Vanderbilt baseball returns 8 of 9 starters from last year’s Super Regional team, a slew of arms for starting pitching and out of the bullpen, and 7 seniors, 4 of whom are major impact players and leaders. It was also quite an offseason for the Commodores as David Price cemented his legacy as one of the greats in Major League Baseball history with a performance for the ages in the 2018 postseason as he defeated Justin Verlander and the Astros, 4-1, leading the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. David went 6 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, gave up 3 hits, 0 runs, with 0 walks and 9 strikeouts. With the victory, the BoSox advanced to the Fall Classic. Then in the Series against the LA Dodgers, David went 6 in game 2, giving up 3 hits, 2 earned with 3 walks and 5 K’s to lead the Sox to the 4-2 victory. In game 5, Price clinched the World Championship for the Sox, going 7 and out-pitching the great Clayton Kershaw in LA, giving up 1 hit, 1 run, with 2 walks and 5 K’s to lead the Sox to the 5-1 victory. It was very important as the Dodgers had won game 4 and looked to have momentum on their side. It was a masterful performance by the 33 year old Southpaw and etched his name in postseason lore with one of the greatest postseason pitching performances of all time.
And not to be lost in that was the game 4 performance by Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Walk went 7, gave up 2 hits, 0 runs, with 0 walks and 7 K’s. The Dodgers won game 4 in 18 innings, 3-2. Steve Pearce was named MVP of the series for the Sox, and Pearce played a huge role. But David was the star. He’ll forever be remembered in Boston and throughout baseball for his brilliance and there’s more to come from DP. Same with Walker. Sonny Gray is now with the Cincinnati Reds with a fresh start on a talented, exciting youthful and veteran team, so that’s awesome for Sonny to be out of New York and somewhere where he can be appreciated and relax, be himself and shine. Would love to see the man have a huge bounce back year with the Reds.
Dansby Swanson will be entering his third season as the starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. Great things ahead for Dans and his team. Mike Minor had a stellar 2018 for the Texas Rangers and he’s back to anchor their pitching staff. They’re an exciting young team that should be on the rise. Pedro Alvarez is back this time with the Miami Marlins. Hoping El Toro can have a big year for the Fish. Ryan Flaherty is now with the Cleveland Indians. Ryan just keeps hanging around in the majors, and keeps producing and he’s such a team player. A lot of teams want him on their roster. Curt Casali is back with the Reds and could be catching Sonny some this upcoming season. The Reds have another catcher they use a lot, but they like Curt. He had a solid year for them last season. Drew Verhagen is pitching for the Detroit Tigers.
And, of course, the great Tony Kemp has made his mark with the Houston Astros. Tony is a highly valued outfielder for the Stros, and should have a big year for them.
Carson Fulmer and a lot of other guys are still battling to make their respective big league squads. Carson is trying to make the White Sox starting rotation.
So a lot to be excited about in the big leagues. And a lot to be excited about for our college team that is ranked No.1 in the D-1, Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Sports Writers Association Polls, and No.2 by Collegiate Baseball behind LSU, and No.3 in the Perfect Game poll behind LSU and Oregon State. I like the first 3 polls. Of course, the only polls that matter are at the end of June, and our goal is to be No.1 then. But it’s awesome that the baseball experts think so much of our team.
The goal always for Tim Corbin’s teams is Omaha and this team has the material to make a strong run, get there and win it. Corbs and I discussed this 2019 squad led by stellar seniors Stephen Scott, Ethan Paul, Julian Infante and Patrick Raby along with phenomenal junior J.J. Bleday and super sophomores Austin Martin, Pat DeMarco and Philip Clarke. Our freshman class was ranked first in the country by Perfect Game and second to LSU by Baseball America. We lost a few of our signing class to the MLB draft, but bring in several quality players. Our sophomore class was the No.1 class in the country and all 16 are on the roster and didn’t go MLB. That’s pretty special. Our senior class, the 2015 class, was the top ranked class in the country as well. We have 7 left of the 13 who signed, and they’re quality players. Our junior class was ranked 9th in the country, but there are some quality players in that class as well. In other words, we’re loaded.
We open our season this Friday Night at 6 PM CT against the 2015 College World Series champion Virginia Cavaliers in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. The game will be televised by MLB Network. On Saturday, we’ll play No.25 Cal State Fullerton at 2 PM CT, and Sunday we’ll face No.19 TCU at 12 PM. All 3 games will be played in Talking Stick, Arizona about 20 miles northeast of Phoenix. So should be a superb opening test for our talented squad.
