Vanderbilt Baseball 2006 season preview

Every Vanderbilt baseball fan is eager to see the #1 recruiting class in college baseball according to Baseball America. The 2006 Vanderbilt baseball team has just three seniors and five juniors the rest sophomores and freshmen, which would lead one to think that this team is in a rebuilding mode. The team has a lot of question marks coming into this year and some positions remain up for grabs with less than four weeks away.

This looks to be the most challenging schedule in Coach Corbin's tenure. The season starts out with a round robin series against the University of San Diego a team highly regarded who will be tested when they play the 2005 Champion University of Texas Longhorns a week prior. Southern California and the University of Kansas will be the other participants. This will be an early test for a young inexperienced ball club. San Diego has a high powered club with a top five recruiting class as well. Southern California the other (USC) is coming off a Super Regional appearance and brings back many veterans including a well seasoned pitching staff. Kansas comes from a highly competitive conference the Big 12 and has fared quite well in conference play over the last few years.
 
The coaching staff has been faced with a lot of personnel decisions coming into the season. Vanderbilt has only four position starters returning in Rucker Taylor, Brian Hernandez, Alex Feinberg and Dominic De La Osa. The team loses 3B - Tony Mansolino, CF - Antoan Richardson, and RF - Matt Zellar to graduation. 1B - Mike Baxter a 4th round pick of the San Diego Padres left to the draft after his junior season and 2b - Warner Jones left the team for personal reasons. The pitching staff was hit hard in the off season with a number of players leaving. Senior relief Pitchers Ryan Rote and Jeff Sues were drafted in rounds five and seven respectively. Mike Wagner transferred to Washington State and Juniors Ryan Mullins and Jensen Lewis departed early with the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians organization respectively.
With the loss of some significant contributors, it was essential that the coaching staff replace the talented group with a competitive freshmen class. That they did, with what Baseball America has touted as the #1 recruiting class in the country. There are fifteen newcomers to the team, twelve freshmen, one sophomore transfer and two Junior College transfers. Of the 15 new faces, five are pitchers, two are catchers, four infielders, two outfielders and two players that can play both the infield and outfield.
 
Less than four weeks away many Vandy baseball fans are speculating what the line-up may look like and how the pitching staff is forming. Here's a look and breakdown of what may surface up until game time on February 17th.
  
If fans have speculated a starting line-up based on what they saw in the fall season, good luck. A lot has changed and some players have emerged to the forefront. Here's a look at a position by position analysis and who as of now could be penciled in as starters and reserves. This team has quality depth at positions that Vanderbilt fans have never seen before. There is a great group of freshmen but don't look for a lot of them to start immediately.

First Base:
Starter - Alex Feinberg : One of the most versatile players on the 2006 roster. Though a
Sophomore, Feinberg carries himself like a veteran and leads by example. Last season, Alex started as a DH, but played the second half of the season at 3B when Tony Mansolino came down with a broken hand. Feinberg played some 1B this fall and has emerged as the starter. Alex is one of the better contact hitters and needs to be in the line-up offensively, but is also valuable defensively at any of the INF positions except for catcher. Feinberg can make the adjustment as a 1B because of his hand-eye coordination and his ease and ability with his glove.
Backup - Brad French: The local product has emerged as a contender for the first base position despite being saddled with an injury for the majority of the fall campaign. Brad is a sophomore with little experience having only played a hand full of games last season, many as a late inning reserve. French is regarded as a hard-nosed determined player that is well respected by the coaching staff. Brad's work habits are exceptional and his improvement will elevate him into a contributing role for the 2006 season.
Reserves - Adam Cronk, Parker Hanks & Brian Hernandez:
Cronk will primarily be a designated hitter and late inning Pinch Hitter for the Dores. Adam is going into his sophomore season with very little playing experience, but has improved physically and is a power threat offensively. Cronk is fit enough to play defensively, but will play in a reserve role. Parker Hanks can play first in an emergency situation but will primarily play the outfield and at designated hitter. Brian Hernandez saw considerable action in the fall at first base, primarily to have another position to fall back on and to give Carter Hawkins and Shea Robin more of an opportunity to garner the catching duties and get familiar with a restructured and young pitching staff. Hernandez will certainly start the year as a catcher but his playing time behind the plate could be limited a bit just because of the wear and tear the body goes through playing the position.

