NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin can’t always mask his affection for seniors on his Commodore roster – not that he tries to.
“They’re my favorites,” Corbin said. “I enjoy seniors. I love everything about them.”
If that’s the case, Vanderbilt’s 2019 baseball season expects to hold a special place in Corbin’s heart. The Commodores enter the spring with five seniors on the roster:infielders Julian Infante and Ethan Paul, outfielders Walker Grisanti and Stephen Scott and pitcher Patrick Raby. Those five players make up the largest senior class for Vanderbilt since 2008. Moreover, the Dores bring back two redshirt juniors in Kiambu Fentress and A.J. Franklin.
Two of those seniors – Paul and Scott – return to Vanderbilt having turned down an immediate shot at Major League Baseball. Now that duo has a chance to grab their college degrees and help the preseason No. 1-ranked Commodores return to Omaha.
“Being a senior here is something that’s not taken lightly,” Paul said. “We appreciate the fact that we’ve been here for all four years. Completing school and getting a degree is a big step, not just in your time here but in your life as a whole.”
Vanderbilt heads into 2019 ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America and D1Baseball and returns 24 letterwinners and eight of nine positional players from last season. The 2018 Commodores advanced to the Super Regionals and came up one victory shy of reaching the College World Series.
That bulk of returnees – and a shot at an NCAA championship – is exactly why Paul and Scott decided to delay pro careers and reprise their roles in Nashville. Paul, who started all 62 games last season at second base, was selected in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates last June. Scott went in the 31st round to the Miami Marlins.
But both players said they felt another year at Vanderbilt was the right decision. Unsurprisingly, their return bolsters an already stacked Commodore roster. Last season, Paul finished second on the team in RBIs (44) and stolen bases (18) and enters 2019 riding a 110-game start streak at second. Scott saw time in the outfield and at catcher and led the team with 15 home runs; he caught fire last in the year and belted nine dingers over Vanderbilt’s final 14 games.
“There’s a lot of [reasons for coming back],” Scott said. “Number one, just coming back with guys like Ethan and Julian and Patrick and A.J., Kiambu, all of our seniors. That just really makes it special. Then finishing out four years, getting our degrees, that just really makes it a complete circle.”
Added Paul: “Being able to be in this position and help guys that are younger and lead this team in any way we can is something we look forward to.”
Corbin said he expects Paul and Scott, along with the rest of Vanderbilt’s upperclassmen, to lead the way for a mixed roster that includes a 14-member freshman class. The 2019 crop of first-year players garnered offseason recognition as the No. 2-ranked signing class by Baseball America. But while the Commodore newcomers bring talent, Corbin said his uniquely large senior class should balance things out with its leadership and experience.
“From the standpoint of creating harmony on and off the field, that’s a big part of it,” said Corbin, entering his 17th season at Vanderbilt. “The communication that exists off the field from them is big, too. This is the most [seniors] we’ve had in quite some time, that I can remember anyway. It’s certainly a luxury for a lot of different reasons. There’s a lot of coaching that goes on by those guys, and that’s important.”
The final season for Vanderbilt’s seniors begins on Feb. 15, when the Dores venture to Talking Stick, Arizona, for the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. The three-day event pits Vanderbilt against Virginia, No. 25 Call State Fullerton and No. 19 TCU. The likes of Paul and Scott could be forging careers in the major-league ranks instead of helping the Commodores prep for an early trip out west. But another season in black and gold is on tap for Vanderbilt’s seniors, a fact that still makes Corbin smile.
“For whatever reason, however they made the decision, they’re committed to coming back and playing here,” Corbin said, “and I appreciate that.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.