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

VandyBoys series preview: A clash with the Big 12 in Arlington

The Commodores will get their season underway this weekend with games against three of the top programs in the Big 12.
Josh Rehders
The VandyBoys before the David Williams Fall Classic on Nov. 13, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders).

After eight long months, the wait is finally over. This weekend, the VandyBoys will head to the College Baseball Showdown and retake the field for the first time since their heartbreaking 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Oregon State Beavers in the finals of the Corvallis regional last June. Their opponents will be three highly-touted teams from the Big 12: TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas. 

The Commodores are coming into this year with high expectations, ranked as the preseason No. 10 team by and the No. 6 team by Baseball America. Vanderbilt is returning almost the entire pitching staff that finished 12th in the nation in earned-run average (ERA) last year and the majority of a lineup that ended the season with the fourth-best team batting average in the SEC. In addition, it brought in a top-ranked recruiting class headlined by right-handed pitcher Andrew Dutkanych IV and infielder RJ Austin. 

That being said, the Commodores will be without some of the stars they have relied on in past seasons. Pitchers Nelson Berkwich (UNC) and Christian Little (LSU) found new homes outside of Nashville, while starter Chris McElvain and the slugging trio of Dominic Keegan, Carter Young and Spencer Jones each heard their names called in the MLB Draft. Finding a way to replace these players, will be a season-long process for head coach Tim Corbin.   

With three tough opponents on the menu, this weekend should be a great chance for the VandyBoys to begin that process of trial and error. As the team prepares for a long journey that will hopefully end in a trip back to Omaha, let’s take a look at who it will be coming up against in Arlington, Texas. 

Game 1: TCU on Friday, Feb. 17

Coming off of a solid season in which they finished 38-22 before falling to Texas A&M in the College Station Regional, the Horned Frogs (No. 15 by and No. 14 by Baseball America) look poised to come out of the gate strong in 2023. 

TCU’s roster, much like that of Vanderbilt, is built around a dependable pitching staff that had the second lowest ERA in the Big 12 last year. That group is led by juniors Cam Brown, whose fastball tops out at 99 MPH, and Luke Savage, who led the team with a 2.72 ERA last season. Transfer Ryan Vanderhei, who was among the top pitchers on Kansas’s staff a year ago, will also join the staff and will be getting the nod on opening day against Vanderbilt. The 21-year-old right hander stands tall at 6 ‘6 and wields a dominant fastball that helped him strike out 83 batters in 78 innings as a redshirt sophomore. 

As for the offense, TCU’s run-scoring ability is heavily reliant on the bat skills of a few stars. Brayden Taylor was one of 55 players named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List after posting a .314/.454/.576 line (batting average/on base/slugging percentage) as a sophomore last spring. He will likely be followed in the order by the only two other returners who batted above .280 in 2022: catcher Kurtis Byrne and outfielder Elijah Nunez. 

How former West Virginia outfielder Austin Davis and freshman shortstop Anthony Silva fit into the lineup will be something else to look out for when TCU matches up with Vanderbilt on Friday night. Both players have received high praise for their offseason performances. 

As for the Commodores, Tim Corbin will likely hand the ball to sophomore Carter Holton for the season opener, who finished last season on an incredible run during which he allowed zero earned runs in his last 19 innings against SEC opponents. Look for him to keep the Horned Frogs off the board early while Vanderbilt’s offense turns to small ball, bunting and stealing to try to manufacture runs against Kirk Saarloos’s dynamic pitching staff. 

Game 2: Oklahoma State on Saturday, Feb. 18

This will be the second straight year the Commodores face the Cowboys on opening weekend, and, after dropping two out of three in Nashville last February, Corbin and Co. will be hoping for a better result this time around. 

Despite the departures of sluggers Jake Thompson and Griffin Doersching and aces Justin Campbell and Victor Mederos, Oklahoma State enters the season ranked No. 9 by and No. 15 by Baseball America. The reason? A mix of polished returners and intriguing newcomers. 

