on defense and had an excellent summer league hitting the baseball and a solid fall camp. Third base is a position I will leave to Corbs to discuss. It's still undecided, though there are good candidates. The outfield has athletes, but need to get those positions set as well Alonzo Jones is a candidate for center with his incredible athletic ability. Jonesy just needs to get his bat going, because if he does, his work on the base paths could be game changing for our team. Stephen Scott is a candidate for left with his sensational bat and power, and his defense is improving. J.J. Bleday has super athletic ability to play right field. There are other candidates Corbs will discuss. Patrick Raby will return to lead our pitching staff. Rabes was awesome as our Friday Night starter last year going 10-4 with a 2,73 ERA walking 30 and K'ing 87. He's a bull, a workhorse and gives us superior leadership on the staff. There are some returning veterans who figure in the rotation as well like Drake Fellows and Jackson Gillis. The bullpen looks promising. Corbs says he's still figuring out the pitching and said he won't know until we start playing games how he will use his staff. The catching position is another spot Corbs and I will discuss. We lost the great Jason Delay to graduation and the pros, so we'll need to fill that spot.
The schedule is extremely challenging. We open with No.25 Duke at home Feb. 16-18th, a Friday through Sunday series. We'll face No.24 Houston at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, Sunday, March 4th at 6 PM CT. We'll play at No.11 UCLA in LA on Friday, March 9th at 8 PM CT. We'll square off with No.7 TCU at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, March 11th at 1 PM CT among other non conference contests. Then there's No. 1 Florida, March 30th-April 1, at Gainesville and a host of other extremely high quality SEC teams to navigate. In the D-1 Baseball.com preseason poll, there are 8 teams in the SEC ranked in the top 25. Florida is No.1, Arkansas is No.4, Kentucky is No.8, Ole Miss is No.9, A&M is No.10, Mississippi State is No.12, we are No.14, and LSU is No.16. Wow. But that's the way it is in SEC baseball. It's loaded with higjly talented players a lot of whom have big league potential. If we can navigate through this conference well, then we've got a real shot to do some special things in the postseason. Corbs says this junior class is hungry, they want to do some special things like we're used to seeing at Vanderbilt. We were 36-25-1 last season and 12-13 in the SEC. It's not what we're used to, but we finished strong winning the Clemson regional before falling at Oregon State in the Super Regional. The freshman class was the No.1 rated class in the country by Perfect Game, D1 Baseball. com and Baseball America.
We've got talent to be a very good team this season. Here's what Coach Corbin had to say about his 2018 Vanderbilt baseball team.
DW: Coach, Patrick Raby is a bulldog. I know there's a lot, but what does he bring to the table?
TC: "He's a leader internally among the team, and he's a competitor and that's his strength. I love him. You know what you're going to get when he gets out there. I just like his fibers as a guy,. He's just all Vanderbilt, all team. That's all that matters to him. He's really well liked and respected and he's liked for sure and the respect part is just as important as the first part because he's a quality, quality guy."
DW: Do you see him being another one of your pro prospect type of guys?
TC: "That's tough to figure out. He definitely has a chance to go beyond here and play, but it's tough to say how the outside world sees him. I see him for what he is here, and I like him. He's got winning tangibles and he's got winning intangibles. So that's my focus more than anything. He's got a chance to play beyond Vanderbilt for sure."
DW: What about the rest of your rotation, how is that shaping up?
TC: "It's tough to tell right now. There are a lot of pieces. You could potentially put (righty) Drake Fellows in there, you could put (lefty) Zach King in there, you could put (lefty) Jackson Gillis in that group. You could potentially put Chandler Day, Maddux Conger, we got a freshman named Jake Eder (lefty the staff is high on, can hit 97), too. I gave you 7 names. It's tough to pinpoint any of them. And it's tough, Whitey, to pinpoint who the Friday, Saturday and Sunday guys are. I couldn't give you that right now. We'll probably matchup. It's not going to be like certain years, where we know who will throw on such and such day. I think it's the case where we'll match it up with their health and what benefits Vanderbilt best."
DW: Do you see Rabes as your Friday Night guy though?
TC: "I'm not sure about that yet. I can't say that yet. I certainly think he has an opportunity, but I could put other guys in that spot too."
DW: What about your bullpen Coach, how's that shaping up?
TC: "Tough to say because a lot of it is kids who haven't been here before. A guy like Reed Schaller (redshirt freshman, righty) he's been here but he hasn't pitched. He's had limited time since he's been here. After that it's (freshman righty) Mason Hickman, (right handed freshman) Tyler Brown, (right handed redshirt sophomore) Justin Wilson has never been on the field. (Right hander) Aaron Brown, freshman, (right hander) Justin Willis, freshman, (left hander) Hugh Fisher, freshman, (left hander). A.J. Franklin is a redshirt sophomore, (Right hander) Eric Kaiser, freshman. A guy like David Bates (righty), freshman. So there is a lot of unknowns. And someone who doesn't start will go to the bullpen, too. So we don't have any defined roles yet out of the bullpen though I think the thing is if you have to put us on the spot, we'll use a lot of them."