In the D-1 poll, LSU is No.2, Florida is No.6, Georgia is No.9, Ole Miss is No.10, Mississippi State is No.14, Arkansas is No, 16, and Auburn is No.24. So that’s 8 teams in the SEC in the top 25. We’ll play most all of them. The SEC’s as challenging as ever and we’ll also play No.4 Louisville in a non conference game towards the end of the regular season, May 7th at Louisville. That game will be a 6 PM start and will be televised by ESPNU. The other VU games that will be televised are Florida at home, Thursday, March 21st at 6 PM CT on the SEC Network, Tennessee at home Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31st, on the SEC Network. Saturday’s game is at 8 PM CT and Sunday’s game is at 2 PM CT. We’re @ Georgia on Sunday, April 7th, at 11 AM on the SEC Network. On Friday, April 12th, and Saturday, April 13th, we play Arkansas at home at 7 PM CT Friday on the SEC Network and at 8 PM CT Saturday on ESPNU. We’re @ Alabama on Saturday, April 20th at 8 PM CT on the SEC Network. On Thursday, April 25th, we’re at Auburn at 6:30 PM CT on ESPNU. On Friday, April 26th, we’ll play the second game of our series @ Auburn at 7 PM CT on the SEC Network. On Saturday, May 4th, we’re @ South Carolina for a 7 PM CT game on ESPNU. And then @ Louisville, May 7th at 6 PM CT on ESPNU. All other games will be broadcast by SEC Network+ and can be seen on Watch ESPN on the computer or on the ESPN app. We could have a game or 2 televised the last weekend of the regular season at Kentucky, May 16th-18th. I’ll alert you if that happens. The SEC Tournament is Tuesday, May 21st through Sunday, May 26th at the Hoover Met In Hoover, AL. The NCAA Regionals commence Friday, May 31st and continue through Monday, June 3rd.
So exciting times ahead for a loaded baseball team that has to prove its value on the field, but certainly possesses the pieces to excel.
Tim Corbin is entering his 17th season as Vanderbilt head baseball coach. He is 681-342-1, 67%, in his 16 previous seasons. He has taken us to 14 Regionals, 13 in a row, 8 Super Regionals, 3 College World Series and has led us to a College World Series Championship in 2014, a magical moment in Vanderbilt sports. We defeated Virginia that year. In 2015, with another ultra talented team, we were runners-up to Virginia in the CWS. Interesting that we square off with UVA on Friday. They have another good team though they’re not ranked. In 2013, we went 54-12 overall and 26-3 in the SEC making the Super Regional that year. That set us up for 2 phenomenal years in a row in ‘14 and ‘15.
Corbs credentials are spectacular. He’s a spectacular coach and a more spectacular man. His 2019 team is potentially phenomenal
Here’s my conversation with the great Tim Corbin.
DW: Corbs, How’s the family?
Corbs: Everyone’s good, can’t complain. Maggie’s great and the girls are both living in Charleston, South Carolina so they’re working, they’re healthy and they’re fine.
DW: After fall drills what are your thoughts on this 2019 team?
Corbs: Well, I always measure it Whitey by socially, athletically and academically and how we are able to operate in those three areas, and they’ve been very consistent in that part. We had a very high team grade point average, if that means anything. The best teams we’ve had ‘07, ‘ ‘11, ‘13, ‘14, ‘15 were our highest grade point averages, so that speaks to people being centered. And we did some good things socially, there were no issues off the field. And I thought we had some good harmony on the field and that probably has to do with older kids. When you have 7 seniors, that helps. Pretty good fall. Got to play Oklahoma State and played reasonably well there. But this is different once you start this. You go through that SEC stuff it’s completely different.
DW: Coach, having a veteran team and 7 seniors, how important is that to you?
Corbs: Mental touches for them. Their ability to be in situations over the last 3 years and 2 years of playing in the Super Regional twice and playing reasonably well. We haven’t had our best Vanderbilt teams, but we still have been games away, runs away and outs away from getting back to Omaha again. They’ve gone through the most devastating thing they can go through as a class and that’s losing a teammate (Donny Everett passed away in 2016). I think from our vantage point it’s good to have these kids, they’re really good people and when you have seniors like this they help the coaches, because on a team like this you have to have the leadership on the field, but my way of thinking Whitey, the best leadership is the 14 or 15 hours you aren’t with’em. And when you have older kids they can create harmony on and off the field and that’s what you need.
