Connor Harrell realizes it is a tad early to get ahead of himself.
The calendar just flipped to October, fall baseball practice is only a week old and the season opener is more than four months away.
But the Vanderbilt senior already feels extremely optimistic about the 2013 Commodores. In many ways — depth, pitching, returning and promising young talent — this feeling is familiar. The outfielder remembers similar thoughts popping into his head when he came out for fall practices in September of 2010 — several months before the Commodores reached their first College World Series.
“I think there is a little bit of a similar feeling just given that our talent pool here is so great right now,” Harrell said. “I think the publications are saying we have the best recruiting class and had the best one last year. So there is no shortage of talent and I think you can see that out here in practice.”
The Commodores began practicing on the new artificial turf at Hawkins Field last week and will continue through October. Fall ball will culminate with the annual intrasquad scrimmage, the Black & Gold Series, on Oct. 25-26 and 28 at Hawkins Field.
Twenty-five players, including 10 pitchers, return from last year’s team that went 35-28 and reached a NCAA Regional. Besides shortstop, which is vacant after Anthony Gomez was drafted after his junior season, every position will be staffed by a familiar face. That includes a senior-laden outfield with Jack Lupo in left, Harrell in center and Mike Yastrzemski in right. Both Harrell and Yastrzemski were drafted but decided to return for their last year.
In addition, the Commodores’ weekend starting rotation appears to be set with the return of Tyler Beede, Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro, who impressed after coming back from elbow surgery.
“We definitely have depth,” coach Tim Corbin said. “We took a trip last week and I was watching them congregate and I was thinking to myself, ‘How do you break this team down to smaller numbers to get it to a travel team of 27?’ I think that part is good from a competitive standpoint. Putting nine guys on the field might be a little difficult but that’s all good. Those are the issues you want as a coach.”
Then there’s the budding young talent.
Corbin’s 11 newcomers, featuring six pitchers, were voted as the best recruiting class in the country last week by Collegiate Baseball. This comes on the heels of a 2012 freshman class that was tabbed No. 1 by Baseball America.
Sophomores Beede, catcher Spencer Navin and third baseman Vince Conde expect to be factors once again. But Corbin also said that several of this year’s freshmen could have an immediate impact, including Dansby Swanson, who is vying for the starting shortstop position.
This wouldn’t be the first time Corbin leaned on freshmen. During that CWS run in 2011, he had four Freshman All-Americans — Pecoraro, Ziomek, Tony Kemp and Conrad Gregor.
“I think there are kids on this team that are very similar to those kids,” Corbin said. “They’ve come out here and played and they’ve played with some humility. At the same time, there is a lot of confidence with how they act and how they run around the field. You can see it. They are not timid and I like that part of them. That’s a very fine balance for a freshman to come in, play hard but yet, at the same time, not let the upperclassmen know you are trying to take over.”