Commodores Open Season in Two Weeks 1/29/02

A new stadium greets a strong mix of talented veterans and promising newcomers as the 2002 Vanderbilt Commodores chart an exciting new course in their baseball history.

Hawkins Field

Experience returns in the form of nine seniors and five starters from last year's squad that showed promise early but suffered from injuries and a lack of pitching depth. Head Coach Roy Mewbourne's 24th squad at Vanderbilt sees all three of its weekend starters as well as its top two hitters return for their final season.

The pitching staff is undoubtedly the most improved position from a year ago with its greatest depth in several seasons. Back for their final season are three dependable right-handed pitchers - Steven Faulkner, Jeff Little and Chris Maultsby. A workhorse on the mound, Faulkner tied for first in the Southeastern Conference with 15 starts and ranked fourth in the league with 75 strikeouts. Little, whose 67 strikeouts were 10th-best in the league, frequently showed great command on the mound. Sophomore Robert Ransom returns after earning honorable mention All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball last season. He registered a 4-2 record with 48 strikeouts in 71.1 innings while his 24 appearances finished fourth in the conference.

Several highly touted new arms join the Commodores staff in 2002, highlighted by Major League Draft picks Jeremy Sowers and Scott Shapiro. Sowers, a dominate left hander chosen by Cincinnati in the first round, decided instead to pitch for Vanderbilt. Shapiro, a gifted right-hander who throws with impressive velocity, came to the same decision after San Diego drafted him in the 18th round. Sowers finished his senior year at Ballard High School in Louisville, Ky., with a 10-2 mark, 0.75 ERA, and 156 strikeouts in 89 innings while earning the National High School All-American honors from Baseball America. The 2001 California Interscholastic Federation Pitcher of the Year, Shapiro went 8-4 with a 1.99 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 69 innings at St. Augustine High School in Oceanside, Calif.


Robert Ransom

"For the first time in a while we're going to have more than three or four pitchers to send to the mound," Mewbourne said. "We felt like we had to get stronger on the mound to stop our opponent and give ourselves a chance to win more ball games.

"We've been so thin in our pitching staff the last three years it's hurt us quite a bit. But we're much deeper now and we'll be able to use more pitchers in a variety of ways."

Mewbourne hopes a similar collective effort leads to more Commodore run production. With the middle of his lineup returning and solid improvement shown by several players during fall practice, the Vanderbilt skipper says the offense should improve.

"A culmination of things will make us better offensively this season," Mewbourne said. "We have our 3-4-5 hitters returning in Karl Nonemaker, Sean Luellwitz and John Kaye, as well as several other players who stepped forward during the fall. Our lineup has the potential to do some great things this year."

Luellwitz emerged during the 2001 season to lead or tie for first in seven offensive categories for the Commodores.Vanderbilt's top weapon against left-handed pitching, the senior hit .407 against southpaws and his 17 multi-hit games last season ranks first among all returners. Talented with the glove, Luellwitz finished fourth among SEC first basemen with a .990 fielding percentage.

Despite missing 25 games in the middle of last season due to a strained wrist, Nonemaker tied Luellwitz for team-high honors with a .328 batting average. A game-tested veteran, Nonemaker led the team with a .339 average against SEC competition and stole 11 bases in as many attempts during the year. An All-SEC and All-South selection in 2000, he looks to make a full recovery from a broken left wrist suffered during last summer.

Kaye proved to be a a tough out during his 32 starts as the Commodores' designated hitter. Posting six home runs and a .477 slugging percentage, Kaye worked 31 walks from opposing pitchers and recorded a .413 on base percentage - second-best among all returners. This summer he earned All-Coastal Plain League honors, hitting .270 with 12 homers and 43 RBI with the Outer Banks Daredevils.

"If our bullpen shows its depth, the starters do what they're capable of doing and we stay healthy we can have some success this season," Mewbourne said. "We have a very determined bunch of young men that are focused on going to the playoffs in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Regionals. It's an outstanding group of guys that are going to have an outstanding season."

Jonathan Douillard

With the loss of sophomore David Wallace to the Cleveland Indians as a free agent signee, Jonathan Douillard serves as Vanderbilt's lone returning catcher. A talented defensive catcher, Douillard started 27 games behind the plate and ranked second among SEC catchers with a .995 fielding percentage. He threw out 15 runners attempting to steal - fifth-best in the league.

Douillard also proved to be a clutch hitter last season, leading the team with a .368 average in two-out situations. And Mewbourne is confident Douillard will improve on his .265 overall batting average from 2001.

"You see a dramatic jump in some guys during their second season," Mewbourne said. "They make the adjustment to the quality pitchers around the league and become better able to handle hitting the ball. Douillard will be a better hitter this year."

Luellwitz, the Commodores' regular first baseman, will relieve Douillard behind the plate.

