Former Vanderbilt star keeps hitting, even in Class AAA debut

Tony Kemp extended his hitting streak to 13 games Wednesday – and ended his time with the Houston Astros’ Class AA affiliate.

The 2013 Vanderbilt All-American was promoted to Class AAA on Thursday and immediately made his debut with the Fresno Grizzlies. He led off an went 1-for-4 with a run scored in a 5-4 victory at Salt Lake.

A second baseman, Kemp has played 50 games for the Class AA Corpus Christi Hooks this season. He leads the Texas League in batting average (.354) and on-base percentage (.453) and is tied for fourth with 15 stolen bases. His batting average ranks third among all minor leagues.

During that current streak, Kemp went 20-for-45 (.444) with eight runs, three doubles, one triple, three RBIs, seven walks and five stolen bases.

The promotion maintains a pace that Kemp kept last season, his first full year as a pro. He started 2014 in Class A (advanced) and was promoted to Class AA in late June.

The next step is the last one – the Major Leagues.

The Astros, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2013, are not in need of immediate help. They currently are tied for the most wins in the American League but they have lost seven in a row.

Jun 11, 2015 11:07 PM

Swanson named All-American, National Player of the Year

Dansby Swanson’s swan song has turned into a chart-topper. At last.

Days after the Vanderbilt shortstop was the first player taken in the Major League Baseball draft, D1Baseball.com named him a first-team All-American and its Player of the Year.

That after Southeastern Conference coaches named Swanson to the All-SEC second team. The first-team shortstop was LSU’s Alex Bregman, who was the second overall pick in the draft. D1Baseball.com managed to name Bregman a first-team All-American as well – at designated hitter.

From D1Baseball.com:

Swanson ranks in the nation’s top 20 in home runs, double, triples, slugging, hits and runs. He ranks 21st in RBIs and second in total bases. He’s also put his plus speed to use on the basepaths, where he’s stolen 16 bases in 18 attempts. And he has played brilliant defense at the crucial and demanding shortstop position, regularly making dazzling plays while also fielding a strong .975 in his first college season at the position (he played second last year).

Furthermore, Swanson has played very well when it matters most, helping to lead the Commodores back to Omaha for the second straight year. In five NCAA tournament games, Swanson is hitting .350 with seven runs, four RBIs, two homers and two doubles.

His teammate and close friend, pitcher Carson Fulmer, also was on the first team, which made Vanderbilt one of two schools with multiple first-team selections. The other was LSU with Bregman and catcher Kade Scivicque.

Swanson is certain to turn pro following the College World Series, where the defending champion Commodores open play Sunday.

The final days of his college career, though, have included a steady stream of personal accolades. He also has been named a finalist (along with Fulmer) for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)
 

Jun 11, 2015 11:49 AM

Vanderbilt eager to 'make more memories' at College World Series

The schedule will come as no surprise to Vanderbilt players and coaches. Most of them, anyway.

The same is true for everything else that comes with a spot in the College World Series, which the Commodores have done for the second straight season and the third time in five years.

“We’re about to hit a big stage now in the World Series and get back to where we were last year,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “We’re going to have fun with it. These are 35 of my best friends. I’m just trying to enjoy it with them and make more memories while we’re at it.”

If they are to win their second straight title, they will need to navigate a double-elimination round of pool play that consists of four teams and then a best-of-three championship series between the pool winners. The schedule covers 12 days from start to finish, 11 in the case of Vanderbilt, which opens on Day Two of the competition, 7 p.m. Sunday, against Fullerton State.

“I think there’s a little tranquility with it in terms of understanding the landscape and what’s involved with it and the attention that goes into the kids and how to handle it,” coach Tim Corbin said Tuesday. “For me, it’s just about warning them about what’s going to happen so (they) can just settle down and play baseball. If you haven’t been before there’s some difficulty with the extracurricular activities and the extra responsibilities that take place with being there.”

CWS Schedule

Friday, June 12

Opening Celebration

Saturday, June 13
Game 1: Arkansas vs. Virginia, 2 p.m.
Game 2: Florida vs. Miami, 7 p.m.