Second Base:
Starter - Rucker Taylor: A four- year senior, and the one of only two players that has been with Coach Corbin and his staff since their inception. Taylor started as a freshmen at second base, came off the bench as a sophomore and played as a reserve infielder and starting DH for most of his junior season. Taylor is a reliable and experienced player that will play a significant role as a leader and should be an every day player as the 2B. Taylor is versatile and has experience at SS and 3B, but has the qualities you look for in a second baseman. Taylor is sure handed and has good glove to hand control and can turn the double play effectively. Taylor is a contact hitter that can either hit at the top or bottom of the order. Look for Taylor to be at the top of the order at least at the beginning of the season. His ability to bunt and move runners over could make him an effective # 2 hole hitter.
Back-Up - Alex Feinberg: A valuable infielder that will most likely be the starting first baseman, but is able to play second, short and third in a back-up role in case there is an injury or lack of performance at any one of the three positions. Feinberg's college playing experience was at third base last season, but has worked out at these other positions in the fall. Feinberg is comfortable at the corner positions but has the ability to adjust as a middle infielder as well. Alex is as valuable a player as anyone on the roster because of his versatility.

Short Stop:
Starter - Dominic De La Osa: It was thought early on that freshman Ryan Flaherty could start, but it appears Dominic De La Osa will start the season out at SS. De La Osa started as a freshman at the position and had some hic-ups along the way but seemed to settle in nicely toward the end of the season. De La Osa has a good arm and improved range and has garnered one year of valuable experience in a lot of pressure situations. Flaherty looks smooth at the position as well, but the transition of coming from high school ball in the State of Maine to SEC Baseball is a tremendous adjustment.. Flaherty will continue to progress in practice and will certainly play as a back-up and could play in time, but there is no need to throw him to the wolves right away. De La Osa will be one of the key contributors to the team offensively and having him in the line-up is best served if he plays a position he is most familiar with in SS. De La Osa had worked a little bit in the outfield in the fall, but with the depth at those positions and his lack of familiarity as an outfielder it makes sense for him to play SS.
Back - Up - Ryan Flaherty: Ryan though a SS in high school can play 2b and 3b and worked there in the fall. His versatility will come into play and he certainly will play a key role before it's all said and done. A lot of scouts believe Flaherty is best suited for 3B in the long run but he has the experience and ability to play the SS position presently. Flaherty may be further along defensively than he is offensively, but he has improved his strength and with repetition in practice will come around offensively sooner than later. Flaherty's father is a college head coach for a Division III power in Maine, so Ryan has been around the game closer than most his age and his poise and perseverance show it out on the playing field.
Reserves - Rucker Taylor & Alex Feinberg: Two key contributors at other positions, but both have the experience to fill in at the position if injuries occur. Taylor has seen considerable time over the years as a SS and can easily play the position if the two players before him falter.

Third Base:
Starter - Pedro Alvarez: A player many are anticipating great things out of, is one of the most heralded high school position players to ever come to Vanderbilt. Don't let Alvarez' quiet demeanor fool you, this kid can stroke it offensively and can bring the leather defensively. If you have seen practices you realize the ball comes off the bat a little differently than most. Pedro struggled in the Black & Gold Series, but it's evident that his bat will be potent in time. As a freshmen in the SEC and playing right away he will have adjustments to make but his future is bright. Defensively he will need to be consistent and poised at the hot corner where he will be tested.
Back-Up - Alex Feinberg: Played this position last year and was a starter the second half of the season. Feinberg may see time at third this season but will most likely start the season off as the starting first baseman.
Reserves - Brad French: Plays both corner positions equally as well. With Brad's versatility at the corner positions it gives him a much better chance to play. May see considerable action as a late defensive substitution. French will be a significant contributor as a role player.

Catcher:
Starter - Brian Hernandez: Will take over as the vocal leader on the team and where better suited to play than as the catcher. Hernandez has been a three year college starting catcher both at Duke and here at Vanderbilt. His experience behind the plate will be very beneficial in handling a young but potentially strong pitching staff. Brian's defense has improved but his arm is somewhat suspect. He keeps the ball in front of him and blocks the ball well but his lack of quick release may be tested by opponents on the base paths. Brian is one of the better hitters on the team and when he is not catching, he will be the designated hitter. Look for Hernandez to hit in either 3 or 4 hole.
Back-Up - Carter Hawkins: Carter is in his third year of the program as a catcher and looks to be the back-up to Hernandez again this season. Hawkins playing time increased in his sophomore year where he started the majority of mid-week games. Carter brings added experience to the position and the pitching staff feels comfortable when Hawkins is behind the plate. His offensive skills have improved each year and look for that to continue.
Reserve - Shea Robin: Only in his second full year playing the position of catcher, Robin looks like a natural playing the position. Shea has all the tools necessary to be a quality catcher. He brings a lot of energy to the position and has a very strong and accurate arm. Offensively Robin can hit and proved it this fall, he could see time as a designated hitter and pinch hitter. His playing time will certainly increase from last year and it would not surprise me to see him in the line-up in some capacity before years' end.

