NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner and once again the Vanderbilt baseball program will be well-represented.
Fifteen former Commodores made an MLB appearance in 2019 and many of those same players are expected to be on Opening Day rosters when the 2020 season begins July 23.
Before those players begin to make headlines for their on-field play later this month, here’s an update on the big news items that made waves during the offseason:
PAYING THE PRICE
David Price won’t be part of the action on the field during the 2020 season. But he has already made headlines this summer for all the right reasons.
In May, Price pledged to donate $1,000 to each player in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system. The former Vanderbilt pitching ace who signed with Los Angeles in February provided some financial relief to a group of players facing a summer without baseball – the Minor League Baseball season was eventually officially canceled in late June.
As for the 34-year-old’s own 2020 campaign, Price announced July 4 he has elected not to play due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The Blackman High School graduate has appeared in 321 career games in 12 MLB seasons and is a five-time MLB All-Star.
“I’ve spoken to him about it and certainly understand it,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin recently said during an interview on WGFX-FM radio in Nashville. “It’s a tough one for him because he wants to pitch. He wants to play. But at the same time, there’s bigger things in his life.”
KEMP KEEPING THE CONVERSATION MOVING
Tony Kemp has decided he is no longer going to sit around and wait for change. Instead, he’s going to try to enact it.
Kemp has joined the movement to help eradicate social injustice with his creation of the +1 Effect. It’s a campaign centered around open dialogue with the goal of changing perspective while making progress toward systemic change.
In training camp with the Oakland Athletics, Kemp’s efforts have garnered attention from MLB.com, The Athletic and The New York Times among other publications. The Centennial High School graduate is also selling +1 Effect masks, shorts and shirts with a portion of the proceeds from sales going to Gideon’s Army.
Sonny Gray was a first-round MLB Draft pick by the Oakland Athletics in 2011. Nine years later he’ll toe the rubber on Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds.
“To be an Opening Day starter, especially in this circumstance, I try to put myself in that moment,” Gray told MLB.com. “It’s going to be an important day. It’s going to be a fun game to play. Baseball will be back and it will be back in some of the weirdest and craziest circumstances within the baseball game that’s it’s ever, really, been a part of.
“I think 2020 is going to be a season that is going to be remembered forever.”
A graduate of Smyrna High School, Gray is coming off an All-Star season in which he went 11-8 with a .287 ERA in 31 starts while striking out a career high 205 hitters. It was his best campaign since 2015 when he finished third in Cy Young voting in the American League pitching for Oakland (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.082 WHIP).
When Gray takes the mound July 24 against Detroit, in a game televised nationally on MLB Network, he could see a familiar face behind the plate in former Vandy catcher Curt Casali who is in his third season with the Reds. And Derek Johnson, the Baseball America 2019 Major League Coach of the Year, is Cincinnati’s pitching coach.
Both Casali and Johnson will be hoping Gray can get the Reds off to a big start in 2020.
“There is no denying that Sonny has stepped up,” Cincinnati manager David Bell told MLB.com. “He’s a leader. He sets a great example. He also had a great season last year. Given that it worked out that way, we couldn’t have asked for a better option to set the tone for the season for our rotation.”
SWANSON VS. PUGH
Dansby Swanson is a pretty great athlete. But so is Mallory Pugh.
Now voters can decide which star holds prowess over the other.
Swanson, the Atlanta Braves’ shortstop, has joined Pugh for a fundraiser to benefit youth sports opportunities for kids in need. The fundraiser features two sweepstakes in which participants can win Pugh’s U.S Women’s National Team jersey signed by that entire team or win a pair of Swanson’s cleats.
The grand prize winner of the sweepstakes will receive four field-level tickets to an Atlanta Braves home game during the 2021 season.
REYNOLDS IMPRESSING FOR PITTSBURGH
It didn’t take long for former Vanderbilt outfielder Bryan Reynolds to make it to The Show. Picked in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Reynolds quickly climbed the professional ranks to debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.
Reynolds played in 134 games in 2019 and hit .314 with 68 RBIs, 16 home runs and an on-base percentage of .377. Coming into 2020 he has continued to impress.
“Bryan Reynolds is going to be a good player and he’s going to be a good hitter for a long time,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton told MLB.com. “He’s going to be one of those guys that I think people outside of Pittsburgh are going to realize how good of a player he is. I don’t think people in the game realize how good this guy is going to be and how much he’s going to hit.”
A switch hitter, Reynolds finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2019. The Brentwood High School graduate helped Vandy win the 2014 national championship and was an All-American in 2016.
AROUND THE BIGS
A handful of other former Vandy standouts are expected to compete in MLB during the shortened 2020 season.
The San Francisco Giants have a trio of Commodores in catcher Mike Yastrzemski and pitchers Tyler Beede and Sam Selman – although Beede has recently been placed on the 60-day injured list. Walker Buehler pitches for their West Division rivals the Los Angeles Dodges while Ben Bowden is in Colorado Rockies camp.
In the American League, pitcher Mike Minor is with the Texas Rangers while Carson Fulmer is pitching for the Chicago White Sox.
Pitcher Kyle Wright is Atlanta looking to log innings for the Braves while Wright’s teammate and pitcher Philip Pfeifer could make his MLB debut this summer.
Waiting in the wings and considered among professional baseball’s top prospects are JJ Bleday (Miami Marlins), Austin Martin (Toronto Blue Jays) and Zander Wiel (Minnesota Twins).