Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A look ahead to 2009

Yesterday, I put together a 2008 recap. Today, I'm taking a look at the future.

Assuming that juniors Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan White, Brett Jacobson and Nick Christiani do not return and assuming that redshirt sophomore Andrew Giobbi opts to come back for another season, here's a breakdown of the 2009 squad.

Note that Vanderbilt's 14 member recruiting class includes six pitchers and eight position players with 12 high schoolers and two junior college transfers (that list does not include Anthony Hewitt so make that 15). As long as the Dores don't lose many players to the MLB Draft, the class has the potential to be ranked No. 1 in the nation.


Curt Casali (FR)
Andrew Giobbi (R. SO)
Drew Fann (FR)
Dylan Pratt (JUCO Transfer)

Analysis: Casali is a star in the making and showed flashes of brilliance in limited action this season. He'll be playing for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League this summer and will take over for Shea Robin as the starter, while Giobbi should have no problem shifting from first base to behind the plate on occasion. Pratt, meanwhile, is a catcher/outfielder who played his freshman season at Walters State CC along with fellow recruit Adam Milligan.

First Base
Andrew Giobbi (R. SO)
Aaron Westlake (FR)

Analysis: Giobbi should hit in the middle of the order after a breakout season as the Commodores will look to Giobbi for increased production, as well as leadership, in 2009. Westlake, meanwhile, should be healthy after his season ended early due to a blood clot in his right shoulder.

Second Base

Brian Harris (SO)
Riley Reynolds (Recruit)
Andrew Harris (Recruit)
Alex Hilliard (R. FR)

Analysis: This is probably Brian Harris' job to lose and I would be surprised to see anyone else starting at second to begin the season. However, if Hewitt, Esposito and Loftus all come to school, there will be a logjam on the left side of the infield, which means that one of them or possibly current freshman Gabe Ortiz could shift over to second. Also, word is that Hilliard is shifting back to the infield so it will be interesting to see how he fits into the Dores' plans.

Anthony Hewitt (Recruit)
Jason Esposito (Recruit)
Gabe Ortiz (FR)

Analysis: Hewitt is going in the middle of the first round in the recent mock drafts, which means that we may not ever see him in a Vanderbilt uniform. Hewitt is still somewhat raw, but he's got all the tools and a ton of potential. If he enrolls, Hewitt could possibly shift to the outfield (ala B.J. Upton). Esposito, meanwhile, is the Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year and should be able contribute right away at either SS or 3B. The wild card is Ortiz, who redshirted in 2008.

Third Base
Jason Esposito (Recruit)
Joe Loftus (Recruit)

Analysis: No one will replace the production of Pedro Alvarez, but Corbin has to feel pretty good about his options at the hot corner. In addition to Esposito, the Dores welcome Loftus, who hit more homers than fellow Minnesotan Joe Mauer. Unless Esposito slides over to short, there should be a pretty good battle for the starting spot.

Left Field

Steven Liddle (R. FR)
Joey Manning (FR)
Jordan Wormsley (R. FR)

Center Field
Ryan Milligan (JUCO Transfer)
Ryan Westmoreland (Recruit)
Alex Hilliard (R. FR)

Right Field
Matt Marquis (Recruit)
Dylan Pratt (Recruit)

Analysis: Liddle is a potential star and should start every game in left field in 2008. After that, however, Corbin will have a number of choices to make. Matt Marquis has one of the prettiest swings I've seen and should see immediate playing time. Milligan is a power bat who should also be ready to contribute right away. Manning is a specimen and has the chance to start, while Westmoreland is an outfielder/pitcher who may not even make it to Nashville. If he does, Westmoreland is a prototypical leadoff hitter as he has a quick, smooth swing, bats from the left side and runs from home to first in four seconds flat. You know the Commodores are talented when we haven't even mentioned Hilliard or Wormsley, two redshirt freshmen who could start on many teams, or Pratt. Put simply, Vanderbilt is two-deep at every outfield position and should have little difficulty replacing Macias and de la Osa, although it may take some time given their inexperience.

In review, here's an early look at the 2009 Commodores:

C: Casali, Giobbi, Pratt, Fann
1B: Giobbi, Westlake
2B: Harris, Reynolds, Hilliard
SS: Hewitt, Esposito, Ortiz
3B: Esposito, Loftus
LF: Liddle, Manning, Wormsley
CF: Milligan, Westmoreland, Hilliard
RF: Marquis, Pratt

Now, for an extremely premature starting lineup:

1. Westmoreland (CF)
2. Liddle (LF)
3. Giobbi (1B)
4. Milligan (DH)
5. Casali (C)
6. Marquis (RF)
7. Hewitt/Esposito (SS)
8. Esposito/Loftus (3B)
9. Harris (2B)

I envision this team being similar to the 2006 team, at least from an offensive standpoint. They will be young, but very talented, and will get better as the season progresses. It's difficult to project how steep the learning curve will be for the freshmen, but I think it's safe to assume that they are going to make significant contributions early on, similar to Flaherty and Alvarez in 2006. Still, the only sure things are Liddle, Giobbi, Casali and Harris. It is certainly going to be a different lineup than we've grown accustomed to seeing the past three seasons, but very exciting nonetheless.


