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January 26, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 7 Vanderbilt

Head coach: Tim Corbin
Last season: 54-13, 22-8 in SEC
Postseason: The Commodores displayed dominance throughout the season. After sweeping the SEC regular season and tournament titles, Vandy was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their season was ended by surprising Michigan.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

Vanderbilt caught everyone's attention last season by winning the SEC regular season and tournament titles.

The Commodores entered the NCAA Tournament with a full head of steam, but were surprisingly eliminated by Michigan in the regional round.

Vandy hopes to take care of some unfinished business this season.

The 'Dores aren't flawless, but welcome back one of the nation's best offenses.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES
Senior outfielder Dominic de la Osa hopes to carry the 'Dores to Omaha.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Shea Robin
1B Brad French
2B Alex Feinberg
SS Ryan Flaherty
3B Pedro Alvarez
OF Dominic de la Osa
OF David Macias
OF Johnny White/Parker Hanks
DH Andrew Giobbi
SP Mike Minor
SP Nick Christiani
SP Caleb Cotham

All-Americans Pedro Alvarez, Dominic de la Osa and Ryan Flaherty spearhead the offense, while David Macias and Alex Feinberg have important roles.

While the offense is in great shape the pitching staff enters the season with a few question marks.

Sophomore left-hander Mike Minor headlines the staff while veteran Brett Jacobson takes over as closer.

Vandy anxiously awaits its season of redemption.

Offense

If the Vandy offense continues where it left off last season, the team will experience much success.

The Commodores welcome back one of the nation's best lineups with third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Dominic de la Osa and shortstop Ryan Flaherty leading the charge.

Like former teammate David Price, Alvarez could be the first pick of the 2008 MLB Draft. As a sophomore last season, the hard-hitting infielder batted .386 with 18 homers and 68 RBIs. He also slugged .684 and had a .463 on-base percentage.

De la Osa decided to return for his senior season. In 2007, he batted .378 with 20 homers and 62 RBIs. He also slugged .727 and had a .452 on-base percentage.

Perhaps most impressive, Flaherty pieced together a lengthy hitting streak last season. He also hit .381 with four homers and 57 RBIs. Additionally, he had a .531 slugging percentage and a .438 on-base percentage.

Vandy also expects significant contributions from David Macias, Alex Feinberg, Shea Robin and Brad French.

Macias and Feinberg each hit .300 or better last season, while Robin and French must step up.

Starting pitching

With David Price's departure the Vanderbilt weekend rotation enters the season with some uncertainty.

Sophomore Mike Minor is a constant.

The talented left-hander had an outstanding freshman campaign. He went 9-1 with a 3.09 ERA in 90 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 88 and walked 19 while opponents hit him at a .226 clip.

While Minor leads the charge, Nick Christiani and Caleb Cotham must rise to the occasion.

Christiani started 11 games last season and had a 4.11 ERA in 70 innings of work. Cotham redshirted.

Bullpen

Vanderbilt has some serious holes to fill without Casey Weathers, Ty Davis and Cody Crowell in the bullpen. But the return of much talent could be its silver lining.

Junior right-hander Brett Jacobson headlines the bullpen. The veteran made 21 appearances last season and had a 3.15 ERA in 74 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 58 and walked 15, while opponents hit him at a .283 clip.

Vandy also expects significant innings from Drew Hayes, Taylor Hill, Russell Brewer and Mark Lamm.

Hayes is a sophomore transfer from Bethel College, where he had a 2.72 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 72 innings of work as a freshman.

Hill is a talented true freshman while Russell Brewer and Mark Lamm assume new roles after redshirting last season.

Outlook with postseason forecast
After storming through the regular season and conference tournament last season, Vanderbilt suffered a rude awakening when it was eliminated from the postseason by Michigan. With that result serving as extra motivation, the 'Dores enter the season with their guns loaded. Vandy has some questions to answer on the mound, but is still in decent shape with sophomore left-hander Mike Minor leading the charge. Veteran Brett Jacobson must also adapt to life as a closer. While the pitching staff has some uncertainty the offense is in tremendous shape. Pedro Alvarez, Dominic de la Osa and Ryan Flaherty are three of the nation's best hitters, while David Macias and Alex Feinberg play key roles. Being one of the hunted last season was new territory. They won't be deterred this season.

Shoes to Fill

The Commodores have few holes to fill at the plate, but the opposite can be said about the pitching staff.

Vanderbilt enters the season having to replace All-American pitchers David Price and Casey Weathers, as well as Cody Crowell and Ty Davis.

Price went 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 133 1/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 194 and walked 31 while opponents hit him at a .199 clip.

Weathers was one of the nation's top closers. The hard-throwing right-hander recorded seven saves last season and had a 2.37 ERA in 49 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 75 and walked 21 while opponents hit him at a .154 clip.

Davis and Crowell each had over 18 appearances. They also finished the year with ERA's under 4.06.

Outfielder Matt Meingasner is the only offensive loss. In 2007, he hit .321 with seven homers and 37 RBIs.

Must Step Up

The Vanderbilt pitching staff has questions to answer after losing Rivals.com National Pitcher of the Year David Price to the MLB Draft.

Price had a phenomenal junior campaign, which took pressure off Saturday starter Mike Minor.

Minor looks forward to being the staff ace. But after him, there's some uncertainty.

Junior right-hander Nick Christiani is penciled in as the Saturday starter but must relish his new role. In 2007, he went 5-3 with a 4.11 ERA in 70 innings of work. He also struck out 57 and walked 36 while opponents hit him at a .271 clip.

Redshirt freshman Caleb Cotham must also step up as the third starter, while junior right-hander Brett Jacobson enjoys his new role as closer.

While the pitching staff leads the charge in this category, Coach Corbin is also looking for some clarity in right field.

Junior outfielder Johnny Whites hopes to have an important role this season, while senior Parker Hanks and redshirt freshman Steven Liddle are in the mix.

Impact Newcomer

The Vanderbilt offense won't need the services of many newcomers, but the pitching staff could use some assistance.

With one of the nation's best pitching staffs last season, the Commodores had the luxury of redshirting several talented arms.

They are needed this season.

Right-handed pitcher Caleb Cotham is slated to be the third starter in the weekend rotation, while Russell Brewer and Mark Lamm will log significant innings.

Vandy also expects immediate contributions from freshman right-hander Taylor Hill.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 6.