DW: Coach, I’m going to get to Donny at the end of our conversation and get your final comments on that. Do you see some strengths in this group besides the fact that they are veteran, good skills?
Corbs: I think we’re pretty well balanced. From a pitching staff, we’re well balanced in terms of rightys and leftys, and we’re balanced in a talent way. We’re not top heavy and we’re not bottom heavy. I think we’re just balance in age and ability. And on the field, I’d say we’re pretty well balanced in the infield. We’re still trying to figure out positions who’s going to play second, short and third, but we’ve got pieces that have been there before so I think we’ll be able to figure that out in time.
DW: Starting with the pitching, I know you have some idea of a weekend rotation and a mid week pitcher or 2 or 3, Can you float those by me, guys you’re looking at who can be some weekend guys and some mid week guys.
Corbs: ( Drake) Fellows certainly because of his consistency as a pitcher. He’s been that type of kid since he’s been here. I imagine that he’ll lead our staff. I would say (Patrick) Raby, too. I’d put him in there. Last year, at the end, we were using him more in relief because we were trying to figure him out a little bit. I think he lost a little bit of confidence. But his health is good and he’s back to who Patrick Raby is, very consistent as you know. I think there’s a chance for him to jump back in that mix, too. After that, we have Tyler Brown, Mason Hickman, certainly they are kids who are capable. (True freshman) Kumar Rocker. He’s one freshman who has a chance to figure his way in there. So that’s 5 guys and maybe Zach King. He would be the other guy right now who has potential, too. They all can’t start. But I think we’ll have more consistency in our starters than we’ve had in our past.
Note: Drake Fellows emerged as our Friday Night guy. He went 7-4, with a 3.92 ERA, 35 walks and 107 K’s. Drake brings it 90-92 and can go higher at times. He was excellent at the end of the season. He’s a competitor. Kumar Rocker is a very intriguing freshman for us. Kumar is 6’5”, 250 from Watkinsville, GA. and brings it 92-94 and can hit 97. He was the 8th ranked player in the 2018 class according to Perfect Game. Kumar was selected in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies, but chose to come to VU. He struck out 8 batters in a row in a fall scrimmage with Oklahoma State. He is the top ranked freshman in Baseball America’s freshman rankings. He will be fun to watch. He has electric stuff.
DW: Coach, who are our power arms?
Corbs: Tyler Brown could be a power arm, Kumar could be a power arm. Most of them are pretty consistent. Probably more skill than power.
DW: Is that OK with you?
Corbs: I like to get outs. I don’t care how they get’em. It’s just commanding the ball and being able to throw multiple pitches. You got right handers and left handers, executors. I think we’re pretty balanced.
DW: Coach, how about your bullpen? Who are your key bullpen pieces would you say.
Corbs: Jake Eder started for us last year. He’s a big, strong left hander who has one of those big power arms you asked me about. Hugh Fisher has a power arm, he’s a left handed pitcher. (LHP) A. J. Franklin, he’s a great story. It’s his 4th year and he got redshirted and had an injury the year after that. Jackson Gillis, another left hander, he’s got a chance. From a right handed standpoint, you’re going to get one of those starters who don’t start who’ll figure in there. (Freshman) Chance Huff is a righty who I think has a chance. (Freshman) Austin Becker is a righty who I think has a chance to be bullpen arm. Ethan Smith has a chance as a freshman. Justin Willis, as a sophomore lefty, has a chance. (Freshman lefty Joe) Gibillot he’s got a chance. So we’ve got a few arms there.
Comment-A lot of depth in this pitching staff.
DW: I know Ty Duvall had a good year for you last year, without discounting Ty, he’s a very talented player, but he came out of nowhere and had a really good year for you. Will he be your guy behind the plate this year?
Corbs; He and Phil Clarke. Clarke will have a chance to catch. The thing about the catching position is that we have 4 guys, Clarke, Duval, Stephen Scott and (freshman) Dominic Keegan who are all pretty good offensive players. But if they’re all offensive players, we’re not going to be able to get them all on the field. We’ll have to move some guys around, put Scott in the outfield, Duval, Clarke and Keegan catch and DH.
DW: Coach, at your infield you said you have some positions that are pretty wide open, Is Julian (Infante) good at first and how about the rest of the group?
