Dores Return to the Diamond

Commodores begin looking ahead to 2023 opener

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three weeks away from Opening Day, Vanderbilt hit the diamond Friday at Hawkins Field for its first official day of preseason training.

The Commodores (39-23 in 2022) open the campaign in Texas where they’ll face a who’s-who of competition in Texas Christian, Oklahoma State and Texas, respectively, at Globe Life Field. But before then, veteran head coach Tim Corbin will be looking to find out who is ready to contribute when toe meets rubber Feb. 17.

“The ramp-up time is very little, but I also think we always look forward to the first day of training, especially this time of year where you know that February is close and you’ll be getting into competition,” Corbin said. “You see the light at the end of the tunnel now so happy for the boys.”

Vandy’s strength in ’23 may very well come from the mound where preseason All-American Carter Holton and 2022 freshman All-American Devin Futrell lead the rotation. Holton went 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 starts last season while Futrell finished with a 9-3 record and 3.41 ERA in 14 appearances.

Behind that duo, Corbin also welcomes back the services of Thomas Schultz, another preseason All-American, who had a 2.88 ERA in 23 games in 2022 and finished with eight saves. Nick Maldonado, Patrick Reilly and Hunter Owen are back as well, as is a fully-healthy Sam Hliboki.

Freshman Andrew Dutkanych could find himself in the mix as well.

“I feel great, personally,” Maldonado said about the pitching staff. “Experience is our biggest thing this year. We have a lot of experience and a bunch of seniors back which is pretty rare, but makes the team special.

“A lot of guys have been out there during big games and big moments. So it’s that experience and being able to show the younger guys what you’re supposed to do out there and how to handle it.”

In the lineup, Corbin’s crew will have a significantly new look to it after the departure of five starters from the ’22 squad. But returners Parker Noland (utility), Enrique Bradfield Jr. (CF), Jack Bulger (C) and Davis Diaz (SS, 3B) provide a solid foundation for the Commodores to work around.

Bradfield, considered one of the top MLB prospects in all of college baseball, enters the season with a .326 career average, .433 career on-base clip and 93 career stolen bases. The junior was listed in December as the No. 8 overall MLB Draft prospect by

Troy LaNeve, Calvin Hewett, T.J. McKenzie and RJ Schreck, a Duke transfer who hit .288 and drove in 30 runs in 2022, will be competing for time flanking Bradfield in the outfield. On the infield dirt, RJ Austin, Raymond Velazquez, Chris Maldonado and Jonathan Vastine could vie for significant playing time.

Matthew Polk could also vie to get reps at multiple positions.

“Having (Noland) back is a good thing. Having Diaz back is a good thing. Vastine being more of a player is a good thing,” Corbin said. “We’ve just got a little bit more depth that way, too. And the younger kids have played pretty well for the most part.

“Right now it’s just trying to put the best infield out there that fits us best, whether that’s Vastine or Diaz at shortstop, or where does Noland throw to first? I don’t quite know that yet. But what I like about them is just their ability to go over there and do it and just keep playing as if that’s their natural position which is good.”

After falling short of reaching the College World Series in 2022, by virtue of a being eliminated in the Corvallis Regional by Oregon State, Vandy will be looking to return to Omaha, Nebraska, for the sixth time in program history and third time in the past four opportunities.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to be the last team standing in June.

“I think when you step foot on this campus you have one goal in mind. I have been here for two years and haven’t accomplished that goal,” Bradfield said. “Looking to get it done.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.