Sunday, June 14
Game 3: TCU vs. LSU, 2 p.m.
Game 4: Vanderbilt vs. Cal State Fullerton, 7 p.m.

Monday, June 15
Game 5: 2 p.m.
Game 6: 7 p.m.

Tuesday, June 16
Game 7: 2 p.m.
Game 8: 7 p.m.

Wednesday, June 17
Game 9: 7 p.m.

Thursday, June 18
Game 10: 7 p.m.

Friday, June 19
Game 11: 2 p.m.
Game 12: 7 p.m.

Saturday, June 20
Game 12: if necessary
Game 13: if necessary

Championship Series

Monday, June 22
Finals Game 1: 7 p.m.

Tuesday, June 23
Finals Game 2: 7 p.m.

Wednesday, June 24
Finals Game 3: if necessary

Even when they weren’t sure what to expect, the Commodores have done pretty well at the College World Series. They finished third the first time they made it (2011). Last year they faced elimination twice yet won it all.

This time the only thing they don’t know is what will happen in the games because they have seen and done all the rest.

“I think it’s huge, not only for us but for this program, just setting the standard of excellence, and for this community and Nashville itself,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “It’s just awesome to be able to do it for this place. It means a lot. It’s pretty crazy to think about, honestly.”

Jun 10, 2015 6:27 AM

Two Vanderbilt players taken in third round of MLB draft

Vanderbilt University players continue to be drafted in bunches.

Pitcher Philip Pfeifer and Rhett Wiseman were selected in a span of three picks of the third round Tuesday, one day after three Commodores went among the first 24 picks overall.

The five picks already matched the number of Vanderbilt players drafted in the entire 2014 draft. Four of those five went in the fourth round or later.

Pfeifer (pictured) became the second Vanderbilt pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took the senior left-hander with the 101st overall selection. The Dodgers on Monday used their first choice (24th overall) on right-hander Walker Buehler.

Wiseman, a junior outfielder, went to the Washington Nationals with the 103rd overall choice.

The last time at least five Commodores went in the first three rounds was 2011. That year, pitchers Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin were first-round choices and four others went in the third round.

The first two rounds of the draft took place Monday. Rounds 3 through 10 are scheduled for Tuesday with the remaining rounds set for Wednesday.

 
(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Jun 9, 2015 1:19 PM

Corbin: Road to Omaha more challenging as defending champs

It’s clear now that the final chapter of Vanderbilt’s 2015 baseball season will be written at Omaha.

As far as coach Tim Corbin is concerned, therefore, whatever happens at the upcoming College World Series will be some version of a happy ending for the team that won it all in 2014.

The Commodores are one of three teams among the eight that comprise the 2015 field that also were there in 2014. They got there when they swept their best-of-three Super Regional series at Illinois with a 4-2 victory Monday.

“So very difficult to do coming off a situation like last year,” Corbin said. “It's difficult.  That target is very big and there's a lot of shots that you take. So we're just very thankful that we can get to the point. Storybook ending.”

The other returning teams are Virginia, which lost to Vanderbilt in last year’s championship series, and TCU, which defeated Texas A&M in 16 innings Monday in the decisive game of its Super Regional.

The Commodores’ first game is against Fullerton State, 7 p.m. Sunday.

The prior two CWS champions Arizona (2012) and UCLA (2013) failed to make it back to Omaha the next year. The last school to repeat as CWS champion was South Carolina in 2010 and 2011.

“It's just as great, if not greater, just because of the circumstances that exist throughout the year,” Corbin said. “It's a difficult year to play, there's no doubt about it.  You think about it from the time that we won that National Championship, I can personally say we haven't stopped.  It's been a full blown, 100 mile an hour ride, and it has not stopped up until this point but I'm perfectly fine with it.

“[We’ve tried] to center (the players) in just these small moments that we're involved in and try not to get too distracted by anything, and I think they have done a wonderful job that way.”

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)
 

Jun 9, 2015 7:13 AM

Scouts rave about character, competitiveness of Vanderbilt first-round picks

It was more than baseball ability that prompted Major League Baseball teams to use top 10 overall picks on two Vanderbilt players Monday, the first day of the 2015 draft.

