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SEC Fall Checkin: Vanderbilt

After being eliminated in a close game by NC State in the NCAA Regional early last June, the Commodores are back with something to prove. They bounced back from a 1-7 start in 2011 to finish 35-28, then won six more games in the postseason. This year, with that experience under their belts and an impressive recruiting class, the Commodores are hoping for bigger and better things.

Fall Ball

The Commodores wrapped up their fall practice Sunday with the final game of their Black and Gold Series.

“It was a good week, I mean, we played three ball games, and all were separated by one run, I think you’ve got to be pleased with that,” said head coach Tim Corbin.  “And I told them, there were really were no losers in this particular event, this weekend. I thought it was well played for the most part. The defense was pretty good. [Sunday] was a pitcher’s day; it dictated the pace of the game and it certainly dictated the outcome, 2-1.”

New Faces

“Their physical abilities are good, some of them are very good, “said Corbin. “But I would say their approach to the game, and their approach to the older kids is appreciated. I think they’ve got good futures ahead of them. They really have applied some pressure to the older kids in terms of positions, and that is why we have the competition we have. Their play on the field dictates what type of kids they’re going to be, and thus far, it’s been very good.”

Ranked as the top recruiting class in the country by Baseball America, Vanderbilt’s freshman include Walker Buehler, Carson Fulmer, Rhett Wiseman, Dansby Swanson and Xavier Turner.

Buehler, a 6’1 right-hander from Lexington, Ky., was drafted out of high school in the 14th round by the Pirates. As the nation’s top recruit, he can throw a mid-90s fastball, and has good command of his secondary pitches. Buehler will add another talented arm to an already well developed pitching staff. Fulmer, a right-hander with a 92-95 fastball and excellent command of his slider and curveball, will add depth to the staff.

Wiseman, the outfielder and Massachusetts native, and third baseman Turner, from Sandusky, Ohio, will both be powers to reckon with at the plate. Wiseman was drafted in the 25th round by the Cubs, and last summer was named top prospect for the prestigious Futures League. Turner went in the 34th round for the Red Sox.

Swanson, a shortstop from Marietta, Ga., was drafted by the Rockies in the 38th round. He will be a solid player both offensively and defensively.

The Veterans

An extremely talented team returns this season and should benefit from last year with more experience and practice. Kevin Ziomek, Tyler Beede and T.J. Pecoraro highlight a pitching staff loaded with potential.

Ziomek, a junior LHP, led the team last season with 79.1 innings pitched, and was the No.5 prospect last summer for the  Cape Cod Baseball League. Beede was named to the 2012 SEC All-Freshman Team last season, and pitched 71.2 innings with a 4.52 ERA.

Pecoraro, after returning late last season after elbow surgery will be a huge asset to the team, after posting a 1.21 ERA last season in his last four starts.

Outfielders Connor Harrell and Mike Yastrzemski return as seniors this season after turning down professional ball over the summer. Yastrzemski was drafted by the Mariners in the 30th round, and Harrell was a 31st round pick of the Tigers. Harrell was named to the 2012 SEC Academic Honor Roll last year. He had a .241 avg. last season and led the team with seven home runs. Yastrzemski earned a .286, with 41 RBI and six home runs. He was named to the 2012 SEC All-Tournament Team and 2012 SEC Academic Honor Roll, and has been named as one of the most consistent players on the team.

Conrad Gregor was named to Perfect Game’s Summer All-American Honors after a productive summer on the Cape, and boasted a .328 avg. in 229 at bats last spring. Tony Kemp, also on Cape Cod last summer, led the Commodores in 2011 with 21 stolen bases and matched the single-season school record of eight triples.

Spencer Navin returns behind the plate this season as a junior, with a .298 avg. from last year, and starting 57 games.

Position Battles

With such a large and highly ranked freshman class, even the upperclassmen will have to fight for their positions.

“[The team is] very competitive, that’s for sure,” said Corbin. “I’ve been scribbling names down of possible roles throughout the fall, and what to look forward to in the spring. It would be very, very difficult to write any names down in stone right now. There’s a lot of competition in the infield, there’s plenty of competition in the outfield, there’s certainly some competition on the pitching mound. I would say that we’re a solid group that has the ability to have some moving parts in different positions, and I think that will be helpful as we progress.”

The Field

With new faces and a new season came something else for the Commodores. In September, The Hawk was made over with artificial turf.

“We love it,” said junior catcher Spencer Navin. “It’s great, it’s about as close as you can get to real grass a dirt.”

The field was made over mostly for the sake of weather. Corbin hopes that the new field will eliminate some rain-outs, and that the artificial turf will also give them more opportunity to work on the field over the winter.

Vanderbilt’s official season starts next spring on February 15th at home against Long Beach State.

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