Monday, February 12, 2007

Commies Hot Stove Report

Last spring, Hawkins field underwent a 4.5 million dollar renovation that included 500 new seats, indoor batting cages, a baseball player only weight room, and a plush new locker room. At first glance, it looks like any other locker room throughout the country with jerseys hanging in lockers, a few bats here, some baseballs there, and a well-used glove lying lazily on stool. But take a closer look and you’ll see Coach Tim Corbin put the finishing touches on the locker room, taping to the inside of several of each locker a piece of paper bearing a photograph of the outside of Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, the Mecca of collegiate baseball and the annual host of the College World Series.

In addition, bolted to the wall are two recent additions to the locker room's d├ęcor, additions that clearly signal this team’s goals: a large baseball with the word "Omaha" scripted across its front, the other is a sign that reads "Vanderbilt in the College World Series," underneath which are four black metal plates."You walk through our locker room now and there are things on the wall that have Omaha mentioned," (Coach Tim) Corbin said. "And so it is clear what our goals are.” These are indeed lofty goals: no Vanderbilt baseball team, save the 2004 squad which was swept out of a super-regional last year, has made it close to gracing the steps of Rosenblatt Stadium, however, Vanderbilt begins the 2007 season with unprecedented national hype and a belief that these goals, while high, are achievable.

Vanderbilt was ranked 210 in the nation when Coach Corbin named the new Vanderbilt Coach in 2003. The 2007 squad is ranked eighth in the nation by Baseball America (10th by an ESPN/USA Today), will be led by two preseason All-Americans in junior left-hander David Price, named Baseball America's college summer player of the year, and sophomore third baseman Pedro Alvarez. This is just a small recognition of the hard work and dedication Corbin and his staff to developing Vanderbilt into a national baseball powerhouse.

The offense revolves around Pedro Alvarez, who accounted for more then one third of the Commies 57 home runs last year and finished ninth in the nation in walks per game, resulting in being named 2006 Freshman of the Year. He should be well protected in the lineup with Dominic de la Osa and Robin and Ryan Davis batting behind him and Ryan Flaherty, who led the Commodores in batting a year ago, hitting in front of Alvarez.

The Commies were picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference eastern division with South Carolina chosen to finish first, with two of the twelve SEC coaches choosing Vandy as their pick to finish as SEC regular season Champions. Coach Tim Corbin has garnered some of the best recruiting classes in the nation, including the number one class last year, and has his team budding with a confidence that begins with the coaches and continues down to the bat boys. This team believes the hype and fans should believe it to. Mark your calendars Commie fans, Omaha is beautiful in the summer.
The following are brief overviews of the Commie’s starting nine and some of last year’s numbers.

Pitching

David Price (9-5, 4.16 ERA) anchors the rotation this year, returning after a season in which he set the single season school record for strikeouts with 155 in 110.1 innings pitched, was named a third team All American and a finalist for the Golden Spikes award, perhaps the most prestigious award in all of College Baseball. Before the year is over, the junior from Murfreesboro could be chosen by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as the Number 1 overall pick in this year's amateure draft.

The Commies closer, senior Casey Weathers (1-1, 3.33 ERA), dominated the summer Alaska Baseball League with a .84 ERA and 25 strike outs in 21 innings pitched. The Californian consistently throws above 90 mph, topping out at 97 this summer. His stellar play earned him a berth on the USA National Baseball team.

Vandy has depth in between Price and Weathers, however, according to Coach Corbin, the starting rotation is not quite set and is still up for grabs, “There are some questions still to be answered as far as the weekend starting rotation," said Corbin. "I think we could go in five different ways with the starters with Cody Crowell, Stephen Shao, Ty Davis, Nick Christiani and possibly Mikie Minor could all battling for a starting spot on the rotation”. Vanderbilt’s pitching depth has Coach Corbin confident that anybody can step into a starting roll and give quality innings without missing a beat. “The strength behind that is whoever doesn't start can move into a relief role, allowing us to put in a guy who may be just as good as the starter. This should avoid any dips caused when changing pitchers and give us balance throughout the staff.”

Infield

Calling the games from behind the plate will be Shea Robin who 26 starts last year a sophomore, spending the remaining games as the designated hitter. Robin will be expected to build on last year’s offensive production when he hit .327 with five homers and 36 RBI. Carter Hawkins, a senior, will serve as backup and provide leadership based on his experience and occasionally see appearances as the DH.

Providing a spark for the Commies down the stretch last year was Brad French, a junior this year, and will begin the year as the First Base starter. He has a contagious attitude that has the coaches raving and believes he’s a big reason the Commies were able to win the final two SEC series last year and reach the Conference Tournament Finals.

The duo up the middle, Second baseman Alex Feinberg and shortstop Ryan Flaherty, hit .322 and .339 respectively last year and provided solid defense all year long. Coaches believe both players will continue to build on last year’s offensive production and expect Flaherty to develop into the team’s leader on the field.

Finally, rounding out the infield, Pedro Alvarez commands third base like no one else in the country. Only a sophomore, Alvarez, along with Price, is a preseason All American and is expected to surpass his freshman year offensive production in 2006 when he hit 327 and 64 RBI to go along with his school-record 22 homers. He was a unanimous selection for Freshman of the Year and selected to the USA Baseball's National Team, which is made up of the top collegiate players in the country. He hit .409 in the USA-Japan Friendship Series with two doubles, a grand slam and nine RBI in the five-game skein, which the U.S. won 3-1-1.

Outfield

Taking charge in left will be Dominic de la Osa who made a seamless transition from shortstop to the outfield last season. Osa worked hard on his hitting this off season as well as hitting the gym. Coach Corbin will be relying on de la Osa to be a threat at the plate this season most likely batting in the four or five spot. This should give de la Osa plenty of opportunities to improve his numbers from last year (.319 BA, 46 RBI, 9 HR) with an on base machine in Alvarez.

David Macias will bat leadoff and take charge of the outfield in center for the second straight year. He was able to get things started for the Commies in the leadoff spot last year batting .328 with 39 walks, 14 hit by pitch (HBP), en route to a .447 on base percentage. With Macias in the leadoff spot and hopefully on base, the Commies should generate plenty of run support for the pitching staff from the 2-5 spots in the lineup.

Finally, Ryan Davis, take charge of right hoping to build on a solid 2006 campaign when he hit .323 with four home runs and 31 RBI. He has the most accurate arm on the team and has been known to gun runners down attempting to score on a base hit to the outfield.

"Every single guy that returns should make a jump in production offensively," said Corbin. "A lot of that comes from experience that they gained last year and over the summer. They were able to hit off of our pitchers every day as well and were able to face some quality pitching and know how to handle it. I think with age comes strength and strike zone discipline and knowledge. With that, they better themselves offensively and we become better as a team."

As Shea Robin said regarding the CWS, “It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’”.

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