DW: So a lot of freshman will go for you?
TC: "Yes, I think they'll have to pitch."
DW: How are the freshman doing?
TC: "The thing about it Whitey is, when you turn on the scoreboard and start selling tickets, it's a different deal. There's a process young kids have to go through, the building of playing other opponents. But that's the same thing with Price and Gray (who had to pitch as freshmen). But I'll tell you something that's different. A lot of these kids went off and played in college leagues this summer. So I don't think there's a lot of awe factor to these kids. They don't get on the field and they're awed by it. They're certainly respectful of what's going on, which is pretty good and they're self confidence is pretty good. Again, you need to check your self confidence at the door when Alabama and Vanderbilt play football. That's when the rubber meets the road. That's when you find out who you are. It's great to speak in great tones about these kids and be positive, but the reality is you have to do it against the best teams in the country and right now our schedule is one of the tougher schedules in the country. When it's all said and done you look back and you go, wow, Holy Cow."
DW: That schedule is something else. How do you navigate it and if some losses happen, how do you handle them?
TC: "I think restoring team ego is the toughest thing a coach has to do. The ability to take a loss or a win and to measure yourself and measure it properly so your kids can grow from it. Oftentimes you have a hard time with winning because kids get a little bit comfortable with it and I think that's normal. But a loss you probably critique it more than you should and the point of just being able to keep your head above water throughout the season, is challenging. That 2014 year we won it all, we had trouble winning a series. We lost our first 3 series and you just gotta keep telling your kids, hey we're good, we're fine, we're just running into a lot of good competition too. It's not necessarily that we're playing badly, we're not playing good enough against that level of play to be successful. So you raise the bar mentally and you raise the bar physically, and that's what playing good competition does, it gives you a barometer of who you really are, and sometimes you don't know. The key is trying to be real with yourself to understand who you are and how you're going to play."
DW: Coach, I know you're pretty solid at first, second and short with Julian, Ethan and Connor, but discuss those guys, and what about third and catcher?
TC: "Both up in the air. You've got a few people at third base. (Freshman) Garrett Blaylock and (freshman) Jayson Gonzalez are vying for that spot, Infante can play in that spot. The catching spot is (sophomore) Tyler Duvall, Stephen Scott and Philip Clarke, a freshman, so I'd say it's completely up in the air who will play catcher."
DW: Philip Clarke is a talented freshman isn't he?
TC: "He is. He had a great summer. He has some ability no doubt about that. He's certainly competing for that spot no doubt."
DW: But you feel good about first, second and short?
TC: "I do. Yes."
DW: Getting to the outfield, I know you might be going with Alonzo Jones in center, but what about the other 2 spots?
TC: "Well, Jonesy can either play left or center. He can do either one, and the reason I say that is (freshman) Pat DeMarco is a center or left kid, and I think we're trying to look at that and see what benefits us best. And (junior Walker) Grisanti's played well, so he figures in that left handed mix. And J.J, Bleday has played well and he's in the left field-right field mix. So I think those 4 guys with Stephen Scott being in the mix with his bat and he's actually done pretty well defensively. Harrison Ray is a kid that can go out there and play outfield pretty well. He's a good defensive outfielder. I'd say those positions are pretty open right now."
DW: So you really don't have an established center fielder yet?
TC: "Not yet, no."
DW: Harrison Ray is an interesting player to a lot of people. Can he play third or is he more outfield oriented this year?
TC: "He can play second, too. Yeah, Second, third, outfield, for sure."
DW: He's a versatile guy isn't he?
TC: "He is. He's a good athlete."
DW: Coach, I know you're excited about your freshman class, what do you like about them?
TC: "They're good baseball players. A guy like (infielder) Garrett Blaylock is a versatile guy who can play a lot of positions. I look at (Jayson) Gonzalez and he's advanced for a younger kid. (Catcher, Tyler) Solomon is a big, strong switch hitter, he can play first base. I like his work ethic, I like his seriousness about the game, I like his maturity. (Outfielder) Cooper Davis is a Canadian kid who gives us a lot of versatility, I like his future here. (Outfielder Pat) DeMarco is tough, he's got a hit skill, he can run, he throws the ball well. Austin Martin (infielder), I like his toughness. He's fearless. He competes at second, short, third. I like those kids. I think they're pretty good players. And Philip Clarke (catcher), I think he's got a chance to do some good things this season. Those kids can help us day 1. I'm not going to tell you they'll start, but they're going to be in the mix at some point, whether they play regularly or sparingly, they're going to play. There's no doubt about that. The pitching, I like the freshman. (Jake) Eder's got a left handed arm that's pretty special. I like him. He may not be there right away, but I like him down the road. Ty Brown is a bull, he's strong. Aaron Brown has a really good changeup for us. (Hugh) Fisher has a tremendous arm and Eric Kaiser has a tremendous arm, too. So it's a pretty good class when you can get'em all. "
***Note*** The 2017 class was the No.1 ranked class in the country by the most respected websites for college baseball, Perfect Game, Baseball America and D1 Baseball. So this class is special. By the way, 2018 is No.1 in the country as is 2019 and 2020 is No.2 or No.1. Pretty spectacular recruiting by Corbs. it's hard to get them all in with the pro contracts that are out there, but this year we did get them all, which is pretty superb.
