After a long offseason, it’s finally time to play ball at The Hawk.

The Vanderbilt Commodores take on Duke on Friday to open the 2018 campaign with all eyes set on Omaha in a competitive SEC.

Notable names such as Jeren Kendall and Kyle Wright are off making their big league dreams come true, so the Commodores will be hard-pressed to replace their production.

The Lineup

Catcher – Ty Duvall

Sophomore Ty Duvall will likely succeed Jason Delay in the starting catcher role this season, as Delay was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Duvall has some pretty big shoes to fill; Delay appeared in 59 games, starting behind the plate in 58 of those contests. Conversely, Duvall appeared in 17 games, starting just four. Perhaps it was best to ease Duvall into the role, as he was sidelined by Tommy John surgery in his senior year of high school. If his small serving size of 24 at-bats is indicative of his offensive prowess, Commodore fans can expect big things. Duvall he hit .375 with an on-base-percentage over .500. –Simon Gibbs, sports reporter

First Baseman – Julian Infante

After playing in just 26 games in 2016, Julian Infante saw a substantial increase in playing time last season, appearing in all 62 games. Infante proved he was up for the task, as his batting average increased to .315, including a team-high 66 RBIs. The statistics don’t end there, as he recorded 25 multi-hit games and at one point, held a streak of 22 straight games reaching base. Infante enters the season with extremely high expectations nationwide, as he was named to the preseason watchlist for the Golden Spikes Award, an award given to the top amateur baseball player in the country. –Simon Gibbs

Second Baseman – Ethan Paul

Paul saw a major dip in production last season, as his batting average dropped from his freshman year number of .305 to just .251.  That didn’t seem to discourage Tim Corbin at all.  The former freshman All-American was a mainstay toward the top of the order, playing his best ball toward the latter half of the season.  Paul was instrumental in helping Vanderbilt earn a victory over Clemson in the final game of the NCAA regional, stealing two bases.  This season, as a junior, Paul will be asked to be one of the team’s premier threats offensively, looking to bounce back and reclaim some of that pop.  He will also likely be used at multiple positions, showcasing his ability to be a swiss army knife in the infield. —Max Schneider, Assistant sports editor

Third Baseman – Jayson Gonzalez

Jayson Gonzalez comes into Vanderbilt as one of the top 50 prospects in the nation, so it’s only fitting that we place the freshman in our projected starting lineup. Given his achievements in high school, particularly his senior year, this should come as no surprise. He led his high school (Bishop Amat) to a National Classic Championship, was named All-American, All-State, 2017 National Classic MVP, Home Run Derby Champion, first team All-San Gabriel Valley, first team All-Del Rey League, Del Rey League MVP, and team captain. Gonzalez gave Commodore fans a glimpse of his capabilities in the fall, homering multiple times in the Black and Gold team scrimmage. —Simon Gibbs

Shortstop – Connor Kaiser

Connor Kaiser returns as the starting shortstop in his junior year, bringing his defensive-minded game to the Commodores. Kaiser struggled with his bat last season, consistently hitting at the bottom of the lineup with a .222 batting average and only nine extra-base hits. The Kansas native will look to build on his performance in the Cape Cod League where he hit .279. Improved contact with his swing and another offseason in the weight room will hopefully lead to better hitting results this year. —Will Wang, sports reporter

Left Fielder – Stephen Scott 

Even though he only started 32 games last season, Scott has shown that he has the ability to knock the ball around. Last season, he racked up 27 hits and two homers, tied for the most among players who started less than 50 games. In addition, this past summer, Scott won the Cape Cod League Home Run Derby while playing for the Orleans Firebirds. With the production of Kendall, Toffey and Reed Hayes gone, Scott will have to step into a bit of a slugger role, and should be able to. His versatility as a catcher as well will allow him even more opportunities to find the lineup should Duvall or Clarke falter or get hurt. —Cutler Klein, sports editor

Center Fielder – Alonzo Jones 

Don’t blink or you might miss this Commodore speedster. Jones is a blur on the basepaths and can be a dangerous runner if he gets the ball in play. Standing at 5’10’’, he won’t beat you with his size but he can still confidently punch the ball into the outfield and stretch singles into doubles. In the field, he’s a Brett Gardner-type outfielder that can make any ball catchable. His 2017 campaign didn’t live up to expectations, hitting .221 with 21 hits and 10 RBI. However, with some holes in the lineup this season, Jones should have the chance to put himself in the lineup conversation, but he’ll need to show his full range of capabilities early in order to fend off competition from ambitious freshmen. –Cutler Klein

Right Fielder – JJ Bleday

With teams usually filled with plenty of veteran talent, Corbin usually refrains from throwing his freshmen into the fire right away. Bleday was the exception to that in 2017, starting 48 games in his freshman campaign. He had some pretty good success at the plate, plating 22 RBIs and knocking 42 hits, good for sixth on the team. A perfect example of Corbin’s rare trust in the freshman was his postseason performance. He had a single and a run in a NCAA regional win over St. John’s as well as two runs and three singles in a win over Clemson in the regional. Now a relatively seasoned veteran, Bleday will have more opportunities to show his strength in an elevated role. Expect him to start most, if not all games this season. —Cutler Klein

