In the wise words of Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck, “There are only two seasons – winter and baseball.”
Folks, don’t let the 40-degree weather deceive you. The first pitch is just days away; it is, in fact, baseball season.
Expectations are sky-high for Vanderbilt, a highly-touted program in recent years that is only set to improve. According to Baseball America, the Commodores boast the best recruiting class in the country, thus leaving fans to ponder: what exactly can we expect from these talented freshmen?
Head coach Tim Corbin will have plenty of freshmen available in his repertoire, as this class includes ten pitchers (David Bates, Corbin Brooksbank, Aaron Brown, Tyler Brown, Jake Elder, Hugh Fisher, Joe Gobillot, Mason Hickman, Erik Kaiser and Justin Willis) and seven position players (Garrett Blaylock, Philip Clarke, Cooper Davis, Pat DeMarco, Jayson Gonzalez, Austin Martin and Tyler Solomon).
Come opening day, most of these freshman are unlikely to start. However, Corbin has yet to comment on which, if any, will see the field in any capacity during their opening three-game homestand against the Duke Blue Devils.
Corbin did give credit where credit is due when it comes to his youngsters.
“We have a special freshman class,” he told The Vanderbilt Hustler. “More than ten of these rookies had the pleasure of playing summer ball, which is rather uncommon for first-year players. When you have guys representing Team USA at the collegiate level or facing other college-style play before they even step onto a real college field, they can absolutely gain an edge.”
While a few of the players played for the travel teams they’ve represented over the years, most of them played against seasoned college veterans in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Corbin thinks that this experience, coupled with fall ball experience is crucial to their development.
“Fall ball is another great tool to help the freshman develop because it gives them the change to pitch to or hit off of those same players mentoring you,” Corbin said. “The game is faster than what they’re used to in high school, but they get to see advice given to them play out right before them.”
Corbin cited a number of players that have been vital in the mentoring process, but he ultimately deemed it to be a collective effort. He believes that any veteran of the team, especially the upperclassmen, should play a huge role in mentoring the younger guys and helping them acclimate.
That being said, he also mentioned that the juniors have been very good at this because of the adversity they’ve overcome.
“Any veteran on this team plays a big role in mentoring the freshman guys,” he said. “The juniors in particular are so integral in the mentoring process. They have gone through so much as a class, as teammates, and as friends. The adversity has brought them together and has taught them lifelong lessons that they have continued to teach to younger guys.”
That adversity centered around the tragic loss of Commodore pitcher Donny Everett in a drowning accident in 2016 just before the team was set to host an NCAA regional. Corbin believes his enthusiasm, love, and commitment to the team is outlived by the current juniors, his former classmates.
In conclusion, the best freshman class in the nation had the opportunity to face live, college-speed baseball and they’ve received crucial advice from older teammates.
Surely, they’re ready to go, right?
Well, not quite. While Corbin did commend the freshman class on their performance and preparation thus far, his expectations for playing time seems about as hazy as ours.
“Ultimately, they have yet to prove themselves of anything,” he said. “They need to prove themselves in the regular season. Sure, they may compete for playing time in practice, but I won’t know who is best fit to play early-on until we take the field for opening day.”
“I’m not even at liberty to say who would make the most immediate impact. They have all been working hard to make that impact, but it comes down to whether they master the task or they get that nervous, gut-wrenching feeling in their stomach when they take the plate for the first time.”
There’s only one way for fans (and Corbin himself) to see which rookies will be ready to go: watch the Vandy Boys in their season debuts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday against Duke.