OMAHA, Nebraska: Vanderbilt returns most of its everyday lineup, features the top two pitchers in college baseball and won the most recent national championship.
Still, the Commodores aren’t even considered the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference, let alone the nation, not with Florida’s roster overflowing with talent at nearly every position.
Among other top contenders to reach the College World Series in Omaha in June are UCLA, Texas Tech and Louisville. The season opens Friday.
The expectations remain the same inside the Vanderbilt clubhouse. The Commodores have played in the NCAA super regionals eight times between 2010-19, reached the College World Series finals three times since 2014 and won two titles.
The Commodores were 13-5 when their attempt to defend their 2019 championship was cut short when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down sports across the nation in mid-March.
Kumar Rocker, who threw a no-hitter in super regionals in 2019 and was CWS Most Outstanding Player, is back and is the projected No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft with his 96-mph fastball. Jack Leiter, who complements a mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve, could be selected right behind Rocker.
The versatile Austin Martin, the No. 5 pick in the draft last year, is the key departure. The Commodores should have one of the nation’s best outfields with Cooper Davis, Isaiah Thomas and speedy freshman Enrique Bradfield.
Bradfield is among 18 newcomers on the 43-man roster, which is larger than normal because last season did not cost players a year of eligibility. The logjam of talent will require young players to be patient, not just at Vandy but at schools across the country.