How Tim Corbin's Vanderbilt baseball championship rosters were built — and what it means for 2023

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Vanderbilt baseball had a disappointing season in 2022. But now, as the page turns to 2023, the Commodores have a chance to reload and become a contender again.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see Vanderbilt back at the top in 2023; three of eight D1Baseball analysts selected the Commodores to make an Omaha run. But there are questions over whether the roster in its current state is a championship-level one.

The Tennessean analyzed Vanderbilt rosters and recruiting classes from 2012 to the present to examine how the Commodores' championship rosters were built and whether the 2023 team could be on the same trajectory.

First-round talent

Both the 2014 and 2019 national title teams had at least three eventual first-round picks, including at least one pitcher and one position player. The 2014 team had starters Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Tyler Beede and shortstop Dansby Swanson. The 2019 team had infielder Austin Martin, outfielder JJ Bleday and starter Kumar Rocker. In fact, the 2014 team had two players picked in the top 10, while the 2019 team had three.

This also holds for the 2015 runners-up, which had six first-round picks, including three who went in the top 10. The 2021 runner-up team had first-rounders in Rocker and Jack Leiter, and may add another depending what happens with that team's underclassmen in future drafts.

Three or more first-rounders is par for the course for Vanderbilt, which had at least that many in six of the 10 years between 2010 and 2019. That makeup becomes more important in the postseason, when teams that have a lot of pro talent can make it far even if they did not have particularly strong regular seasons.

The 2023 squad has a sure anchor in likely first-rounder Enrique Bradfield Jr. Beyond that, pitchers Patrick Reilly, Carter Holton and Andrew Dutkanych have the potential to become first-rounders.

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Veteran experience

Vanderbilt considers its 2019 team to be the best college baseball team ever. What made that team great was not just its top-tier talent, but also the number of veterans it had.

The Commodores' 2015 recruiting class was the only one between 2012-20 that did not produce an All-SEC or All-American player. What it did produce, though, was a number of productive multi-year starters who returned for their senior years: Julian Infante, Ethan Paul, Patrick Raby, Stephen Scott. Those players formed the core of the 2019 team, and their experience helped create a team that was fearsome top to bottom.

Building a team with that kind of experience is largely luck. Elite recruits either develop into top-tier draft picks and leave after three years or transfer. The majority of the 2019 seniors were not ranked in the top 200 in Perfect Game's rankings out of high school, so the experience level came from correctly identifying lower-rated players who could become long-term contributors.

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Elite in one area

Three of Vanderbilt's four teams that made the College World Series championship series were elite in one area. That was pitching for the 2015 and 2021 teams and offense for the 2019 team. Those 2015 and 2021 squads were led by two aces, making them exceptionally tough to beat in the postseason, especially in regionals and super regionals. Each had an offense that was good, but not great. The pitching staff in 2019 was sixth in the conference in ERA, but Rocker's postseason emergence as an ace made the difference.

The 2014 team took a different path, though. While not elite in any one area, that Commodores squad ranked in the top five of the SEC in scoring, OPS and ERA.

Where the 2022 team faltered is that the offense lagged — eighth in OPS and 10th in scoring — and the pitching staff, while good, lacked a true ace and could not overcome the offensive shortcomings. The 2023 team could have an elite pitching staff, but offensively there are even more questions than 2022.

Although the 2015 and 2021 offenses were not as strong as the pitching staffs, both ranked in the top half of the SEC. Vanderbilt currently has an offense that did not rank in the top half of the SEC and is also losing its top two hitters in Spencer Jones and Dominic Keegan. Bradfield provides a piece to build around, but to get the offense to championship level, either multiple returners will have to show significant improvement, freshmen will have to contribute right away or the Commodores will have to find a significant transfer contributor.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: How Vanderbilt baseball can build another national title roster