Among those returners are middle infield combination Marcus Brown and Roc Riggio, who hit .316 and .295, respectively, last season, as well as outfielder Zach Earhard, who was a unanimous selection to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team in 2022. While they may not possess the most power, these three find ways to get on base as well as anyone in college baseball and could cause problems for likely Commodore starter Devin Futrell. 

Juaron Watts-Brown — a prolific freshman transfer from Long Beach State — headlines the list of newcomers, though Vanderbilt may or may not face him this weekend.  Junior Ryan Bogusz seems like the most likely option given that he served as a spot starter last year. His ability to slow down good offenses was on display at the 2022 Big 12 Championship, when he tossed eight innings of one-run ball in an elimination game against Texas. 

Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List member Nolan McLean is another name that could nab the starting role for Oklahoma State against Vanderbilt. A two-way player, McLean was drafted in the third round of last year’s MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles after slashing .285 with 19 home runs while striking out 39 batters in just over 25 innings on the mound. However, he was unable to reach an agreement with the club and elected to return to Stillwater for one more season before going pro. 

Look for this game to be the highest scoring of the three Vanderbilt plays this weekend. If Futrell can keep the Cowboys off the board early, Enrique Bradfield Jr. and the rest of the Commodore lineup should have no trouble putting up runs against the second-best starter in Josh Holliday’s rotation. 

Game 3: Texas on Sunday, Feb. 19

To close out the weekend, the Commodores will face off against one of the eight teams to have appeared in Omaha last season, the Texas Longhorns. 

Despite the eventual Omaha bid, the Longhorns were somewhat underwhelming for much of last season. After entering the year as most pundits’ No. 1 team, they struggled throughout the course of the Big 12 play, finishing fifth in the conference with a 14-10 record. When the postseason rolled around, they turned over a new leaf, dominating in both the Austin Regional and Greenville Super Regional, but their trip to Omaha was short-lived thanks to back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M. 

Due to last year’s shortcomings, as well as the departures of its top three sluggers (Ivan Melendez, Murphy Stehley and Skyler Messinger), Texas finds itself outside the preseason top 25 according to both and Baseball America. That being said, head coach David Pierce and his crew still possess a very strong roster that is sure to make a run at the Big 12 crown this year. 

Leading the offensive charge are veteran outfielders Dylan Campbell and Eric Kennedy, as well as infielder Mitchell Daly. These three are the only position players on Texas’s roster who saw significant action in 2022. They will likely be backed by Catcher Kimble Schuessler and outfielder Ace Whitehead, both of whom figure to see increased playing time after flashing potential last year. 

Texas’s pitching rotation is also facing turnover. It’s anyone’s guess as to who the VandyBoys will face, with rotation locks Lucas Gordon and Zane Morehouse set to start on Friday and Saturday respectively. Redshirt sophomore Travis Sthele has been named as the most likely option after posting a 6.03 ERA with 32 strikeouts in just over 34 innings as a reliever last season. Andre Duplantier, Lebarron Johnson Jr., and Luke Harrison are also possibilities. 

This offseason, the Longhorns added a top-ranked recruiting class and a couple of big name transfers in outfielder Porter Brown and RHP Charlie Hurley. Atop that group of freshmen is Jalin Flores, a power-hitting third baseman out of Brandeis High School in San Antonio who was named as’s preseason freshman of the year. 

Who Vanderbilt will put on the mound in this game is largely up in the air, with senior Sam Hliboki, juniors Hunter Owen and Patrick Reilly, sophomore Bryce Cunningham and Dutkanych IV all likely receiving consideration. The VandyBoys have to win this game if they want to get their season off on the right foot. Dropping a game to a reloading Texas team would leave a sour taste in the mouth of Commodore fans heading into the first home series of the year. 

It’s finally time to see what the 2023 VandyBoys are made of and whether or not they will be able to meet the lofty expectations that have been set for them.

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About the Contributors
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
Josh Rehders, Deputy Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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