RJ Schreck tipping his helmet on March 7, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).
RJ Schreck tipping his helmet on March 7, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).
Nikita Rohila

Instant Impact: RJ Schreck is exactly who Vanderbilt needed

In just two months, graduate transfer RJ Schreck has become the lynchpin of Vanderbilt’s offense and their national championship hopes.

Think back to, if you will, June 2022. The VandyBoys’ postseason run has ended with a heartbreaking 7-6 loss in Game 7 of the Corvallis Regional to Oregon State. Truthfully, it’s not much of a surprise.

Within just the next week, a mass exodus ensued. Vanderbilt fans learned one after another how many big names would be departing. Spencer Jones, Dominic Keegan and Tate Kolwyck entered the MLB Draft. Christian Little, Carter Young and a slew of others hit the transfer portal. With so many fixtures of the 2021 team that came within one game of a national championship gone, Commodore fans were left to wonder whether an era had ended.

The pitching staff led by Carter Holton and Devin Futrell would be fine, but what about the lineup? How could Tim Corbin possibly replace two players ― Keegan and Jones ― who were far and away the best two hitters on the 2022 team?

In walks the 6’1, 210-pound Robert Jonathan Schreck. A rare four-year player at Duke (including 2020), Schreck started as a walk-on but quickly became an important part of the Blue Devils’ team. He ended up with 26 homers in his Duke career before transferring to Vanderbilt.

But the story starts long before then.

A Los Angeles native, RJ Schreck’s interest in sports and baseball started young ― really young.

“I had two older brothers in a pretty sports-centered family,” Schreck told The Hustler. “I think I started playing organized baseball when I was like three. There are tons of pictures of me before I was even able to walk with a catcher’s mask over my head.”

Schreck attended the famous Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. The preparatory school has churned out plenty of famous artists, athletes, businessmen and politicians. However, it is probably best known in the baseball world as the alma mater of MLB pitchers Lucas Giolito, Max Fried and Jack Flaherty, who attended together. Schreck spoke to the baseball culture at his high school and how it was a key part of his development.

“It’s extremely team-centered; it’s very similar to how Corbs describes his team,” Schreck said. “We were really lucky to have incredible facilities over there…They really cared about your success. After practice for one, two, three hours a day, I was in there with assistant coaches, working on my swing and trying to get better. I didn’t really play varsity until my junior year.”

RJ Schreck running in from the outfield on April 1, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).
RJ Schreck running in from the outfield on April 1, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

Originally a walk-on at Duke, Schreck wasn’t immediately the power hitter we think of him as today. After suffering an injury in his senior year of high school, Schreck was unable to lift weights or do much strength training for a significant period of time. He spent most of his freshman year working out and sizing up to build muscle mass. Through 170 plate appearances in his rookie campaign and the subsequent summer in the Valley Baseball League, Schreck had just two homers.

“I came into college undersized and pretty slow,” Schreck said. “Not where I needed to be weight-wise and not where I needed to be muscle-wise. So over time, putting on muscle, getting in the weight room, fine-tuning my swing, all of that together leads to success.”

His freshman year included appearances against Vanderbilt as the nine-hole hitter in all three games of the Vanderbilt-Duke Super Regional in 2019. Memorably, Schreck struck out in all three of his at-bats in Kumar Rocker’s game 2 no-hitter and is the only current Commodore who played in that game.

Schreck’s real outbreak came in 2021, when the then junior’s offensive production surged across the board. He slashed .337/.435/.635 that year, leading the team in both homers (18) and runs batted in (52). Following a slightly slower but still impressive senior season, Schreck went undrafted in the 2022 MLB Draft.

While he noted several aspects of Vanderbilt’s baseball culture that brought him to Nashville, Schreck named one factor in particular: his old friend and Vanderbilt pitcher Sam Hliboki. A fellow Harvard-Westlake graduate, Hliboki was key in convincing Schreck to join the VandyBoys. Much of Schreck’s decision was made when the two were training side-by-side over the summer back at Harvard-Westlake.

“A lot of schools were calling me,” Schreck said. “But when you have Sam, and when every day you see him and he says, ‘Are you coming to Vanderbilt? When are you going to commit to Vanderbilt?’ I thought it was the best place I could go to try to win a national championship.”

Schreck’s impact has been immediate. He was quickly placed in the three spot of the Vanderbilt batting order and expected to make up for much of the power that left the 2022 lineup. He recorded his first hit as a Commodore in Vanderbilt’s second game on Feb. 18 and hit a triple and drove in two runs the next day.

Since then, the Schreck moments have gotten even better. He hit a walk-off sacrifice fly on March 4 versus Maryland, and went 4-for-10 with two homers in that Cambria College Classic. He added another four hits and five runs batted in against Ole Miss in the SEC opening series. In the 26-3 win over Mississippi State on March 24, he drove in eight runs.

RJ Schreck waiting on deck on April 11, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).
RJ Schreck waiting on deck on April 11, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

Overall, Schreck is slashing an incredible .348/.440/.658 in his short time on West End with a team-leading eight homers and 38 runs driven in. On a team that struggled for offense out of the gate, Schreck has been the most consistent power bat in the order. 

Head coach Tim Corbin has certainly noticed. When asked after Vanderbilt’s April 11 win over North Alabama about Schreck’s impact, the head coach was full of praise.

“His maturity, his approach to baseball, his intelligence, his acumen for the game, his ability to come in and blend into a team not knowing many people with the exception of Sam,” Corbin said. “He’s a good baseball player. He plays the game well, and he plays the game right.”

As one of the leaders of the Vanderbilt offense, Schreck has been a big part of the Commodores’ 11-1 SEC start. However, he understands that Vanderbilt is a real national title contender this year, and the buzz of past performances comes with expectations for the future.

“From day one in the fall, our goal hasn’t really changed, and that’s to win a national championship,” Schreck said. “But we recognize that we can’t go out tomorrow and win a national championship. It’s laying the foundation, building it up brick by brick.”

Schreck is in his final year of college eligibility and will turn once again to the MLB Draft after this season. While five years is a much longer college career than most top MLB prospects have, the rate of Schreck’s development implies the best of his career is yet to come. 

“If I hear my name called, I would love to play professional baseball,” Schreck said. “That’s my absolute dream, and I really hope that takes place.”

In what fans and media alike worried would be a down year for the Commodores’ offense, the VandyBoys have become one of the best hitting teams in both the SEC and the country. But if Vanderbilt is to return to the promised land of Omaha, Nebraska, it’ll be RJ Schreck’s continued success to thank. In a program defined by consistency and continuity, it’s the new kid from Harvard-Westlake who has stolen the show in 2023.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Social Media Director
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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