Feb. 7, 2012
This is part one of a two part season outlook for the 2012 Commodores. Today, we start with (what else) pitchers and catchers because they always come first. Thursday we will cover the infield, outfield and designated hitter.
Vanderbilt enters the 2012 season with a lot of new faces on the roster after the team's historic 2011 season ended at the College World Series last June. On the way to Omaha, the Commodores captured a share of the Southeastern Conference crown, matched school records with 54 wins and 22 SEC wins, set the SEC record with 12 players selected in the major league baseball draft, hosted a Super Regional for the first time in school history and finished the season as a consensus top four team in the nation. Returning are some of the top players in the conference with All-SEC selections Tony Kemp and Conrad Gregor and two-year starters Connor Harrell, Mike Yastrzemski, Anthony Gomez and Riley Reynolds. However, this season youth will be served with 23 underclassmen (11 sophomores, 12 freshmen) on a 33 player roster.
"It's a team that is going to continually get better as time goes on," Head Coach Tim Corbin explains. "We definitely have some experience in certain areas and many kids in this program have been exposed to winning at a high level. When you lose that many kids to professional baseball, it's only natural that you may be left exposed in spots, but that will only be for a short time. The younger group of kids are talented... it's time and patience."
After losing 15 players from last season's roster, the Commodores reloaded with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation last year according to Baseball America. The class features 12 freshmen and one junior college transfer.
"We are very fortunate to have some of these young kids at this point of our program," Corbin says. "Tyler Beede's decision to come to school strengthened our pitching staff tremendously as did John Norwood's in the outfield. And Chris Harvey's academic platform allowed him to attend school a year early... this ended up being very crucial for us in the catching position. Philip Pfeiffer is a winning player and makes us better immediately. Adam Ravenelle, Brian Miller, Jared Miller and Nevin Wilson all have bright futures on the mound. Will Cooper, Vince Conde, Connor Castellano and Zander Wiel can all swing the bat and give us good depth offensively and possible playing potential right way."
Last year's team was dominant on the mound, shattering the school record with a 2.44 team ERA and leading the SEC in the category; but seven pitchers from that squad now get paid to play, including two first round picks in Sonny Gray and SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin.
"We are all aware of the fact that we lost a lot of quality arms from last year's group but that will be a great thing for the kids who have been very patient waiting their turn," Corbin explains.
Sophomores Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro boast the most starts among returning pitchers with five and six starts respectively during their Freshman All-American campaigns last season. However, Pecoraro is recovering from Tommy John surgery and his availability is unknown. Ziomek is expected to lead the staff along with junior left-hander Sam Selman. A pair of junior right-handers in Will Clinard and transfer Drew VerHagen could make a push for a starting spot. Clinard led the Dores with 35 appearances last season and was the only Commodore to turn down professional baseball last summer, opting not to sign with the Minnesota Twins as a 30th round selection.
"Sam Selman and Kevin Ziomek have emerged as starting candidates, while Will Clinard and junior college transfer Drew VerHagen will also be in that mix," Corbin says. "If T.J. Pecoraro returns, then it will add to a pretty good core of arms. It also opens up the opportunity for some talented kids to grow very early in their careers."
Only six Commodores started a game last season with the combination of Gray, Garvin and Taylor Hill starting every weekend game during the regular season. With so many available innings the team will have to turn to a talented group of freshmen to fill the void.
"Beede, Pfeiffer and both Brian and Jared Miller have been consistent enough during the fall to earn some quality innings."
The bullpen is in similar shape to the starting rotation with the departure of Mark Lamm, Corey Williams and Navery Moore. But just like the rotation, the cupboard is not bare for Corbin and Associate Head Coach/Pitching Coach Derek Johnson.
A pair of lefties in Keenan Kolinsky and Steven Rice will be counted on to get outs on a regular basis for the first time in their young careers. The duo combined to pitch in just five games last season. Nevin Wilson, another southpaw, could emerge to soak up innings along with fellow freshman Adam Ravenelle. Both were 44th round selections in last summer's draft.
"Keenan Kolinsky and Steven Rice are now in a position to possibly hold sufficient roles out of the bullpen," Corbin says. "Wilson and Ravenelle's development during the spring will determine the roles that they will fill."
The closer role will also have a new face with the departure of the aforementioned Moore, who matched the school record with 11 saves last season. VerHagen is expected to get first crack at the job with freshmen Philip Pfeifer and Brian Miller in the mix along with Clinard.
Replacing the departed Curt Casali behind the plate will not be easy for the Commodores in 2012. Casali started 63 games a year ago, including 58 at catcher leaving just six starts for Drew Fann and two for Spencer Navin.
Fann returns for his fifth year in the program this season and will be counted on as a leader for the young squad. Navin is expected to open the season atop the depth chart despite being slowed down by a hand injury in the fall. Freshman Chris Harvey joins the group a year earlier than expected. Harvey graduated high school a year early and enrolled at Vanderbilt last fall, adding a powerful bat to the Dores' roster.
"Catching is a position that we feel pretty good about. When you have a kid that has caught in your program for five years like Drew Fann, it is like adding another coach to your staff," Corbin says. "Drew understands Coach Johnson and our pitchers very well. He is a valuable resource to the pitchers as well as Navin and Harvey. Both Spencer and Chris possess overriding catcher tools that will make each kid very effective in time - they just need reps at this point."
Another freshman, Will Cooper, is expected to receive reps behind the plate as well.