There’s talent galore in Nashville. As a matter of fact, 20% of the Golden Spikes Award semifinalists will lead their teams in the Nashville Regional hosted by Vanderbilt. You will be hard pressed to find a better group of frontline starters than those packed together in this regional. Kevin Ziomek, Tyler Beede, Buck Farmer, Kevin Duchene, and Kerry Roane will all do their best to make Nashville a low-scoring affair while the likes of Tony Kemp, Daniel Palka, Zane Evans, Justin Parr, and Clinton Freeman know that a great offense is key to a memorable postseason run. The 2013 Nashville Regional looks to be a fun time in the country music capital, so without further ado let’s take a look at the teams.
1. Vanderbilt Commodores
The Commodores certainly had a case for the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and when asked about choosing North Carolina over Vanderbilt, committee chairman Dennis Farrell said, “I’m not really sure I can articulate what the determining factor was.” Nothing like having a consistent, well-documented and explained answer to a popular question, right? While not the top overall seed, Vanderbilt can be proud of an incredible 2013 regular season that included a record 26 SEC victories and a new school record with 48 regular season wins for the SEC regular season champion. There’s no glaring weakness on SEC Coach of the Year Tim Corbin’s roster, which is as deep as any in the country. The frontline starters of Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede have combined for a 24-2 record and just over 200 strikeouts. Both carry an ERA near 2.00 and an opponent’s batting average of sub .200. When needed, the bullpen has answered the call. Every key Commodore reliever carries an impressive ERA, including closer Brian Miller. Miller has saved 15 games for Vanderbilt, showcases a 1.59 ERA, and has 42 strikeouts. If there is one thing Vanderbilt would like to see less of in the postseason, it’s walks. As a staff the Dores have walked 238 batters on the year, but also have 482 strikeouts.
SEC player of the year Tony Kemp leads Vanderbilt with 30 stolen bases and is a part of the 126 team total that ranks eighth nationally. He enters the Regional batting .402, and won the SEC batting title with a .408 clip in the 26-win regular season. The Vanderbilt lineup is running like a well-oiled machine into postseason play. Save DH Zander Wiel, who owns a .288 average, the rest of the lineup features plus .300 hitters. Connor Harrell provides the pop with 11 homeruns and 64 RBI. The leader of the team, senior Mike Yastrzemski (.320, 40 RBI), earned first team All-SEC honors and has started 197 consecutive games for the Commodores. He and Kemp were named to the conference’s All-Defensive team. Behind the plate, Spencer Navin (.309, 4 HR, 2 errors) may not be in a Commodore uniform much longer. Many believe he is the best defensive backstop in the collegiate ranks and his draft status is currently the highest it’s ever been.
Players to watch: Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede. While its hard to pick anyone over Tony Kemp, the SEC Player of the Year, having two star pitchers on a staff can do wonders for a road to the promised land the way the tournament is setup. Beede leads the nation with a 14-0 record and has a nice 2.10 ERA. Kevin Ziomek, who will start on Friday with a 2.05 ERA, has punched out 106 batters compared to 37 walks.
2. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are in the field of 64 for the 27th time in the last 29 years, including 6 consecutively. There have only been two other schools with more appearances over that span, Florida State and Miami, who have both qualified for all 29 in that time frame. Tech played the 4th toughest strength of schedule in 2013, showing with an RPI ranked at 21. The Ramblin’ Wreck are led on the mound by their ace, Buck Farmer, a three year All-ACC honoree, who has thrived against the best. If Farmer starts against Vanderbilt during the regional, it will mark the 6th time in the senior’s career he has pitched against a team that is ranked in the top spot in at least one of the major polls. In his previous five starts, he has not given up more than 4 earned runs, including last year against top seeded Florida in the Gainesville Regional. Farmer has raked in 112 strikeouts in route to an 8-4 record and a 2.87 ERA. A semifinalist for the National Pitcher of the Year Award, he is also the active NCAA career leader in wins (32) and strikeouts (377). Outside of Farmer, the Yellow Jackets will look to starters Jonathan King, who has just six earned runs over his last four starts, and Dusty Isaacs (4.77 ERA, 64 K).
Tech’s bullpen is led by two of its best offensive players, Daniel Palka and Zane Evans, who have both been named semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy. Evans has held Tech’s closer role this season with 3 saves and has tallied 47 career strikeouts over 55 innings the last two years. Palka, who doubles as Georgia Tech’s rightfielder has been a force out of the bullpen as a lefty pitcher. He made his season debut on the mound against fellow tournament participant Coastal Carolina on May 5th and in seven appearances sports a 0.79 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 11.1 innings.
It’s been another year for the long ball in Atlanta with Palka (17) and Evans (14) leading Georgia Tech to 57 homeruns on the year. The two also lead Tech with Palka’s 65 and Evans’ 62 RBI on the year. Junior Mott Hyde has been on a tear recently though, with 6 homers in Tech’s last 23 games. Overall the 56 homeruns for the White and Gold rank 6th in the NCAA. Kyle Wren sets the table for the Yellow Jacket offense batting .364 with an ACC-high 91 hits and a career-best 26 stolen bases. The junior has been held hitless just four times over Tech’s last 48 games. The Jacket offense will look to return to its early season form when Tech rattled off a school-record 9 consecutive games with 10 runs or more.
