Vanderbilt’s head coach Tim Corbin with former players David Price and Dansby Swanson. Photos courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White) (Alexa White)
Vanderbilt’s head coach Tim Corbin with former players David Price and Dansby Swanson. Photos courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

Alexa White

20 years of Tim Corbin: All-time team, Gold edition

In honor of Tim Corbin’s 20th season at Vanderbilt, The Hustler sports staff takes a look back at some of the best players of his tenure.

April 13, 2022

When the VandyBoys (23-9) began their 2021-22 campaign on Feb. 18, they officially kicked off head coach Tim Corbin’s 20th season on West End. 

Since 2003, he has built the VandyBoys into a powerhouse and by all accounts is the most accomplished coach in Vanderbilt baseball history. To date, he has won over 800 games with the Commodores, led them to two (2014, 2019) of Vanderbilt’s five NCAA national championships and groomed 26 MLB draft picks and 52 All-Americans along the way.

While many great players have donned the black and gold pinstripes under Corbin, The Hustler sports staff took a stab at selecting some of his best. But choosing just one player at every position was simply too hard. So we created a pair of rosters featuring some of the best players of his tenure based on their performance at Vanderbilt. The process began by choosing the two best players at every infield position, the six best outfielders and six best pitchers. Players were assigned a single position regardless of whether they played multiple positions during their Vanderbilt careers. Within each position group, a player was randomly assigned to either the Gold or the Black team, leaving us with two full squads behind three starting pitchers.

Below is the Gold Team—led by Dansby Swanson and David Price. Next week we will release the Black Team. Then, you can decide which squad would take a three-game series and who we are missing from these all-time teams.

Gold Team:

P: David Price (2005-2007)

P: Jack Leiter (2020-2021)

P: Sonny Gray (2009-2011)

 

C: CJ Rodriguez (2020-2021)

1B: Aaron Westlake (2008-2011)

2B: Warner Jones (2003-2005)

3B: Pedro Alvarez (2006-2008)

SS: Dansby Swanson (2013-2015)

OF: Stephen Scott (2016-2019)

OF: JJ Bleday (2017-2019)

OF: Jeren Kendall (2015-2017)

DH: Ethan Paul (2016-2019)

 

Pitching Staff: David Price (2005-2007), Jack Leiter (2020-2021), Sonny Gray (2009-2011)

Of all the terrific pitchers that have come through Vanderbilt in Tim Corbin’s 20 years, David Price, Jack Leiter and Sonny Gray could not be left of this list. Price, the Gold Team’s ace, can in large part be credited with putting Vanderbilt baseball on the map. The lefty burst onto the scene in 2005 and worked his way up to be a Golden Spikes award winner in 2007. His 441 collegiate strikeouts are still a Vanderbilt record, and his 313 total innings pitched rank third in Commodore history. He was later the No. 1 pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. Price is currently in his 14th MLB season, a career that has featured five All-Star appearances and a Cy Young award in 2012.

Up second on this staff is Jack Leiter. While Leiter’s abbreviated time on West End didn’t grant him the chance to set dozens of records like Price, he was simply too dominant to be left off this list. He left Vanderbilt for the MLB in 2021 third all-time in career ERA at 2.08 and highlighted his time in the Black and Gold with a no-hitter against South Carolina last spring and a legendary performance against Mississippi State in the College World Series. He was later drafted second overall to the Texas Rangers and is currently in their minor league system.

The third spot in this rotation was truly a toss-up, but Sonny Gray’s 27 career wins and 317 strikeouts were too much to ignore. The eventual first-round pick in 2011 was instrumental in building on the pitching tradition that Price pioneered and has made All-Star teams with the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds throughout his 10 professional seasons. 

