Kings of the Mountain (aka Mound)

As kids we played king of the mountain but Vandy pitchers play king of the mound. The trio of Sonny Gray, Jack Armstrong, and Taylor Hill should all be standing tall as kings of the mound as Vanderbilt starts the 2010 Baseball season. Vanderbilt will be without Mike Minor and Nick Christiani this year, pitchers which accounted for 21 of 37 wins in 2009.

Vanderbilt will be heavily dependent on the kings of the mound for 2010.

Sonny Gray, while only a sophomore, will be expected to be the ace of the staff. Gray continues to grow as a pitcher. Following last year's Freshman All-American season which included a 5-1 record, 4.30 ERA with 72 strikeouts, Sonny joined Team USA and finished the summer with a jaw dropping ERA of 0.75. Just when you think you have a bead on his 97 mph fastball, he will rock you back on your cleats with a curve ball that is in a word….sic. His slider has been described by many as unhittable. Sonny will just need to master his control and reduce the free passes to first if he wants to be this year's king of the mound. Look for Sonny to take Mike Minor's Friday slot in the rotation.

The second king of the mound will most likely be sophomore Jack Armstrong, son of the MLB pitcher of the same name. Last season Jack was probably most famous for the standing back flip that he did before each Vanderbilt baseball game which was no small feat for a guy that is 6'7" and 215lbs. He does have other talents that were proven this summer in Cape Cod. Jack played for Wareham and went 4-1 and had an ERA of 2.57 in 35 innings on the mound. This earned Jack a spot on the All-Star team. He has worked hard to fine tune his pitching mechanics from within his big frame. Coach Corbin stated, "He works like hell, either in the weight room or hitting in the cages, whatever he needs to do to improve his game." Coach Corbin will depend heavily on this tall, hard throwing right-hander whose fastball maxes out in the high 90s. Jack will be in the weekend rotation and should stay there as long as he maintains control over that big arm.

Taylor Hill, last but certainly not least, completes the trifecta of talented pitchers that Vanderbilt expects to throw on the weekends. Taylor, a junior, will be the elder statesman for this young pitching staff. Taylor does not throw as hard as Sonny or Jack, with a fastball topping out in the 89-93 mph range. He does, however, work the plate very effectively by mixing up his fastball, slider, and curve, with a nasty changeup. Last year Taylor went 5-1 with an ERA of 5.05. More recently though Taylor pitched for Chatham last summer and had a 2-1 record and an ERA of 1.44. He also pitched six shutout innings in Vanderbilt's win over Aoyama Gakuin in Japan in November. Coaches appear optimistic that Taylor can improve on his solid performance last season.

The college baseball season is long and demanding. A mound with only three right handed pitchers will not get the job done. Chase Reid and Drew Hayes will complete the starting rotation. Drew Hayes is the lone senior in the starting rotation. Drew turned down the Seattle Mariners to come back for his senior year. Drew showcased a powerful right arm last season, striking out 51 in 43.2 innings of work. Drew had an ERA of 5.56 last year and will certainly try to improve on that to improve his draft status at the end of the season. Junior Chase Reid threw mainly from bullpen last year but will be looked upon this tear to provide quality starts. Last year Chase went 3-0 with an ERA of 4.46. Pitching from the right side, Chase had 38 strikeouts and only 10 walks over 34.1 innings. Coach Corbin will utilize these experienced pitchers to start, but is certainly not shy about using them from the bullpen in key situations.

Baseball fans may notice that everyone listed as starters on the depth chart is pitching from the right side. Where are the southpaws? They are in the bullpen and will be relied on heavily. Of the southpaws, Richie Goodenow will be the first option leftie out of the bullpen. Utilized in tough situations last year, Richie achieved a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 4.87 last season. Look for Richie to be utilized more than last year out of the bullpen. Corey Williams is a redshirt freshman and also throws from the south. Corey had a strong fall and will be relied upon in relief this season. Grayson Garvin, a sophomore leftie, showed flashes of brilliance last year in brief appearances. In 2009, he only threw 12.2 innings but recorded 18 strikeouts in those innings.

The final two southpaws are both true freshman. Sam Selman was drafted by the LA Angels in the 14th round but chose to come to Vanderbilt. Sam will see action out of the bullpen this year but he will probably be a starter of the future with a fastball that maxes out in the mid 90's. Kennan Kolinsky throws an 89mph fastball and mixes that up with a curve, cutter, and changeup. You may also see Kennan sub in the outfield.

Bullpen right-handers include Will Clinard, Navery Moore, and Mark Lamm. Will is a redshirt freshman and after a strong fall is considered to be one of the teams most improved players. Navery is coming back from knee surgery and Mark is returning following Tommy John surgery. We may see Navery earlier than Mark but both will be needed in the bullpen.

And finally, the closers will be kings of the mound when the game is on the line. Closers have to be a little crazy, calm under pressure, and have shut down ability on the mound. Vanderbilt's wild thing will be chiefly be Russell Brewer. Russell had a team best 2.96 ERA last season. Russell had another great summer in the Cape, nailing down 10 saves and making the All-Star team. Russell, a junior, has been the closer for the last two seasons and will be expected to do so again this year. The surprise closer this year may come in the form of Joe Loftis who reportedly has a very live arm.

The preseason polls have been a little reluctant to give this team a lot of votes for the top 25, due mainly to the young pitching staff. These young pitchers should continue to develop under Coach DJ and all should be ready to be king of the mound when their number is called. At the college level, pitching frequently wins or loses games. With Vanderbilt's stable of atomic arms, they may just win a whole lot more than they lose. Top Stories