Executives for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox raved about the character and work ethic of their selections, shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick by Arizona and pitcher Carson Fulmer, who went eighth overall to the Chicago White Sox.

A third Vanderbilt player, pitcher Walker Buehler, went 24th overall to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It is the first time in program history three players went in the first round of the same draft. The first two matched 2007, when pitchers David Price and Casey Weathers went first and eighth overall, respectively, for earliest two Commodores came off the board.

Swanson is the first college shortstop drafted No. 1 overall since San Diego took Bill Almon out of Brown in 1974.

From MLB.com, here’s what Arizona scouting director Deric Ladnier said of Swanson: “"Major League shortstops are very difficult to find. The other part of it are the intangibles that this player brings to the field every day. He's got the character; he's got the makeup; he's a winner, all things that you want to build an organization with. ... We just thought it was a perfect fit for this organization, where we are, where we're headed, and we fully expect him to continue his journey and be a Diamondback soon."

Fulmer became the ninth Vanderbilt pitcher drafted in the first round since Tim Corbin became head coach in 2003.

From MLB.com, here’s what White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler said of Fulmer: "He battles, competes. I would want this kid to start Game 7 of the World Series for me, but also I have two daughters and I hope a guy like that marries one of my daughters. He's that type of terrific kid."
 

Jun 9, 2015 6:47 AM

One win from return to CWS, Vanderbilt's experience shows

At some point in the last 13 years, it happened.

Maybe it was last year in Omaha. Perhaps it was 2011 and the first trip to the College World Series. Could have been any one of the 10 straight NCAA Regional appearances.

It’s tough to say for sure when. Somewhere along the line, though, coach Tim Corbin turned Vanderbilt baseball into an experienced postseason program.

Now the results show.

The Commodores are one win from a second straight CWS appearance (a third in five years) following a 13-0 victory Saturday in the opener of their Super Regional series at Illinois. Weather issues postponed Sunday’s second game until 3 p.m. Monday (ESPN2).

Obviously, nothing is guaranteed at this point. But the difference between Vanderbilt and Illinois, which is in a Super Regional for the first time, is reminiscent of that between Texas and Vanderbilt in 2004, the first time the Commodores made the Super Regional. The Longhorns, long a CWS participant at that point, swept those games by a combined 25-5 (15-3 and 10-2). Vanderbilt never gained momentum in those games and, thus, never had a chance.

Now, with all that has happened in Corbin’s 13 seasons, it is Vanderbilt that gets to administer hard lessons in what it takes to be a champion. On Saturday, the Commodores scored three runs in the top of the first and never looked back. That, of course, came after a regional-clinching 21-0 victory Monday over Radford, a team in the NCAA tournament for the first time.

“Coach always talks about having a slow heartbeat in games like that, and basically what that is is the ability to slow the game down and not have the game speed up on you,” right fielder Rhett Wiseman said. “I think when you have veteran guys out there who have been in situations like that before, we know how to handle adversity and we know how to attack certain situations, and I think that's what you saw (Saturday).”

The only way to get experience in those situations is to be in those situations. Vanderbilt probably has not seen it all but Saturday’s lineup included seven starters plus a starting pitcher who were part of last year’s national championship run. The program itself has been through a lot in the 61 NCAA tournament games it played under Corbin prior to this season.

“[We] just continued doing the same things we've been doing really all year and that's just kind to keep the guys centered in what they've been doing and really enjoy the moment they have with each other because as I tell them, these moments are fleeting,” Corbin said of Saturday’s rout. “… The games are the most important experiences you can have, and the kids don't take those for granted.

“And I think we do a very good job in the days in between the games. The games take care of themselves if you take care of the training, and the kids do that. They're a mature group.  It doesn't mean that you're going to win the next game, but as I told them, I'm at peace with them. I feel good about who they are and how they handle their business, and that's all that matters to me.”

 
(Photo: Craig Pessman/Vanderbilt athletics)

Jun 8, 2015 7:18 AM

Coleman's next big moment at Vanderbilt comes close to home

The little guy likes big games.

Ro Coleman is only a sophomore but the 5-foot-5 designated hitter already has shown that the moment rarely – if ever – is too large for him.