 

Catcher: CJ Rodriguez (2020-2021)

In his two seasons at Vanderbilt, CJ Rodriguez proved to be a key part of the VandyBoys’ success, especially on the 2021 team that made a run to the College World Series championship. Rodriguez’s arm may be the most impressive of his abilities behind the plate, as he caught 15 runners on 31 stolen base attempts in his career. In addition to being an outstanding defensive player, Rodriguez’s offensive performance certainly deserves recognition as well. In the 185 plate appearances he saw as a sophomore, Rodriguez struck out only 19 times—a team low that season—and recorded 46 hits and 36 RBIs. 

Rodriguez was drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB draft and is currently playing for the Stockton Ports, the low-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. As one of the most consistent players both at and behind the plate, Rodriguez can certainly be considered as one of the best catchers of the Corbin era. 

  • Emily Shiroff

 

First Base: Aaron Westlake (2008-2011)

Corbin has coached many skilled student-athletes during his tenure on West End, but Aaron Westlake should definitely not be overlooked. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Westlake suited up for 15 games before a blood clot forced him to sit out for the last two months. In Westlake’s 920 games played for Vanderbilt, he notched a .338 batting average,a .569 slugging percentage and 42 home runs. 

Commodore fans remember Westlake for his remarkable game against Oregon State in 2011, where he hit a Vanderbilt single-game record three home runs and helped the team to its first ever College World Series appearance. 

The California native was later selected by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the 2011 MLB draft before retiring in 2015.

 

Second Base: Warner Jones (2003-2005)

The Commodores hadn’t made an NCAA Tournament in 24 years. They hadn’t even made an SEC Tournament in seven seasons. But Warner Jones would help Corbin change all that. 

Corbin had been an assistant coach at Clemson during Jones’s recruitment period and even tried to coax him to join the Tigers. However, Jones bled Black and Gold. His grandfather both attended and taught at Vanderbilt. His father played baseball on West End and was the first Commodore to be selected in an MLB draft. In fact, as a unit, the Jones’ sent a staggering 10 family members through the school. Truly, he was always destined to be in Nashville.

He led his squad in hits with 70 his freshman season and raised his play from there, having one of the greatest offensive years in Commodore history as a sophomore. In 2004, he set the record for single-season hits (111), led the SEC in batting average (.414), and helped the VandyBoys make their first-ever super regional. At the time, the team’s 45 wins was a school record, and Jones earned First-Team All-SEC and All-American honors for his part. 

Though an injury would ultimately stop him from pursuing a MLB career, he’s one of the most important cornerstones to the Corbin era and shouldn’t be forgotten in any discussion of Vanderbilt greats.

 

Third Base: Pedro Alvarez (2006-2008)

Pedro Alvarez, a 2006 First-Team All-American, is certainly in the conversation for the best hitter in Vanderbilt history. Alvarez was elite from the moment he stepped on West End, winning National Freshman of the Year honors and setting Vanderbilt’s single-season home run record with 22 long balls. He continued his success into his sophomore and junior seasons, leading the Commodores to an SEC regular season and tournament championship over that time. By the time he left Nashville, Alvarez owned the program’s home run record with 49. With a career slash line of .349/.451/.658, Alvarez was a versatile and truly elite hitter who contributed to some of Vanderbilt’s most successful years in the early Corbin years. He retired from the MLB in 2018 after eight professional seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles.

 

Shortstop: Dansby Swanson (2013-2015)

Dansby Swanson played three seasons at Vanderbilt before being drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB Draft. During that time, he batted .330 with 18 home runs and 99 RBIs. A true five-tool player, Swanson could get it done on the bases and in the field as well. Over his three seasons, he stole 39 bases and was caught just seven times. He owned a .970 field percentage, an impressive mark given that he played what is often considered one of the most difficult positions in the sport. His 2015 campaign earned him First-Team All-American honors and recognition as a Golden Spikes Award finalist. 

Swanson became one of a select group of Corbin-era players to win a World Series, earning a ring in 2021 with the Atlanta Braves. Despite that it took him some time to make his mark at Vanderbilt—he missed most of his first season due to a shoulder injury—there was never much doubt as to the type of player Swanson could become. Corbin put it best when he said, “Plain and simple, he’s a winning baseball player.”

