The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Baseball roster preview

The Vanderbilt Hustler Sports Staff provides an in-depth look into this year’s roster before the Commodores kick off their 2021 season on Friday, Feb. 19 .
Vanderbilt Baseball plays in the 2020 Black and Gold Series. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long).

The Vanderbilt Commodores enter the 2021 season with high expectations as the defending National Champions. And after last season suddenly came to a close due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Commodores finally return to action on Feb. 19 when they host Wright State for a three-game series.

Even though big names like Austin Martin and Mason Hickman have moved on to the MLB, the Commodores have tons of experienced talent returning on both sides of the plate. Before the season gets underway, The Hustler Sports Staff provides a detailed breakdown of Vanderbilt’s projected lineup and key reserves:

First Base: 

Projected Starter: Dominic Keegan

Keegan missed the first nine games in the 2020 season due to a blood clot, but quickly made an impact upon his return. He spent time at both first base and designated hitter and recorded eight hits and four RBIs in just nine games. Keegan also had three three-hit outings during the short season. Although Keegan hit just .242 in his nine appearances, the Commodores will be looking for him to provide an offensive spark to the lineup. He could also be used as a catcher and designated hitter at some times, but expect to see a lot of Keegan this season.

Reserve: Gavin Casas

Casas comes into Vanderbilt as the nation’s fifth-ranked first baseman according to Perfect Game. Before his high school senior season was cut short due to the pandemic, Casas was hitting .500 to go along with three homers. Because Keegan will likely see some action at different positions, Casas has a good shot at getting some early playing time as a freshman. Will Duff is another option for Corbin to go to at first base, especially because Spencer Jones won’t be available to play the field due to his summer Tommy John surgery.

Probability: 10/10
– Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

Second Base:

Projected Starter: Tate Kolwyck

Despite being Tennessee’s second-rated shortstop in high school, Kolwyck debuted at second base his freshman year for Corbin. He then made the transition to center field last season, but projects as an infielder this year following the departure of Harrison Ray. As a sophomore, Kolwyck struggled in limited action at the plate, hitting just .174 in 11 games. He batted leadoff in Vanderbilt’s loss to USC and hit his first career home run, but also spent time in the middle of the order throughout his six starts.

Reserve: Javier Vaz

Vaz comes to Vanderbilt as a transfer, formerly playing two seasons at LSU-Eunice Junior College. He played both second base and centerfield for LSUE and helped the Tigers go 21-0 last season as the team’s leadoff hitter. He hit .365 and racked up 13 RBIs and 23 hits during his sophomore season. Vaz, Kolwyck and Parker Noland could potentially all see time at second base for Corbin early in the year.

Probability: 5/10
– Justin Hershey, Lead Sports Analyst


Projected Starter: Carter Young

Young entered the program known for his impressive defensive abilities, and he made an immediate impression on Corbin. He started all 18 games as a freshman, and his glove definitely lived up to the hype. Young’s offensive production was a little bit of a question mark heading into his first season, but he quickly silenced those doubts, recording a .328 batting average, third best on the team. He also added 20 hits and 12 RBIs. If Young can keep up this level of offensive production to go along with his superb defense up the middle, he will make some serious headlines around the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Reserve: Jack O’Dowd

Freshman Jack O’Dowd, a local product from Lipscomb Academy, comes into his first season at Vanderbilt with some impressive rankings by his name. O’Dowd was Tennessee’s top-ranked shortstop last year and was the 21st-ranked shortstop in the nation, according to Perfect Game. Corbin may want to get an early look at the freshman, especially in some of the midweek games, but it’s hard to see him keeping Young off the field, so O’Dowd’s time will be limited.

Probability: 10/10
– Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

Third Base:

Projected Starter: Jayson Gonzalez

It’s going to be hard for Corbin to keep his senior leader on the bench after Gonzalez was not with the program last season. Gonzalez made 13 starts at third base as a sophomore, and he started 38 games at the position as a freshman. The young infield needs an experienced anchor, and Gonzalez fits that role perfectly. He hit .429 in the fall series facing some of the country’s top pitchers on his own team, so he appears to be back up to speed on offense as well.

Reserve: Parker Noland

Noland took over at third base when Austin Martin moved to center field after the third game last season. He then proceeded to start the last 14 games before the season was cancelled. He only committed one error over 17 games. Noland can also play second base or serve as the designated hitter, so he’ll see playing time even with Gonzalez ahead of him at third base. Corbin could give Noland a weekend start at third and move Gonzalez to DH to get both of them playing time.

Probability: 10/10
– Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor


Projected Starter: CJ Rodriguez

Rodriguez started 12 games last season, and with Ty Duvall’s graduation, he figures to move into the starting catcher spot this year. He hit .289 with eight RBIs, so he can be a solid bat in the middle of the lineup. If there’s one knock on his offense, it’s that he doesn’t have the home run power to slot in at DH when he’s not behind the plate. Rodriguez only had one home run in each of his last two seasons of high school baseball. On defense, he’s solid behind the plate and didn’t commit an error last season.

Reserve: Maxwell Romero Jr.

The sophomore did not make an appearance in 2020, but he was impressive in October’s fall series. In the first game of the series, Romero Jr. went 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs for the Black team. He brings some power to the plate, and he’s two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Rodriguez. I think Romero Jr. takes one of the weekend starts and possibly a weeknight start every so often because of his home run potential.