Player to watch: Zane Evans. A junior catcher and pitcher combo from Roswell, Georgia, who is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes, Johnny Bench, and Dick Howser Awards, Evans is Tech’s first All-ACC catcher since current Baltimore Oriole Matt Wieters in 2007. Evans just might be the MVP of the team with career-bests in average (.369), hits (83), homeruns (14) and RBI (62). Similar to Wieters, Evans serves as Tech’s closer with 3 saves, 13 strikeouts, and a 3.44 ERA in 13 appearances.
The Fighting Illini are back in the tournament for the second time in three years under head coach Dan Hartleb. One of two teams from the conference to make the big dance, Illinois featured a top 40 RPI to bolster the squad to the school’s 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. This go around, Illinois will send Big Ten Freshman of the Year Kevin Duchene to the mound in the opening game against Georgia Tech. The southpaw went 8-1 with a 2.69 ERA in his first year, including a 3-0 mark with a stellar 1.74 ERA in conference play. Illinois has received good relief outings from its bullpen this year with hurlers like Ronnie Muck (1.42 ERA), Bryan Roberts (1.57 ERA, 7 saves, 26 K), Jay Tyler (17 app, 20 K), and Drasen Johnson (3-1, 25.1 IP).
On offense, about the only thing par with the Ilini outfielders is the last names. The dynamic duo of twins Justin, Big Ten Player of the Year, and Jordan Parr, Second-team All-Big Ten, headline the Illini outfield. Justin was the 8th player in program history to be named Big Ten Player of the Year and the first since 2007. The senior from Chillicothe, Illinois, is batting a shade under .400 with 87 hits, a .455 OBP, and 51 RBI, in which 21 have come with 2 outs. Jordan has batted .325 w/RISP and tied for the first in the Big Ten in stolen bases with 23. David Kerian (.324, 39 RBI) and the red hot Thomas Lindauer, who paces the squad with 9 long balls and is riding a career-best 15 game hit streak, also provide damage for the Illinois lineup.
Player to watch: Justin Parr. As stated, Parr has been anything but par for the Fighting Illini in 2013. Prior to this year, it was his brother Jordan that was drafted. After this season, look for Justin to have his name called in next week’s draft. With just 24 strikeouts on the year, opposing pitchers in Nashville will have their hands full with the Big Ten Player of the Year.
4. East Tennessee State
The Buccaneers may have one of the catchiest sayings in the postseason (#Bucyeah), and it’s been used quite frequently here lately because the Bucs are playing their best baseball of the season. Timely hitting, dominant pitching, and senior leadership led ETSU to the Atlantic Sun tournament title. Kerry Doane finishes what he starts. Literally. Doane, who played shortstop for his first three years in Johnson City, leads the country with 12 complete games, including two to bookend East Tennessee State’s A-Sun tournament run. While Doane doesn’t intimidate opponents with his size, he’s earned the compliments of “workhorse” and “warrior” for his mentality to go the full nine innings on the hill.
As a staff, opponents are hitting .275 against the Bucs, the highest of any team in the Nashville Regional, but ETSU is tied with Illinois at issuing just 3 walks a game. Will Chesney (2.70 ERA in 25 app) and closer Clinton Freeman (7-1, 51K, 8 saves) are each strong options out of the bullpen.
Clinton Freeman also paces the Atlantic Sun champs in almost every offensive category. The slugger possesses a .336 average, 78 hits, 18 doubles, 4 triples, 10 HR, 56 RBI, and is slugging .578%. Quite simply, there are no freebies when it comes to pitching against Freeman. Word around Johnson City is that ETSU has its fastest defensive outfield to date. Two outfielders, Andrew Green (.335, 77 hits, 5 HR, 24 SB) and Dylan Tritsch ( .327, 20 SB) have been a threat at bat and Jeremy Taylor has sprinted his way onto the A-Sun All-Freshman team with 20 stolen bases. The Bucs, much like the team they will be squaring off with Friday in Vanderbilt, love to run. With the new turf field in Nashville, expect each of the teams to try to make the most of what runners they have with two aces facing off.
Player to watch: Kerry Doane. The A-Sun Pitcher of the Year and Tournament MVP is 13-1 with a 1.99 ERA, leads the NCAA with 12 complete games and tied for most shutouts with 4, has pitched in 140 innings, and won his last ten starts. If head coach Tony Skole goes with his warrior, Doane gives the Bucs a chance against the powerful Vanderbilt squad in the Friday night contest. With a national audience watching on ESPNU, Kerry Doane might be able to take the first steps in being a household name if he is able to shutdown the powerful Vanderbilt machine like how he has his previous opponents this season.