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.
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.
"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
"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
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
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
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."
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
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
Luellwitz, the Commodores' regular first baseman, will relieve
Douillard behind the plate.
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
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.
"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
Mansolino earned the early nod over Cesar Nicolas and Eric
Billings at shortstop during the fall season.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)