Left Field:
Starter - Matt Meingasner: A JC transfer who played catcher the last two years at Broward CC and also had experience as an infielder. Meingasner opened eyes this fall with the way he handled the bat, a very good hitter with a keen eye for the strike zone. Matt was moved to the outfield this fall and has seemed to make the proper adjustments for him to secure a starting position, most likely in left field. Catcher was not an option for Meingasner due to the depth and experience of players already on the roster, but it was evident a vacant position needed to be filled and this was the logical player to fill that role. Matt should be an every day starter for the 2006 Commodores.
Back-Up - Parker Hanks: A sophomore transfer from UCLA who only started one game as a freshmen and played very little. Hanks is a very athletic and versatile player who played catcher at UCLA, but will play the corner outfield positions and could be the starting designated hitter. Parker was the overall leader this fall for all position players in the Omaha Challenge. The Omaha Challenge is a series of physical agility and conditioning tests. Hanks will be valuable as a back-up for various positions in the outfield and at first base. Look for him to start the year as a designated hitter, at least against left-handed starting pitchers.
Reserves - Jonathan White & Kurt Lipton: Players that have a lot of ability but are not ready to be used as every day starters. Both are freshmen, though White is a red shirt and is in his second year of the program. Lipton is an aggressive hitter and may be used in late innings as a pinch hitter in time, but needs to work and improve defensively. Kurt has the tools but it will be a process in getting all those tools to come together for him to see considerable playing time. White will play a reserve role and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Could be used in late innings as a pinch runner and a defensive substitution.

Center Field:
Starter - David Macias: This may surprise some hard core fans, but look for Macias to at least start the year in center field. Has shown great progress and has learned to play the position over the last year. David will cover a lot of ground in center field and has a strong and accurate arm. It was evident Macias was making progress offensively toward the end of last season, when he was used in the starting line-up as a designated hitter in the last series of the year against eventual 2005 NCAA runner-up, the University of Florida. Macias is a pesky and scrappy hitter that will prove not to be an easy out. An extremely versatile player who could also back-up as a middle infielder..
Back-Up - Diallo Fon: Another highly regarded recruit from outside the San Francisco bay area. Fon may not start at the beginning of the season as an outfielder but he will play and depending on his progress may enter the line-up soon. Physically Fon could play right away, especially offensively and may as a left-handed designated hitter but the coaching staff will implement Fon into the line-up when they feel he is ready. This years' team has quality depth and with that, the coaching staff is not forced into starting freshmen right away like they have in the past.
Reserves - Ryan Davis & Jonathan White: Two players with a year experience in the system. Both players are versatile to play all three outfield positions and give the team quality depth.

Right Field:
Starter - Ryan Davis: Davis had a successful fall and has emerged as the starting right fielder for the 2006 squad. Ryan continues to show improvement in his overall game and with his consistent play and no blaring weaknesses he is certainly the front-runner for the position. Davis played sparingly last season, but when he did play he produced offensively and defensively. He has a very good glove, good arm and the versatility to play all three outfield positions. Having another left-handed stick in the line-up also is a positive for Davis and the Commodores. It will be up to Davis whether he is a permanent fixture to the starting line-up based upon performance. I believe the more Davis plays the better he will get, he has proven that when playing summer ball and further demonstrated that this fall.
Back - Up - Diallo Fon: Diallo will play CF but can play RF if an injury occurs. Fon would probably be the first outfielder off the bench when looking for a CF or RF. With experience and time Fon will play a beneficial role in the outfield before too long.
Reserves - Jonathan White & Kurt Lipton: White's versatility and speed make him a jack of all trades in the outfield. A good player to have coming off the bench in various capacities. Lipton a freshman is a raw talent and has the best outfield arm but will play in a reserve role and will need to continue to develop. These two players are a luxury to have as reserves and give the 2006 team depth that Coach Corbin has yet to see in his prior three years.