DW: Quite a team you're playing starting out with Duke.
TC: "It is because they return their whole team. They're going to to be good, they're going to be really good. They have a lot a lot of left handed arms and a lot of quality, quality starters. I thought their center fielder was one of the best players I saw play at the Cape last summer when I went up to see our players play. Duke has a lot of good players playing in the Cape. Knowing that we were going to play them, I thought, man we've got our darn hands full with these guys. I thought they were really good and very talented and their centerfielder Herron is one of the best players I saw play at the Cape (Cape Cod League in Massachusetts)."
DW: The schedule is daunting but you like it that way.
TC: "Yeah, you gotta get hit in the face, because if you're not, you're not getting a real feel for competition and competing. I just think you gotta get punched. If you're in it for the long run and all 15 rounds, then the rounds have to be tough. You have to check your players to see who you really are. If you find out who you are and it's not what you thought it would be, you can attack your weaknesses. If you know what the weaknesses are you've got a chance to patch up the boat before it sinks before May. That's huge."
DW: How are the facilities?
TC: "Very nice, very lucky to have them. Everything is in place."
***Note***The field is ready, the hitting bays, the locker rooms for our team and our pro guys are in place. it's spectacular.
DW: Finally, Coach, the pro players, Price, Gray, It's head spinning honestly how well our guys do in the pros. How many guys do we have not only in the big leagues but also throughout the pro system (minors). How many guys will we have in the Majors and Minors this season?
TC: "In the big leagues I would say 10-12 right out of the gate, and then I think we're bouncing on 40 guys playing minor league baseball. Beyond that, we have 15 Vanderbilt people in coaching positions and front office positions. The head coaching that has come out of our system with Travis (Jewett) at Tulane, and Josh Holliday at Oklahoma State and Erik Bakich at Michigan, Blake Allen at Depaw. The fact that is if you've got a situation where development is happening in player and staff positions, then you've got a successful situation. And I'm extremely proud of that."
DW: You've got a new hitting coach and recruiting coordinator?
TC: "Yes. We have Mike Baxter and David Macias. David was part of the 2014 and 15 teams that went to Omaha and won the national championship. Now I've got Mike and David as assistant coaches. I feel like I've died and gone to Heaven. Former players now coaches. It's a luxury item. Like you're in business and you're running a company and your son is right behind you, you just think, gosh I can't believe I'm living this dream. I really like their care level for what they're doing."
***Note***Baxter, who played many seasons in the minor leagues and big leagues, will be the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. Macias will work with the infield and recruit. Scott Brown will be back with the pitchers as pitching coach.
DW: One last thing, Coach, is Pedro going to be playing on a big league team?
TC: "I think he will. He'll have to get a minor league contract and work his way up. He's working out here every day. And, yes, I do. Sooner or later he's going to have a shot. He's going to be able to play at a high level. He's a heckuva kid, too. I love him. He helps me out with anything. He's great."
VU will be televised 11 times this season. Here are the teams, dates, times and network. All times Central.
1. @ Mississippi State, Friday, March 16th, 6 PM, SEC Network
2. No.16 LSU at VU, Friday, March 23rd, 6 PM, ESPNU
3. LSU@ VU, Saturday, March 24th, 7:30 PM, ESPNU
4. LSU @VU, Sunday, March 25th, 12 PM, ESPN2
5. @ No.1 Florida, Saturday, March 31st, 11 AM, ESPNU
6. @Florida, Sunday, April 1, 11 AM, SEC Network
7. Georgia @ VU, Thursday, April 5th, 6 PM, ESPNU
8. No.9 Ole Miss @ VU, Sunday, April 15th, 4 PM, ESPNU
9. @ Missouri, Thursday, April 19th, 7 PM, ESPNU
10. No.15 Louisville @VU, Tuesday, May 1, 6 PM, SEC Network
11. @Tennessee, Sunday, May 13th, 11 AM, SEC Network
We also could be picked up as a wild card on the final weekend of the year when we play @ Kentucky.
As Corbs alluded to, guys will need to develop, and we'll know after the pre conference season and definitely by May what kind of team we have. I feel good about it.
We just got a commitment from Andalusia, Alabama wide receiver/cornerback Bridges Anderson. BJ is 6'2", 175 so that's more size at wide receiver or at corner. Really liked BJ's film. Super looking athlete. He's an 83, 3 star by 247 and a 5.4, 2 star by Rivals, but he's a much better football player than that. He has size, speed and super ball skills. We're getting another good player in this talented 2018 signing class. We now have 17 signees and 4 commits for a total of 21 players. Could be a 3 or 4 more, particularly with graduate transfers. I really like what BJ can bring to the field for us.
This is what BJ did his senior season per Chris Smith of Vandy247 sports:
Anderson produced 65 receptions for 1, 297 yards and 15 touchdown's as a receiver while coming up with 7 interceptions as a cornerback.