Probability: 9/10
– Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

Left Field:

Projected Starter: Cooper Davis

Now a senior, Davis is the leader of the Commodores, and he was the starting left fielder last season when he led the team with 24 hits and eight multi-hit games. He batted .331 in his injury-shortened sophomore season. In what will hopefully be his first full season in the black and gold, Davis projects as the lead off hitter.

Reserve: T.J. McKenzie

McKenzie played in eight games in 2020 as a defensive replacement and pinch runner off the bench. He can play all over the infield and outfield, and he was one of the top high school shortstops in Florida. He could see time anywhere on the field, but he replaced Davis at left field twice last season, and his speed could slot him in for Davis as a pinch runner as well.

Probability: 10/10
– Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

Center Field:

Projected Starter: Enrique Bradfield Jr.

His speed will make it hard to keep Bradfield Jr. out of center field. The position is a wide-open race this year with Tate Kolwyck’s likely move to second base. Corbin may rotate a few guys such as sophomores T.J. McKenzie and Will Duff in and out of center field, but Bradfield Jr. could win the job before conference play.

Reserve: Matt Hogan

The junior only has six career at-bats in ten appearances, often coming off the bench as a defensive replacement at center field. Bradfield Jr.’s speed is an advantage over Hogan, but if Corbin wasn’t afraid to pull Austin Martin or Kolwyck out of center field for Hogan and lose a major-league bat, he surely won’t be afraid to lose a little bit of speed with Hogan in certain situations.

Probability: 7/10
– Betsy Goodfriend, Deputy Sports Editor

Right Field:

Projected Starter: Isaiah Thomas

Thomas will certainly be a fixture in Vanderbilt’s lineup throughout the season, as he will be relied on heavily to provide some power. In his shortened sophomore season, in which he made 16 starts in right field, Thomas led the team with four home runs and also added 13 RBIs. He started that 2020 season on fire, recording at least one hit in each of his first nine games. Thomas shined in the Black and Gold series this fall, especially in the series finale where he blasted two homers and knocked in 8 RBIs. If Thomas has the big season at the plate that many are expecting, look for him to become Vanderbilt’s best all-around hitter and to find his name rising quickly in MLB mock drafts.

Reserve: Troy LaNeve

LaNeve didn’t see much action as a freshman last season, appearing in just two games, but he started in right in all three matchups during the Black and Gold series. Thomas is going to get the majority of the reps in right field because of his bat, but in cases where Thomas moves to center or gets a day off, LaNeve will likely slide into that spot.

Probability: 10/10
– Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

Starting Pitcher:

Projected Rotation: Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter, Thomas Schultz

Unsurprisingly, phenoms Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter will be the pillars in Vanderbilt’s rotation this season. Rocker’s historic freshman season saw him throw a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the Super Regionals against Duke, en route to being named Freshman of the Year by numerous outlets and helping Vanderbilt claim its second National Championship in 2019.

While Leiter is a sophomore, he will be 21 at the time of the draft, thus rendering him draft-eligible, too. In a freshman campaign that was cut short due to COVID-19, Leiter still impressed and even threw a 12-strikeout, five-inning no-hitter in his Vanderbilt debut before being pulled.

The third starter is where it gets interesting, as Vanderbilt has many options. Thomas Schultz, another sophomore who, like Leiter, will be draft eligible come June, had an excellent campaign last season as he threw just over 13 innings and held a 0.66 ERA.

Reserve: Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith was mostly used as a starter last season, appearing in five contests and starting four. He pitched well in that role, and he could very well be the third starter this season, thus the relatively low probability rating. That last starter is just about the only uncertainty in the pitching rotation right now, and Smith could certainly be used in the bullpen after performing well in relief during the fall Black and Gold Series.

Probability: 7/10
– Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor


Projected Closer: Hugh Fisher

Fisher spent last season rehabbing after he underwent Tommy John surgery, but as a sophomore he was given plenty of opportunities to contribute to Vanderbilt’s National Championship-winning season. His 22 appearances in 2019 trailed only Zach King, and while his ERA was high (4.41), this can largely be attributed to letting up seven runs over his final three outings. Fisher allowed just ten runs in the 30.2 innings before his tough stretch, and since he’s been used out of the bullpen before, it seems pretty reasonable to assume he’ll end up there again.

Reserve: Luke Murphy

In this past fall’s Black and Gold Series, Luke Murphy stole the show—on a day that Jack Leiter started. Leiter may not have had his best outing, sure, but that’s not to take away from Murphy’s performance out of the bullpen: in two innings, he struck out four, allowed no hits, walks or earned runs and threw a fastball that clocked in as high as 97 miles per hour.

Probability: 7/10
– Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor

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About the Contributors
Simon Gibbs
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on and When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
Betsy Goodfriend
Betsy Goodfriend, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Betsy Goodfriend ('21) was the Deputy Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in Human and Organizational Development with a minor in Business. In her free time, she enjoys online shopping, creating to-do lists and watching football even if she has no interest in either team playing. She can be reached at [email protected].    
Alyssa Muir
Alyssa Muir, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Alyssa Muir ('21) was Deputy Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in economics with minors in business and sociology. When she has free time, she can usually be found binge-watching Grey's Anatomy or rooting on her hometown teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning. For tips and comments, feel free to reach out to: [email protected].    
Justin Hershey
Justin Hershey, Former Sports Editor
Justin Hershey ('22) was Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Deputy Sports Editor and Lead Sports Analyst. He majored in human and organizational development with minors in business and economics. In addition to writing, he hosts The Hustler Sports 30 Podcast, enjoys playing golf and is waiting for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers to complete The Process. For tips and comments, feel free to reach out to: [email protected]    
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