When the Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team takes the field Friday, February 17th against the University of San Diego Toreros they will be looking to earn their fourth visit to Omaha.
The Commodores, led by head coach Tim Corbin in his 15th season, look poised for another big season after being ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll by D1Baseball. The Commodores are looking to make up for what many Vanderbilt baseball fans look at as a mediocre season in 2016, losing in the NCAA regionals, which Vanderbilt hosted. The 2016 season was not only hard on the field but off the field also, with the unexpected death of Commodore pitcher Donny Everett. However, 2017 will be no easy year for the Dores, as they are one of four teams in the SEC that is ranked inside the top 10 of the preseason poll. Corbin’s team will turn to their two preseason All-Americans, junior outfielder Jeren Kendall and right-handed pitcher Kyle Wright, to Wright the ship (get the pun!!) for the upcoming season and try to put last season behind them. The duo was labeled All-Americans by every major media circuit.
Vanderbilt, which saw six players drafted in the 2016 MLB draft and four committed prospects drafted and signing with Major League clubs, will look to hand the Friday Night starting pitching job to aforementioned Kyle Wright. Wright, who will be replacing Jordan Sheffield who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, boasted pretty good numbers last year and Corbin is hoping to see even better numbers this year after moving him into that number one pitching slot. Rounding out the rest of the weekend starters, looks to be Patrick Raby and Chandler Day. Kendall coming off a marvelous 2016 campaign, looks to up his game this year, and the Commodores are going to need that. Even though Vandy is returning 19 letterman and have 14 newcomers, the team seems to always revolve around number 3. Baseball America ranked Kendall and Wright No. 2 and No. 5 prospects respectively, in their annual rankings. These rankings make Vanderbilt the only team in the nation with two players inside the top-10, much less the top-5. Tim Corbin’s team will be riding the coattails of these two players all year, and they expect nothing less of top notch play from both of these guys.
Last year’s Vanderbilt team also featured three freshman All-Americans; Alonzo Jones, Ethan Paul, and Patrick Raby, who are three guys the coaching staff are looking to help propel this program back to the College World Series. Corbin also added a top-20 signing class, but that number is a little watered down considering the talent the Commodores had sign with MLB clubs right out of high school. The addition of these newcomers, as well as some of the younger players who already have a year under their belt, bode for a big year for this Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team. One of the biggest questions facing this team is who is going to be the starting left fielder. Ro Coleman is expected to start the year playing out there, which gives the Commodores tremendous range, but don’t be surprised if you see Freshman JJ Bleday overtake that spot from Coleman shortly into the season.
After adding all of this up, Vanderbilt seems to be poised for another huge season. Many of the returning players are ready to get that bad taste, of how last year ended, out of their head. Corbin and his staff are expected to make it to their 12th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but that won’t be enough to ensure that Coach Corbin and the players are pleased. They know the pressure and the high expectations that are put on them, and they seem to be ready to stare that pressure square in the face.