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Baseball Preview: Vanderbilt

To open SEC play, the Tigers are getting started with a bang and heading to Nashville. So what can they expect from the bluest of college baseball’s blue bloods this weekend?

via Twitter: @VandyBoys

Vanderbilt is the hottest team in college baseball. Since dropping 2 of 3 in their opening series to Oklahoma State, the Commodores haven’t lost, and last night they extended their win streak to 13 with a come-from-behind victory over Michigan. The Tigers will have their hands full all weekend, and if they can leave Nashville with just 1 victory, you’d have to call that a successful trip. So what’re the Tigers going to be facing this weekend? Let’s jump into what you can expect from the Commodores.

Pitching

Vanderbilt had the best rotation in college baseball last year with Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Both were top 10 picks in the MLB Draft, but a program of Vanderbilt’s stature doesn’t rebuild they reload, and they’ve got some dudes in their rotation again. As a staff, the Commodores sport a 2.07 ERA, a .183 BAA, and 13 K/9 - all of those numbers are good for second or better amongst SEC teams.

Leading the way for the Vanderbilt rotation is Chris McElvain, who will get the ball on Friday night. The junior right-hander has a 2.33 ERA this year and 30 Ks in 19.1 innings, and is your typical big right-handed power arm. He controls his fastball very well and it sits about 91-93 with run, and he puts away hitters with his slider and changeup. For right-handers, he buries his slider away, and to get left-handed batters, he’ll run his changeup away from their bats.

Although his stuff is very good and his stats reflect that, McElvain has shown flaws. In his last start against Wagner, McElvain didn’t make it out of the 4th inning and gave up 6 runs (only 3 were earned). Nevertheless, Wagner’s 7 hits were a season-high for a McElavin opponent, and his struggles should give the Tigers hope that they can get the bats going all three days of the weekend.

Here’s a look at McElvain’s 7 inning, 13 K outing from March 4th:

When Saturday rolls around, the Tigers will get to square off against talented freshman Carter Holton. Hailing from Georgia, Holton was a top draft prospect, All-American, and top left-handed pitcher in his class, but decided to attend Vanderbilt instead. Since arriving in Nashville, Holton has done nothing except excel. In 23 innings this season, he has a 2.74 ERA and 35 Ks against just 5 walks, and he’s only getting better as the season progresses.

In his first start, Oklahoma State roughed up the young starter, but since then he has settled into his role as the Saturday starter for Tim Corbin. In his last three outings, he has gone 6 or more innings in each and has surrendered two runs or fewer in each. In his last start, Holton had his performance of the year so far with a 6 inning, 13 K shutout against Wagner, who had just roughed up McElvain just the night before.

To find success in college baseball as Holton has, you need some elite stuff, and the young gun certainly has it. He sits around 93 with his fastball from the left side with a 34 arm slot, not to mention his curveball, slider, and changeup. For such a young arm, he’s incredibly developed.

He’s got the big fastball, but check out this nasty hook from Holton:

Coming into the year, the guy EVERYONE was raving about on this staff was Nick Maldonado. He should start on Sunday, but may not start due to an oblique strain he’s been battling. According to Tim Corbin, it’s a “wait and see” situation, but for the sake of this we will operate under the assumption he’ll get the ball.

He went to the same high school as Jack Leiter, and was a dominant bullpen arm for the Dores last year with a 2.31 ERA, and instead of going to the draft he decided to return another year at Vandy to develop as a starter. In his only two starts of the year, he has delivered in his new role.

Against Army and Hawaii, Maldonado threw 8 innings and surrendered 2 ER with 6 Ks. Those numbers may not wow you, but they’re nothing to ignore, and with how much MLB scouts love this guy, he should challenge every Missouri hitter he faces.

His best pitch is his cutter, but also has a good fastball and breaking ball as well. Andif he’s not striking you out, he’s probably getting you to ground, out so hard hit balls will be few and far between for the Tigers.

Here’s a look at a wipeout breaking ball he threw last year when Vandy came to CoMo:

As far as the Vanderbilt bullpen goes, they have some DUDES in there, too. The first that probably comes to mind for Missouri fans is likely Christian Little, the STL native and graduate of CBC, who has a 3.68 ERA this year. However, Little may be more known in Missouri circles, but Thomas Schultz is the Commodores’ best reliever. He made a living in the pen last year, when the Commodores went to the CWS finals, and he’s picked up right where he left off with a 2.25 ERA. Another name to watch for is lefty Hunter Owen who has a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings of relief.

Here’s a clip of Schultz using his filthy stuff to K the side last season:

Hitting

If you think back to last year, there are many familiar faces leading the way for the Commodores at the plate. 1B/DH Dom Keegan still rakes, Tate Kolwyck is still mashing the ball, and Enrique Bradfield is still the catalyst for the offense in the leadoff spot. However, a couple of new faces have emerged as big contributors, too.

True freshman Davis Diaz has been one of those key newcomers. He doesn’t have a bunch of pop, but boy oh boy, can this kid find barrels. He’s slashing .415/.518/.512 this year, and his play has ensured that he’s one of the first name Corbin pencils into the lineup card every day.

Even with Diaz providing some new impact, this lineup will almost always go as Keegan, Kolwyck and Bradfield go. They’re the experience, and they’re the best bats. Keegan and Kolwyck are tied for the team lead with 4 HRs and are slashing .429/.522/.750 and .328/.365/.638, respectively. Keegan’s defense may be preventing him from being high on draft boards, but there’s a reason this kid has had an OPS over 1.000 each of the last two seasons.

Enrique Bradfield has had somewhat of “regression” this year with an AVG below .300, but for that to be disappointing tells you just how capable he is. Right now, he’s slashing .298/.400/.439, and he went yard against Michigan earlier this week so he’s proving to be more than just an on-base guy. He also picked up right where he left off last season in the stolen base department having swiped 12 bags on 13 attempts this year. Oh and did I memtion he’s probably the best defensive outfielder in college baseball? Yea this kid is pretty damn good ballplayer.

As a team, Vanderbilt slashes .327/.420/.529 all of which are near the top of the SEC team leaders so the Tigers can be sure that there won’t be any easy outs anywhere in this lineup. The key to winning for Mizzou won’t be stopping this Vandy lineup, but rather, how well they can limit it, and give their offense a chance to help them out.

Here’s a look at what these Vandy hitters can do:

Here’s wha the rest of the Vanderbilt hitters have done this year:

via vucommodores.com

Game Schedule

Friday | 6 pm | SEC Network +

Saturday | 2 pm | SEC Network +

Sunday | 1 pm | SEC Network +