 

Outfield: Stephen Scott (2016-2019)

Stephen Scott played most of his junior year at Vanderbilt as a catcher and made occasional appearances at first base, but spent the majority of his time at Vanderbilt in the outfield. Scott gets bonus points for playing four seasons with the VandyBoys—a rarity in elite college baseball—returning to West End for his senior season in 2019 despite being drafted in 2018 by the Marlins. He emerged as the primary left fielder for the College World Series champion team that year. 

Scott wasn’t an immediate starter at Vanderbilt, but by his last two years, he was one of the more reliable power hitters in all of college baseball. Scott hit a total of 31 home runs in his Vanderbilt career and had the second-most homers on the 2019 team behind JJ Bleday. Since he was drafted in 2019 by the Boston Red Sox, Scott has played two seasons in the minor leagues.

 

Outfield: JJ Bleday (2017-2019)

With a swing that probably still keeps SEC pitchers up at night, JJ Bleday was nothing short of sensational in his three years at Vanderbilt. After flashing tantalizing potential in 48 starts as a true freshman, Bleday broke out for the Commodores with an incendiary offensive performance after returning from injury in his sophomore campaign, leading the team in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. 

With the hype brewing as he entered his junior season, Bleday rose to the occasion and shattered expectations with arguably the greatest individual season in Vanderbilt baseball history. He set the Vanderbilt single-season record and led the nation with 27 home runs in addition to maintaining a stellar batting average (.347), earning him a unanimous First-Team All-American bid, the 2019 SEC Player of the Year award and the 2019 SEC Tournament MVP award. 

Bleday later led the Commodores to their second College World Series championship before being selected fourth overall in the 2019 MLB draft by the Miami Marlins. Although no metric can fully capture Bleday’s sheer offensive dominance, two particular stats illuminate his impact. First, he is credited with creating 10.49 runs per 27 outs, the highest figure of any player during the Tim Corbin era. Second, he reached base in 97 of his last 98 games, an incomprehensible feat that may never be replicated by another Commodore.

 

Outfield: Jeren Kendall (2015-2017)

Jeren Kendall only played two seasons at Vanderbilt before being drafted No. 23 overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Although his time on West End was short, his name should still be mentioned when considering Vanderbilt’s all-time greats. 

Through 124 games in the Black and Gold, Kendall notched 63 extra base hits, 112 RBIs and 48 stolen bases, while maintaining a career batting average of .319 and an OPS of .945. In 2015, he was elected to the SEC All-Freshman Team and was a First-Team Freshman All-American. 

During the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, he played for Team USA and led the team with 14 RBIs. He carried that strong play into his sophomore season and was a standout on defense. Following the 2016-17 season, Kendall was tabbed a Third-Team All-American and made the All-SEC Defensive Team. He was also awarded the 2017 Rawlings Gold Glove Award. 

Currently, he plays for the Tulsa Drillers, a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

Designated Hitter: Ethan Paul (2016-2019)

We know—Ethan Paul was not a designated hitter over his four impressive seasons at Vanderbilt. But on this roster, he will slide in perfectly as perhaps one of the Gold Team’s most reliable middle-of-the-order bats. Although not flashy, Paul was instrumental in Vanderbilt’s 2019 College World Series championship, leading the SEC with 73 RBIs largely thanks to his plethora of doubles. He left Vanderbilt as the program’s all-time leader with 64 doubles and ranks second in Commodore history in at-bats, with 880 over his four years. 

He will long be remembered for his game-tying RBI-double in the ninth inning against Louisville’s Luke Smith in a game that would eventually send Vanderbilt to the College World Series final. Paul was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in Round 9 of the 2019 MLB Draft and is currently a free agent.

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Carrie
5 months ago

Mike Yastrzemski? Tony Kemp? Walker Buehler? Your list isn’t bad, but some luminaries seem to be missing. Could you add honorable mentions next time?

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