Designated Hitter – Philip Clarke

Clarke will be joining the Commodores in his first year out of Christ Presbyterian Academy, roughly 30 minutes away from Vanderbilt. Clarke would benefit from the move to designated hitter in his freshman year despite his accolades. He was ranked the fourth-best catcher in the nation (#1 in the state of Tennessee) coming out of high school, but with a young Ty Duvall ahead in the depth chart, playing time may not come easy for Clarke. That being said, if he can prove himself or if Duvall struggles, Clarke could emerge as the starting catcher. —Simon Gibbs

The Pitching Rotation and Bullpen

#1 – Patrick Raby 

Alongside Julian Infante, Patrick Raby has made an appearance on the preseason watchlist for the Golden Spikes Award, making Vanderbilt one of nine programs in the country with multiple representatives. The sky-high expectations are nothing new for Raby, who was named an All-American three times in high school, a Perfect Game All-American in 2015, and named a freshman All-American in 2016, respectively. Last year, Raby had the most wins (10) and an impressive 2.73 ERA. Coach Corbin expects nothing less from him in the coming weeks, as Raby has already been named the starter for the VandyBoys’ season opener. On, Corbin said “Patrick is clearly very trustworthy on the mound. You know what you are going to get when the ball is in his hands”. —Simon Gibbs

#2 – Drake Fellows

A surprise starter in the Commodores’ rotation last season, Fellows impressed early.  At 6’5”, the sophomore right-hander is an imposing figure on the mound with a fastball that surges into the high 90s.  It’s no surprise that with such a frame and velocity that Fellows was able to post a 3.30 ERA and nearly 10 K/9.  Fellows assumed the Sunday role as a freshman, a role that will likely be bumped up to Saturdays, as he figures to assume the number two spot in the rotation.  He struggled a bit in SEC play, but chalk that up to being a young pitcher in the best conference in college baseball.  With a year under his belt, look for the Illinois native to be the premier power pitcher of this staff and post a strong 2018 campaign. —Max Schneider

#3 – Jackson Gillis

Finishing last year on an impressive run of top-notch relief pitching performances, Jackson Gillis will take over a spot in the rotation this year. The lefthander likes to establish his fastball early, but its his ability to deliver swings-and-misses with his curveball that makes him special. With a strong frame, Gillis will need to stay durable as he handles the workload of a starter. Pitching 15 innings last season with a 3.60 ERA, the number of innings will increase significantly and the Commodores hope the exciting sophomore will keep the ERA low. —Will Wang

Tuesday Starter – Chandler Day

If it weren’t for the emergence of Fellows or the stardom of Wright, Day might have made the case for story of the year for the Commodores in 2017. He nearly put himself in the Vanderbilt history books as he was one out away from a no-hitter at First Tennessee Park against Lipscomb on March 28. He racked up seven strikeouts in the one-hit shutout. As the season went on, Day secured the spot as the mid-week starter for the Commodores. Now a junior, Day will likely cede spots in the weekend rotation to studs Fellows and Gillis, but don’t be surprised if he gets the occasional weekend start early in the season. One area to look for improvement from Day is command, as he hit a team-high 15 batters last season and threw 21 walks, third-most on the team. If he can keep his pitches down and in the zone, Day could be a top asset in a starting role this season. —Cutler Klein

Top Reliever – Maddux Conger

With some key pitchers gone, Conger should have his chance to pitch a formidable workload of innings this season. While he may get the occasional mid-week start, Conger’s contributions will come in the bullpen much like last year. His 29 strikeouts last season ranked fifth among non-regular starters. His 4.96 ERA was not fantastic, but given the fact that he only pitched 32.2 innings, that sample size renders the ERA number misleading. On, Corbin said on Conger, “His ball has natural action and life that is very difficult for the hitter to pick up. When he is on the mound, he is a very aggressive young man.” Corbin will be looking for even more progress out of Conger as he takes on a more important role in the Commodore bullpen. —Cutler Klein

Closer – Zach King

Zach King is someone to keep an eye on during this upcoming season, and given his stellar freshman season, he should become the Commodores’ closer. He had a breakout year during his freshman campaign and will be looking to build on a promising start. He is one of the team’s best pitchers this year and has national attention. He was named to the initial watch list for the 14th annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, given to College Baseball’s best relief pitcher. His 2.56 ERA was fantastic for a freshman, limiting opposing batsmen to a .174 average in 38.2 innings. The 6’6” Southpaw, who recorded a team-high 25 appearances out of the bullpen last season, is one to get excited about as the season begins. —Milind Mishra, sports reporter