Q: Obviously you made some great progress with the team last year. The team made it to the SEC Tournament-- but I know you also came up short of where you wanted to be, making it into an NCAA Regional. Could you talk about some of the things that have to happen this year in order for the team to take that next giant step up this year?
A: I think the biggest thing is that we have to win some games in the midweek. That's first and foremost. Secondly, we have to take care of business during the conference, and third, I think you have to win on the road. If you do those three things, in the big picture of things, you have a chance to further yourself. In terms of the team, what we have to do to make those things happen, then as a whole we just have to get better offensively. And I think that will happen. We return most all of our hitters except one. We bring in some newer hitters and some more speed, so that will help us out.
I think depth in pitching will also help us. Last year we pitched very well, and played pretty good defense, but for us to be successful, we had to keep teams to one, two or three runs. You just can't depend on your defense and your pitching staff to do that all the time. We just couldn't cover up enough of our offensive inabilities. We do have more pitching depth. We return everyone with the exception of Robert Ransom. We will just ask more of the kids who are coming back-- they have to be a year better. And some of the kids that we brought in, whether it be junior college kids like Ryan Rote, or freshmen like Greg Moviel or Mike Wagner or Tyler Rhoden, they have to come in and fill some spots. But I feel better about the pitching because of the numbers. We return a lot of people, so I feel good about that right now.
Q: You had a chance this fall to look at some of these guys you brought in. You mentioned Ryan Rote, Tyler Rhoden and others... could some of those guys maybe look good enough to come in and win a starting spot in a midweek series, or maybe even in a weekend series?
A: I think Ryan Rote probably has the best chance, because he is a junior college transfer. He's been drafted before, and has a little bit more experience. For freshmen, that's a tough thing to do. My expectations for freshmen are to get better day-by-day, but I don't have high expectations of them right from the get-go. I know how long it takes to reach a comfort level. The freshmen that have a chance to do that are probably guys like Mike Wagner or Tyler Rhoden or Greg Moviel. Those three guys possess some abilities, and are further along than some other guys that might give them a chance to pitch midweek.
But when you're talking about being a starter on our staff right now, you're talking about guys like Jeremy Sowers, Ryan Mullins, Matt Buschmann, Jensen Lewis, guys who pitched a lot for us last year. For a freshman to bump one of them out, I don't see it happening. At least not now... April or May, maybe.
Q: Closing games out was a problem at times last year. From what you saw in the fall, does anyone stand out as someone who might move into the position of a dominant closer.
A: Well, I think we closed some games at home pretty well, and that was because we put the ball in freshmen's hands. When a freshman can do that at home, it's a big thing. When you go on the road, it's a little more difficult for a freshman. We left the ball in Buschmann's and Lewis's hands a lot of the time. I think they'll be a year better. But this year, it could be one of those two guys, or it could be Ryan Rote. He possesses three quality pitches. If Jeff Sues bounces back healthy, it could be a guy like him. But that hasn't really been defined. There hasn't been a guy where I said at the end of the fall, that's our guy. Instead, we have more variables now, and we've got some different people who can do that. But I don't see it as tied to one guy right now. We've got some choices, and I like that.
Q: The hitting side of things... maybe a couple of names from some of your newcomers... or maybe even some "oldcomers" who have made some strides and really stood out in fall ball.
A: I'd like to think that two of our better hitters, Cesar Nicholas and Warner Jones, have gotten a year better. Cesar is certainly coming off a good summer in the Cape, where he won the home run hitting contest. He established himself as one of the better returning power hitters in college baseball. He's gonna help us out. Warner Jones also had a tremendous summer. He can do a lot of things, because he possesses good speed. He's very aggressive at the plate, and I'd like to think he'll have a good year. Ryan Klosterman should be a year better. Tony Mansolino, last year was disappointing for him-- it wasn't the year he wanted. He's going to be better-- I expect that he'll bounce back and have a good year. You're talking about our whole infield right there. Warner Jones could play second base-- he hasn't established a starting spot there yet, but I've got to find a spot for him. He's too athletic not to put in the lineup.
Catching, you've got Jonathan Douillard and Matt McGraner-- I'd hope Doulie is a year better with the bat. In the outfield, I think we're gonna be better out there, because we've got some freshmen-- Aaron Garza and Bill Kleinschrodt in particular-- who've had pretty good falls. They can run, they can hit and do some things that maybe some other guys can't. Antoan Richardson is a junior college kid who possesses unbelievable speed-- if we can get him to put the ball in play, offensively that's something we haven't had in the past. Then Worth Scott and Matt Zeller have both improved. Right when you're thinking you might be bringing in some younger guys that could replace your older guys, that might not be the case. Those guys have bumped up their game a level and have a chance to play right away, but it's going to be competitive, and that's what you want.
As a whole we should be better offensively. I'm not going to say we should have a whole lot more power-- but we do have more speed. That's glaring. We run a whole helluva lot better than we did last year.
Q: Is it a given that this will be Jeremy Sowers' last year with your program?
A: I wouldn't say anything's a given right now with professional baseball, because of negotiations. I think he's on track to pitch professionally after this year. If he has a great year, which he will, it probably will be his last year in my estimation. But once you get into pro baseball, you've got the dealings with the agents and the ball clubs, and it takes a different course. So I never say never. Stranger things have happened, and Jeremy's pretty open-minded. He wouldn't be in school if he'd wanted to play pro ball right out of high school. He likes school a great deal, and I believe he likes the program a great deal. I enjoy coaching him. You can't even call him "low-maintenance"-- he's "no-maintenance." I've never seen a kid like him. He's easy to teach. He's a good leader to our kids. He's one of those guys you don't see very often in your program, so we need to take advantage of him every chance we get.
Q: I would think that fans would want to come out and see him every chance they get, too.
A: You're exactly right about that.
Coming in part 2: Corbin talks about his recently announced seven-man fall recruiting class, which includes three players from Tennessee. How does Corbin go about targeting potential players in all parts of the country? What facility improvements are in the works for Vanderbilt baseball? And what are some reasonable expectations for Year Two under Corbin?