Designated Hitter:
Starter - Parker Hanks: Initially could be the every day designated hitter but could be a situational DH as the season churns. Hanks is a right-handed hitter that demonstrated pop off his bat this fall and showed the ability to be a line drive gap type hitter. Has the ability to hit for power which would be a welcomed addition to the line-up. Depending on how he plays early and with the development of Diallo Fon both could platoon as the designated hitter. Hanks would face left-handers and Fon would face right-handers, but if Hanks produces and hits consistently that perhaps may not happen.
Back-Up - Diallo Fon: A kid that can flat out hit, but can he do it right away at this level. Time will tell, though Fon will get plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.
Reserves - Adam Cronk & Shea Robin The majority of Adam's playing time will come as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter. Demonstrates hitting power that is sorely needed. Needs to improve knowledge of the strike zone and continue to show consistency and improvement in practice. Being a power threat will give him an opportunity to play perhaps as a late-inning pinch-hitter. Shea's game continues to progress and he's the type of player that the coaching staff will need to find a place for. Is ready to play offensively and is improving rapidly as a defensive catcher. Designated hitter may be Robin's best way of playing this year. He may get a chance to catch during the mid week-games at some point, but with two experienced catchers in front of him time may be limited.

Pitching Staff
Weekend Starters:
1.) David Price - The obvious choice as the #1 starter. The 6-6 Sophomore LHP is one the marquee college pitchers in the country and is coming off a very successful summer with the USA amateur team. Though only 2 -4 last season, Price pitched much better than his record indicates. His strikeout ratio was among the best in the country and he ended the season with a highly respectable 2.86 era in 69.1 innings giving up just 51 hits.
2.) Matt Buschman - Entering his fourth season, Buschman brings a lot of success and experience as the #2 starter. Matt has a career record of 17 wins & 6 losses and has been used in various roles over the prior three years. This year he will begin the season as a starter, how he concludes the season time will tell.. Bushchman's versatility makes him a valuable commodity on the staff. He's the type of pitcher that can be inserted in any situation, and depending on how the younger pitchers develop and how their used will determine what role Buschman will be used in. Matt has been a consistent performer in every role, but as a #2 starter his experience will be a tremendous asset. Look for Buschman to log a lot of innings regardless of the situation he ends up in.
3.) Cody Crowell & Ty Davis: There are still some positions that have not been finalized and the #3 weekend starter is one of those. This may not be decided until SEC conference play comes around. Both pitchers are red shirt sophomores and though not a lot of game experience for either, both have been under this coaching tutelage going on its third season. Each has progressed each year and both have put themselves in a position to be a #3 starter. The difference between the two is Crowell is a left hander and Davis a right hander. Crowell is one of five left-handers but the status of two of those could be uncertain, therefore Crowell may be more valuable in the bullpen for that reason alone. Both have proven that they have the ability and both ended last season on a high note. Which ever one becomes the third starter, the other could become a mid-week starter and set-up man in the bullpen for a weekend game. Crowell may have the ability to pitch more than once a week and Davis may be better suited as a one game a week starter. If that's the case, Davis could be #3 starter. We'll just have to wait and see.

Weekday Starters:
At this time it's difficult to declare who some of the weekday starters could be. Last season there were a committee of starters just to give some pitchers innings and the same scenario may take place this year.
Here are some of the candidates:
Brett Jacobsen - A highly regarded freshmen right hander out of Arizona, Jacobsen could emerge into a weekday starter, but perhaps not right away. The coaching staff will progress with Jacobsen slowly at the beginning and put him into reasonable situations.
Stephen Shao - The junior will be used only as a pitcher this year, after splitting his prior two years as a left fielder and pitcher. With Shao able to exclusively work with the pitchers and pitching coach Derek Johnson on an every day basis, it should ease his mind and give him more structure in how he will be used. Shao's innings will no question multiply from last season in various roles. Stephen has an arm that can respond to back-to- back outings in relief on weekends and come back and throw a few innings as a starter or reliever during the week. As a left-hander, Stephen could also be used in late inning situations to face left-handed hitting. Last season, Shao was one of the more successful pitchers in late inning pressure situations.