A year ago he only had two at-bats in the NCAA Regional but with the second he delivered a walk-off single that sent the Commodores into the Super Regional.

In this year’s regional last weekend at Hawkins Field he provided a wealth of additional evidence with a .615 batting average and seven runs scored in his team’s three victories. That performance raised his batting average 19 points and put him above .300 (.308, to be precise) for the first time in more than a month. His on-base percentage improved 21 points – to .421.

“I think he’s a kid that stays pretty centered mentally,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I think he has the ability to focus in when things really matter. I trust his thinking. I trust where he is. I trust his soul and his spirit when you’re in the heat of competition.

“I think it goes back to his upbringing. I just think he’s a unique kid. He’s been through some unique experiences. Vanderbilt is completely different than where he’s from. He’s adjusted very well academically, socially and athletically.”

Coleman is from Chicago so this weekend’s Super Regional at the University of Illinois (Game 1 is 7 p.m. Saturday, Game 2 is 8 p.m. Sunday) is a chance to play near his home and show family and friends just how far he’s come.

The closest he ever got to Illinois Field, site of the state championship, while at Simeon High School was the 2012 Illinois super regional (his junior year).

Now that he’s there, he likes this team’s chances to advance.

“I think we’re pretty good,” Coleman said. “We’re a very close team. I feel like with us, we bonded right away. It was a natural feeling between all of us.

“It makes it a lot easier because we’re all pulling for each other. With the bond we have, it feels like we’re all brothers, like I’m out there playing with my family.”

And in this case he’ll be in front of family as well.

“It’s a big trip just having to go back home, see some family,” he said. “They’re going to be out there to watch us play.”

Just another opportunity for him to stand tall.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Jun 5, 2015 1:47 PM

Vanderbilt baseball alum roots for Triple Crown drought to continue

Like so many other players who have come through the program, former Vanderbilt outfielder Connor Harrell will have a strong rooting interest Saturday night when the current Commodores open their Super Regional series at Illinois.

Of course, that contest (first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.) will be the day’s second sporting event in which Harrell, now a prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, has a deep connection.

His family owns Materiality, one of the horses that will face Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes. Materiality finished sixth at the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness in order to rest for this weekend’s final leg of the Triple Crown.

From The Detroit News:

Harrell's grandfather, father and uncles own Materiality, the horse many handicappers are giving the best chance to spoil American Pharoah's bid at the first Triple Crown since 1978.

"I'm pretty excited," Harrell said over the phone this week from Erie, where he was getting set to play Reading in a Double-A game. "Obviously, you're kind of playing the villain, trying to challenge a Triple Crown winner.

"We feel good about it. All of the reviews have been good. It's all systems go."

The Harrell have had a long interest in horse racing but never have had a horse the caliber of Materiality. The family’s Texas-based business, Citation Oil and Gas Corporation, is even named after the 1948 Triple Crown winner.

Harrell, a seventh-round pick in 2013 currently playing for Class AA Erie, told The Detroit News that he met Materiality back in October.

"It's just a dream," said Harrell, who first met Materiality in October. "To have a horse we think is bred for the distance and has enough experience to knock off maybe the best horse in a generation, that's really exciting."
 

Jun 4, 2015 10:32 PM

Vanderbilt duo among finalists for another college baseball honor

They represent a smaller percentage but just as was the case earlier this week with the Golden Spikes Award, two Vanderbilt baseball players are finalists for one of college baseball’s top individual honors.

Pitcher Carson Fulmer and shortstop Dansby Swanson are among the five finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association announced Thursday. The other finalists are Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi, UCLA pitcher David Berg and Miami third baseman David Thompson.

According to the NCBWA, “Each finalist also represents the ideals of character, leadership, desire, and competitive spirit exhibited by Dick Howser, the All-America shortstop and later head coach at Florida State, before managing the Kansas City Royals to the world championship in 1985. He also is the namesake for Dick Howser Stadium at FSU.”

Fulmer, Swanson and Benintendi are three of the four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award named earlier this week.

The Dick Howser Trophy winner will be announced next Thursday on MLB Network.

Vanderbilt pitcher David Price won both the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy in 2007.
 

Jun 4, 2015 10:06 PM