I'm sure Derek Johnson is already counting down the days until fall practice. That's because Johnson, one of the nation's finest pitching coaches, is going to love what he has to work with. I sincerely doubt Vanderbilt has ever had as many quality arms as it does right now.

The Commodores will probably lose Christiani and Jacobson, but that's it. And as we've discussed earlier, the two never did live up to the hype in their three years on West End.

So, here's a look at who is returning:

Mike Minor (SO, LHP)

Expect Minor to return to his freshman-year form and be the ace that the Dores need and expect, especially as he looks to improve his stock for the 2009 MLB Draft.

Caleb Cotham (R. FR, RHP)

Cotham was a pleasant surprise in 2008, emerging as a dependable No. 2 starter. He's got a plus fastball with good command and a solid breaking ball and should be even better in year two. Pitching on the Cape this summer will only help.

Russell Brewer (R. FR, RHP)

There was no better story this season than Brewer's. The former third baseman wasn't expected to contribute much if anything on the mound, but after an impressive summer and fall, Brewer found himself closing games. After a summer on the Cape, the right-hander should come back even stronger in 2009.

Chase Reid (FR, RHP)

I'm a big fan of Reid, whose curve ball is as good as they come. The right-hander had an impressive freshman campaign (42 Ks in 37.2 innings, 4.30 ERA) and should see an even bigger role as he improves his command.

Drew Hayes (SO, RHP)

Hayes flew under the radar somewhat in 2008, but I think he has a chance to be very, very good. In fact, he already is. It took Hayes some time to settle down, but once he did, Hayes was one of the Dores' best pitchers. He finished the season with a 3.51 ERA and had 53 strikeouts in just 41 innings (a sign that he's got great stuff). Furthermore, opponents hit just .212 against him. The only concern was the 29 walks, but I think that is easily correctable.

Taylor Hill (FR, RHP)

Of the true freshmen, sources told me that Hill has the biggest upside. He showed flashes of it in 2008, finishing 5-2 with a 4.60 ERA in eight starts. If the Dores had more depth, Johnson would have been able to bring Hill along more slowly. Instead, Hill was forced to learn as he went and still managed to hold his own.

Richie Goodenow, (R. FR, LHP)
Goodenow should be valuable as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.

Mark Lamm (R. FR, RHP)
I envision Lamm being a solid middle reliever or possible midweek starter for the Dores. He's got good stuff (3.98 ERA, 28 Ks and just 23 hits in 31.2 innings, .211 opp. BA) and should only get better.

Sean Bierman (FR, LHP)
Ben Blanton (FR, LHP)
Kellen St. Luce (FR, LHP)

I grouped these three left-handers together because they all redshirted in 2008. I'm not sure what to expect from them next season. Bierman chose the Dores over Virginia, Tulane and Arizona State and was ranked No. 172 by Baseball America. Blanton was a late signee in 2007 as was St. Luce, who "has a big, strong body that resembles Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins," according to Perfect Game. I think all three will have an opportunity to contribute and it will be interesting to see how much they progressed over the past year, particularly St. Luce.

Now, onto the recruits:

Sonny Gray (RHP, Smyrna, Tenn.)

Gray is considered the best Tennessee High School prospect since David Price. Fortunately for the Dores, he is following in the same path, already telling major league teams not to draft him. Gray is a 5'10'' right-hander with a power arm that tops out around 96 mph and a dominant 84-86 mph slider, and has a chance to be a weekend starter right away.

Jack Armstrong (RHP, Jupiter, Fla.)
Armstrong, whose father pitched in the majors from 1988-94, is the top right-hander in Florida and the No. 28 player nationally by Perfect Game. He is 6'7'' and extremely athletic (a talented basketball player) with a low-90s fastball.

Navery Moore (RHP, Franklin, Tenn.)

Moore was considered one of the nation's top prospects before undergoing arm surgery last spring. He is fully recovered and should be able to pitch immediately thanks to his mid-90s fastball.

Grayson Garvin (LHP, Suwanee, Ga.)
Garvin is the top lefty in Georgia thanks to terrific command, a 86-90 mph fastball and a very good changeup. He is the No. 55 ranked high school prospect by Baseball America and has a lot of upside.

Will Clinard (RHP, Cross Plains, Tenn.)
Vandy does a great job recruiting in-state. Clinard is the fourth-ranked prospect in Tennessee. He's 6'4'' and consistently throws 88-92 mph.

Corey Williams (LHP, Huntsville, Ala.)
Williams, the No. 4 prospect in Alabama, has good command of three pitches. This year he sported a 1.92 ERA, while striking out 86 and walking 29 in 54.2 innings.

While it's too early to project what role each pitcher will have, there is no doubt that the pitching staff should be vastly improved in 2009. In fact, it could be a challenge for Corbin and Johnson to get enough innings for everybody, although that's a problem any coach would love to have.


Will said...

Sean Bierman did not redshirt and it's unclear if St. Luce will be able to since he played in the first weekend of the season.

Jarred Amato said...

thanks, will update that