Relievers:
Josh Zeid - Another heralded pitcher that will start the season in the bullpen for the Commodores. A hard throwing pitcher that has already made considerable progress this fall. Will be used similar to that of Brett Jacobsen early on, but as the season goes on based on their performances, roles will be defined. Zeid could be used in late inning situations with an above average fastball. Josh will be effective as long as he is able to locate his pitches.
Casey Weathers - A JC transfer out of California that began his career as an outfielder but was later converted to a pitcher. The right-hander will begin the season in the bullpen as a reliever. Weathers had a successful fall and should prove to be effective as a middle reliever.
Bobby Kennedy - The only lefthander out of the highly regarded freshmen class of pitchers. The Florida native is another highly regarded recruit who will also play a role in the bullpen. Kennedy may not see many innings right away. His status may depend on how some of the left-handers in front of him progress. Kennedy is a kid with a positive attitude and a lot of confidence which is needed if you are to pitch successfully in the SEC as a freshman.
Greg Moviel - The 6-6 junior lefthander is a relentless worker but has struggled mightily in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. Has the potential to be a very effective pitcher but has not been able to be consistent from pitch to pitch. When given the opportunity Greg has not proven to be consistent enough to throw strikes. Obviously if you can't throw strikes it's difficult for the coaching staff to insert you in a game. Hopefully, Moviel can overcome his struggles and throw strikes, if he can he will be of great significance to this pitching staff. Moviel may get the opportunity early in relief and his early progression or digression will be the determining factor in how he is utilized this season.
Tyler Rhoden - A sophomore red-shirt who sat out the entire 2005 season with an injury, is healthy and ready to go in 2006. As a freshman, Rhoden was a contributor mainly out of the bullpen. Rhoden though in his second year playing, is in his third year with the program. Tyler is one of the more experienced pitchers on the staff and can be used in various roles. He could pitch in long or short relief and could even start a mid-week game depending on the use of other pitchers on weekends. Could be one of the first right-handers out of the pen. Rhoden throws strikes and has a strong presence and good composure on the mound.

Closer:
Nick Christiani - Normally you would like to think that you have an established and experienced pitcher off your present staff that could step in, and that still may happen. Initially freshman Nick Christiani may get the opportunity to be featured in the role of a closer. Many college baseball teams aren't able to distinguish who their closer is, until well into the season. Nick has proven this fall to be an outstanding pitcher and has the make-up of a kid that's pitched at this level for a while. Arguably you could say Christiani was the most impressive freshman pitcher on the mound this fall. In his one outing this fall in the Black & Gold Series, Christiani started and pitched five innings of one hit shutout baseball. Nick has good action on his pitches and is very poised on the mound, and has the attitude to adjust to the pressures of being a closer.
Other possibilities as closers are Josh Zeid, Tyler Rhoden & Cody Crowell: Both Rhoden and Crowell have late inning experience in relief and could be used in the role, but everything will depend on how the complexion of the pitching staff shakes out over the duration of the season. Crowell may well be suited to be the closer but having another left-hander in the starting rotation is also a nice luxury to have. Josh Zeid has the ability to possibly pitch in this role as the season progresses. Josh provides a heavy fastball and the confidence needed to pitch in this role.

Red-shirts: The following players could be red-shirt possibilities: Mike Giobbi - FR.- C, Jay Moreland - FR - C, Matt Shao - Fr. - INF, & Brian Harris - Fr. - INF: All four players have solid futures and are caught up in a numbers game at the positions they play. With Giobbi and Moreland both catchers, they play at a position that Vanderbilt features the most depth. With three catchers in front of them, one a senior, another a junior and a sophomore, the playing time this season would be sparse for both players. The only alternative at this point would be to red-shirt both players. Infielders Matt Shao & Brian Harris have similar situations in front of them, where playing time would not come there way this season with the degree of depth. Both players have shown great strides in their development and by not losing a year of their eligibility as a player it would benefit both in getting more of an opportunity of playing time in the future.
 
A lot can still change between now and the first game on February 17th. Keep in mind there could be injuries, academic casualties, suspension due to breaking team or school policies that could change the complexion of the team and it's chemistry. With the amount of team depth and the competition at various positions, the starting line-up may change from one game to the next, but the coaching staff will tell you that's a good thing. What sets this year apart from the previous three is the depth this team has. If a player is slumping and struggling, instead of playing his way through it and not contributing to the team, another player can heed the opportunity and have a chance to contribute. The reward of having depth is to be able to insert players into situations late in the games, whether it be for defense or as a base runner or late inning pinch-hitter.
 
The 2006 season will be exciting and full of anticipation in how this youthful team can respond to their difficult schedule and the rigors of the SEC conference. There are a lot of questions going into the season, but with the quality of depth the team has a lot can be answered. The players you may see start the season may not be in the line-up toward the end of the season.
Good Luck Commodores!

Related links:

Vanderbilt Baseball Roster
2006 Vanderbilt Baseball Schedule

Commodores Daily Top Stories