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Baseball Preview: No. 4 Vanderbilt visits Mizzou

The Commodores are the lone undefeated team remaining in SEC play

Georgia v Vanderbilt

The no. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores were up and down throughout non-conference play, trouncing Texas and beating Oklahoma State while also taking a series from UCLA. But they also dropped games against Central Arkansas, Nebraska and Loyola Marymount. However, as SEC play began, Vandy figured something out. The Commodores have swept each of their first three SEC series and are riding a 12-game win streak into Columbia this weekend.

The nation is firmly watching Vanderbilt as it remains the only team unscathed in SEC play with a 9-0 record, but if there is a silver lining for Missouri, the combined SEC record of Vandy’s opponents is 3-24.

So what can the Tigers expect from the Commodores this weekend? Let’s break it down.

At the plate

The Vanderbilt lineup isn’t quite as dominant as it has been in past years, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on the 2023 Vandy sticks. The Commodores' biggest strength is that as a team they refuse to strike out. Vandy is second-best in the SEC in not striking out with just 197 on the season. They also play exceptional defense and are second in the SEC with a .984 fielding percentage.

The Dores’ bat Missouri will have circled atop the scouting report is OF RJ Schreck. A grad transfer from Duke, Schreck has inserted himself into the Commodore lineup seamlessly. He’s slashing .346/.482/.673 this season, each career-highs. He’s also mashed 7 HR and 31 RBI and leads the Commodores in each of those categories. Schreck’s 160 wRC+ is also exceptional.

Joining Schreck as one of the bigger bats in this lineup is Chris Maldonado. Typically a DH, Maldonado is the younger brother of Vandy reliever Nick Maldonado and only a freshman this season. While many freshmen struggle to adjust to SEC baseball, Maldonado has walked onto campus in Nashville and instantly raked. With a .382/.456/.721 slash line and 6 HR this season, there’s a real argument that Maldonado could already be the most feared bat in this Vanderbilt lineup.

Maldonado has a 168 wRC+ this year which leads all members of the Vandy team which see regular playing time. Last week, he was recognized for his spectacular play with SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors.

When talking about the Vanderbilt lineup, there’s one name you can't go without mentioning, Enrique Bradfield. A staple of Tim Corbin’s teams for the past three seasons, Bradfield has wowed opposing SEC teams with his elite defense and game-breaking speed for years. He got off to a somewhat slow start, but Bradfield has picked things up as of late.

He’s slashing .280/.444/.439 this year. This is the first time his average has dropped below .300, but don’t let that fool you. Bradfield’s OBP is 30 points higher than last season as his approach has looked much more advanced than in years past. He has 30 walks already in 2023 compared to just 41 and 45 in 2022 and 2021, respectively. His K:BB ratio was already good in 2022 at 0.98, but he’s almost cut that in half to a ridiculous 0.53. His wRC+ is also right on par with his freshman and sophomore years at 120.

Perhaps the strangest thing that’s happened to Bradfield this year is he’s been thrown out 4 times. Last year he was 46/47 on stolen base attempts, and this year he is 20/24.

Also watch out for a couple of other names— 3B Davis Diaz and 1B Parker Noland are both having solid seasons and the Vandy lineup is very solid from top to bottom with no real weaknesses.

On the Mound

The pitching staff is the strength of this Vandy team. The Commodores are fourth in the SEC in staff ERA at 3.21 and first in opposing batting average at .195.

On Thursday night Carter Holton will toe the rubber for the Commodores. Only a sophomore, Holton burst onto the scene last year as a freshman with a 3.14 ERA in 80.1 innings for the Commodores. This year, he has assumed the role of being the ace of this staff and has done so almost flawlessly. In 38.1 innings so far, Holton has a 2.58 ERA and 45 strikeouts to just 12 walks.

Holton’s fastball is going to get into the mid-90s, and from the left side, it’s an elite pitch. He also mixes in a breaking ball that misses bats with ease. He has other pitches, but he most heavily relies on the fastball-breaking ball combination.

Friday will feature the second of three lefties Mizzou will face this weekend. Junior Hunter Owen was a reliever his first two seasons in Nashville but has quickly adjusted to being in the weekend rotation in 2023. He’s thrown 41 innings and struck out 45 while walking just 12, all while posting a 3.51 ERA. Earlier this season, he even threw a complete game shutout against Ole Miss.

In an increased role, Owen’s numbers are actually the best of his career. The 6’6 lefthander can run his fastball up to 96 but will mostly sit in the low 90s. He has two different breaking balls and a solid changeup. Owen’s ascension up draft boards and into the limelight of college baseball has been quick, but it’s also been deserved.

On Saturday, Vanderbilt hands the ball to last week’s SEC Pitcher of the Week, Devin Futrell. From the same class as Holton, Futrell also made a name for himself as a freshman last season, making 13 starts for the Commodores. This year, he’s picked up right where he left off with a 2.70 ERA in 33.1 innings.

An All-American last season, Futrell has a high 80s to low 90s heater, but it has deceptive late life. Just ask Georgia, who Futrell stymied with 8 innings of shutout ball last weekend en route to being named SEC Pitcher of the Week.

A few bullpen arms to keep an eye on are the uber-talented Nick Maldonado, Greysen Carter, Bryce Cunningham, and Thomas Schultz. You can almost guarantee each will make an appearance this weekend.

Schedule and Predicted Starters

Thursday @ 6 p.m. - Logan Lunceford vs Carter Holton

Friday @ 6 p.m. - TBD vs Hunter Owen

Saturday @ 2 p.m. - Chandler Murphy vs Devin Futrell

One Final Note

Logan Lunceford is making his debut in the weekend rotation for the Tigers. He’s earned this role through stellar midweek outings, but it’s going to be an entirely different beast going up against Vanderbilt and Carter Holton in Game 1 of an SEC series. If Lunceford rises to the occasion, this could be the exact thing the Tigers need to right the ship and get their sights set back on postseason play.