Sean Luellwitz

First Base
Luellwitz's more natural position is first base where the senior has 138 career starts. Serving as the team's top offensive threat and one of the league's top defensive specialists at the position, Luellwitz looks to repeat his standout play from a year ago.

With the graduation of Luellwitz's primary backup, Rob Bedwell, Kaye should see more time at first base. Difficult to leave out of the lineup because of his potential power, Kaye also is expected to earn playing time as an outfielder or designated hitter.

Second Base
Scott Vanderhoff's surging play during the fall season has propelled the senior into the early starting role at second base. After struggling at the plate last year in his 11 starts at second, Vanderhoff reasserted himself in the preseason and caught the attention of the Commodore coaching staff.

Scott Vanderhoff

"I thought Scott Vanderhoff probably had the best fall season of anybody," Mewbourne said. "He went out and did some things that proved he wanted the position. He made some adjustments and was much more consistent at the plate."

Chris Broadus, who also will see action at second base, emerged last year to start a team-high 44 games at second base. One of the Commodores top hitters, Broadus recorded 14-multi-hit games and seven multi-RBI contests while batting .276.

Scott Simpson and Tony Mansolino will likely back up Vanderhoff and Broadus. Another talented newcomer, Simpson gathered all-state honors at Fayetteville High School in Arkansas last season, batting .389 with 17 doubles.He also stole nine bases.

Shortstop and Third Base
Professional baseball took interest in Vanderbilt's left side of the infield. Both shortstop Ulises Cabrera and third baseman Ashley Freeman signed major league contracts. Cabrera's free agent deal with the Texas Rangers and Freeman 19th selection by Colorado opens up playing time for several Commodores this season.

Mansolino earned the early nod over Cesar Nicolas and Eric Billings at shortstop during the fall season.

Cesar Nicolas

The skilled Mansolino should provide added production to the lineup as one of Vanderbilt's top offensive newcomers. Tabbed the Central California Player of the Year by the Fresno Bee, Mansolino hit .468 with 52 hits, 17 doubles and five home runs while receiving All-California honors as a senior at Buchanan High School in 2000.

Nicolas backed up Cabrera last season, making only 13 appearances at shortstop. However, the 6-1, 190-pounder ended the fall season on a high note, with impressive clutch-hitting in pressure situations. He'll play an important role in providing more power in the lineup.

Billings, a redshirt freshman, looks to contribute after sitting out last season after shoulder surgery.

Broadus, Nicolas and John Prothro will see action at the hot corner for the Commodores. While Broadus and Nicolas showed promise at third base during the fall season, Prothro is the only one with game experience. A reserve designated hitter a year ago, Prothro started three games at third base. And while playing in only 23 games, the right-handed hitting Prothro recorded a .310 average with 18 hits and 10 RBI.

Karl Nonemaker

Much like the Vanderbilt infield, its outfield will include a mix of familiar faces and newcomers. Worth Scott started 34 games in the outfield a year ago, including 25 in right. Look for the sophomore in left field more this season. Nonemaker went error free in 31 starts in left field and Mewbourne sees the defensive gems and solid play continuing in center field. Look for Kaye to start the season in right field for Vanderbilt.

Reserve players soliciting playing time include sophomore speedster Ronald Hatcher and freshmen Justin Elliott and Mike McClure in left field, and freshman Matt Zeller and redshirt freshmen Paul Stempel in right field.


John Prothro

Designated Hitter
With Kaye moving to the outfield in 2002, Prothro and Shapiro will split time as Vanderbilt's designated hitters. The right-handed hitting Prothro earned a .310 average with four RBI at the designated hitter position in eight starts last season. Shapiro, who showed promise at the plate during the fall, hit .450 with seven home runs and 15 doubles last year at St. Augustine High School.

Starting Pitching and Bullpen
According to new pitching coach Derek Johnson, the opportunity for a successful Commodore campaign in 2002 hinges on the Faulkner, Little and Maultsby threesome logging substantial innings as starters or relievers. They accounted for 16 victories and 185 strikeouts in 279.1 innings of work on the mound in 2001. The additions of Sowers and Shapiro as possible starters, and right hander Jeff Sues and left hander John Scott offering bullpen support, give Johnson and Mewbourne multiple options.

Jeff Little

A pleasant surprise during the fall season was the performance of Dean Bennett. A slow starter a year ago after shoulder surgery, Bennett made great strides, throwing with more command and consistency. He could develop into a solid closer in 2002. Junior Jay Smith, who has a kanck of throwing strikes, will see action out of the bullpen.

The Commodore Outlook originally appeared in the 2002 media guide. If you are interested in purchasing a media guide please send your request and a $10 check payable to Vanderbilt Athletics, ATTN: Media Relations, 2601 Jess Neely Drive, Nashville, TN 37212.
(Please allow four weeks for delivery.)


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
Nashville, TN 37212
615-322-GOLD (4653)