Corbs: I think Julian would be at the top end of that group at first. After that, Austin Martin will figure in somewhere, I don’t know where yet. Ethan Paul will figure in somewhere. Not sure where yet. Then you have Harrison Ray as a possibility and Jayson Gonzales is a possibility. Then after that, you have some young kids who’ll figure into that as well. (Freshman) Justyn-Henry Malloy is a possibility. (Freshman) Tate Kolwyck is a possibility. But I think they’re going to have to be more patient than anything because the older kids are going to get most of the playing time.
DW: How’s Julian’s bat doing?
Corbs: It’s been improved. I think it’s more confidence than anything else. That’s the area where I can see he’s had some pretty good growth, so, yeah, it’s been good. I’m happy for him. He’s a heckuva kid. I would love to see him have a great year.
DW: Coach, I know Austin is a versatile player for you, will he play in the outfield some and who are the outfield possibilities? I know Pat DeMarco, Stephen Scott and J.J, Bleday are key guys. Can you go over those guys a little bit.
Corbs: I don’t know if we’ll use Austin in the outfield right now, but those guys are definitely out there. Austin can play in the outfield fine, but Bleday certainly figures in at a corner outfielder probably right field right now. DeMarco could go left or center. Then it could be Stephen Scott. The guy that has really played well is (Sophomore) Cooper Davis. He’s really played well. Enough to where you’re looking at him in a possible role. With Bleday, Stephen, Cooper Davis, DeMarco, (Junior) Kiambu Fentress has improved, we’ve got a freshman named Isaiah Thomas who’s going to be good. Walker Grisanti is a senior who can help us in some areas though I don’t think he’ll start. Those are our outfielders for right now.
DW: What do you like about Cooper Davis?
Corbs: He broke his arm at the end of last year. I thought he was really starting to play well. So we had to sit him down. He’s more of a Lenny Dykstra-type, he’s fast, he hits left handed, he’s a good hitter. He’s just aggressive. He’s an aggressive kid. We really haven’t had someone like him in a while. He’s pretty good.
DW: A while ago we were talking preseason and you said you had a player named Dansby Swanson who was going to be a really good one. Dansby had injured himself his freshman year when you were saying this, and of course, the rest is history. Is this the same kind of deal with Cooper maybe?
Corbs: A little different player. I hope it happens like that. I don’t know if he’s that type of player, but we’ll see. He’s certainly aggressive. Very aggressive young man. We’ll see if he grows into that type of player. We’ll take another Dansby Swanson.
DW: How about the speed and power on this team?
Corbs: Again, pretty balanced. We have some good runners. I wouldn’t say we have burners, but we have guys who run pretty good. From that point, we have solid runners throughout the lineup. And I would say our power is pretty solid too. It doesn’t stand out, but who knows. I would say that’s to be determined.
DW: Coach, I see all the polls, does that ever bother you as far as expectations, or how do you deal with that?
Corbs: I don’t really pay much attention to it. It’s a group of people making an assessment of your team and what they think you have on your team. At the end of it, it’s like any other poll, it doesn’t come into effect. The only poll I used to our advantage was my first year when a poll picked us last in the SEC. Since that time, if my team hears me talk about a poll, they’ll say, ‘why is he doing this now.’ It’s insignificant to us but it is significant to other people because what it does it makes them circle your team mentally and physically. So no big deal for us. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and that’s not going to have an impact on us.
DW: Do you like your freshmen class?
Corbs: Yeah, I do. I like’em because they’re mature. i like’em because they handle their business well. They follow up on what they’re going to do, they’re very communicative with me academically and athletically. We’ll see in time how they handle their experience this spring because a lot of them aren’t going to be able to play. I told them, you know you’re a pretty good player, but you’re going to have to watch and learn. And I told them that’s going to be a great thing. And that’s a good challenge for them. I think they understand that for sure.
DW: Coach, you start with the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament (this Friday) what are your thoughts on that?
Corbs: It certainly a lot of good teams. Just to be a part of Major League Baseball showcasing college baseball is always a good thing. So we’re excited about that.
DW: You start with Virginia. Now that’s quite a history there. What do you know about them right now.
Corbs: As we get further into drills (this was 2 weeks ago) we’ll get deeper into them. I know they’re good. I’ve seen their roster and know their players because we recruited some of their players. They’ll be plenty good, that’s for sure. That whole tournament will be really good.
DW: 8 teams in the SEC are predicted in the top 25 in all the polls. What does that say about this conference and the challenge of navigating this conference?
Corbs: The toughest thing about playing in this conference is retaining confidence, because you’re definitely going to get dinged up, there’s no doubt about that. What we did in ‘13 (26-3 in the SEC) maybe it’ll be done again, but I don’t think it’ll ever be done again. Looking back at that, it’s almost hard to fathom that you could play that consistently over that course of time. In saying that, you just have to retain confidence with your team because you’re going to get knocked down and it’s just a matter of surviving more than anything else. But once you’re done with it, it puts you in a position to win a regional and a super. You’ve been battle tested. The cameras in front of you, your skin is hardened. It’s a benefit. But it’s difficult to get through.
DW: I know you’re not an expectations guy, you concentrate on that next day’s practice, like all great coaches do. But have you said anything to them about where we want to be at the end of the season?
Corbs: No, because for young people the best thing I can do for them is to maintain some balance and the goal for them is to center themselves, so they’re not blown away. They’ve got enough on their plates academically. So I try to give them a nice balance, create some harmony, and try to let them have fun, that’s the most important thing. The best thing they can do is enjoy their time and stay relational.
DW: Coach, are you happy with your coaching staff, Scott Brown and Mike Baxter?
Corbs: Yes, I’m so lucky to have friends as coaches. One of the best things about our program is the staff and our wives. It’s a unique group of people. We are very, very fortunate to have these people>
DW: Coach, I know you as much as anybody, were glued on David’s performance in the postseason. What did that mean to you?
Corbs: It meant everything. It was great to see him finish something off because I know how badly he wanted to do that here. And when it didn’t happen, I always have wished he could have that opportunity. The way he handled himself, how he got ready, and how he took the ball, Whitey. It was phenomenal. That’s been the thing that’s been most underrated is how often he took the ball after that start. And then to pitch as well as he did. It was incredible, just amazing.
DW: Have you seen David recently?
Corbs: Yeah, he came to see us last weekend. He’s great.
DW: Is he a pretty happy guy right now?
Corbs: Yeah, he’s happy. I just think he’s fired up to get going again.
DW: What does it mean to you to have so many guys in the majors?
Corbs: I’m happy, but I’m just as happy for the guys who came through our program and are doing other things. But it’s great for them that they’ve reached the pinnacle of the profession and stayed there. Always happy for them, that’s for sure.
DW: Do you think Sonny’s in a good place now in Cincinnati?
Corbs: I think so. DJ is now with him (former VU pitching coach Derek Johnson who is excellent and recently came to the Reds from the Brewers where he was pitching coach) and that’ll give him some comfort. Sonny’s a good pitcher now. He’s going to help them out. It’s a good opportunity for him and them.
DW: And they’ve got a pretty good young nucleus?
Corbs: I think they’ve got a chance to be good. They’ve got an underrated team.
DW: How are Carson (Fulmer) Tyler (Beede) and Pedro doing right now?
Corbs: They’re doing great. I was with Pedro the other day. Walker’s doing great. I think they’re all in good shape. I talk to them occasionally. Pedro is with the Marlins.
DW: Will he play a particular position for them?
Corbs: He’ll play first base.
DW: What about Carson and Tyler will they be coming up this season?
Corbs: I would think that Carson has a chance. Tyler I would say so.
DW: Finally, I wanted to ask you about your seniors. Seven of your guys on your team were classmates with Donny. I know I hurt personally about this for a while, and if I was hurting, I know how powerful and tragic it was for you and the team. What’s the feeling about Donny now. Is it as strong as it ever was?
TC: Well I just think as the years have gone by. It’s been like a wound on the skin. It was really deep and it has taken a while to heal. As we go through life and death in life, it just takes time to process it. And that was such a deep wound to a young group of people and it was very tough to watch, it was tough for them to manage, and when you like and love someone so much and you see their parents, it’s a re-opening of the wound. It takes a lot of time where you can manage your thoughts and look at the positives of his life. And it’s taken the kids a while, but they’ve done that. it’s taken a while now, it’s taken a long time to get to this stage where we can process this where we want to. We’re in a pretty good place now and I feel pretty good about that.
DW: Coach, I know everybody is excited to see you guys play.
Corbs: We’re excited to get going.
Virginia, this Friday at 6 PM CT on MLB Network. Talking Stick Arizona. MLB4 Tournament with No. 25 Cal State Fullerton Saturday at 2 PM CT and No.19 TCU Sunday at 12 PM CT. We’ll play all 3 teams.
Here’s a great memory. I still get emotional hearing Joe Fisher’s memorable, electric call in 2014. Hoping we hear Joe doing another epic call in 2019. Go Dores!