In this current powerball era of our national pastime, Vanderbilt true freshman Enrique Bradfield Jr offers an exciting set of tools so unique in today’s game. Bradfield’s talents were on full display last weekend when his Commodores visited SEC archrival University of Florida.
Bradfield is a 6-01/165 lefthanded hitter and thrower known for his 80 speed, which enhances his game on both sides of the ball. The Hialeah, FL native was expected to be a 3rd-5th round selection in last year’s First Year Player Draft, but the COVID-inspired shortening of the draft to five rounds all but assured his matriculation at Vanderbilt.
With his blazing speed, refined approach at the plate, and polished defense in center field, Bradfield has emerged as a fixture in Coach Tim Corbin’s lineup. The 19-year-old started in CF and led off for the Commodores in each of the series’ three games, going 8 for 15, scoring five runs, swiping four bags, and playing superb defense.
The first thing I noticed about Bradfield was his mature approach at the plate—the kid simply does not give away at bats. He was especially impressive against Florida’s tough Sunday starter, southpaw Hunter Barco, whose 91-94 MPH fastball/vicious slider combo can be hellish on lefty hitters. But Bradfield handled this challenge with aplomb. At no point was this more indicative than Bradfield’s at bat in the 3rd. Barco opened Bradfield up with three straight low-80’s sliders, two of which Bradfield took for balls. After seeing several 92-93 MPH fastballs, Bradfield hung in and slashed a 92 MPH heater to right field for a single.
Later, in the 9th inning against Florida’s flame-throwing closer Jack Leftwich, Bradfield proved his mettle. He took a 94 MPH fastball just inside for Ball 1, decided to pass on a snappy 83 MPH slider that dropped in for a strike, then lined a single—his fourth hit of the day—into right field.
As I indicated earlier, Bradfield’s calling card is his grade 80 speed. He currently leads the nation with 34 steals (in 36 attempts) and it’s easy to see why. He doesn’t just take advantage of his wheels—he’s adept at reading pitchers and taking healthy leads, and even when he gets a late jump (like in the 4th inning on Friday) his first-step quickness and acceleration keep him out of harm’s way.
Bradfield’s defense in CF is on par with his offense. His speed and deft ball-tracking ability allow him to play shallow and cut off hits. It also enhances the impact of his strong, accurate arm. For instance, in the 3rd inning on Sunday, the Gators’ Sterlin Thompson laced a single up the middle. Kris Armstrong, who was on first and runs well, challenged Bradfield’s arm and took off for 3rd. Charging the ball, Bradfield was able to intercept it in relatively shallow center field and threw a bullet to nab Armstrong.
At a time when the outcome of baseball games is often determined by the team with the most thump, Bradfield offers a fresh and exciting alternative—an alternative that fosters a winning brand of play. Though comps often get sportswriters in trouble, I couldn’t help myself from thinking of a young Kenny Lofton when I first laid eyes on Bradfield. Lightning fast. Excellent instincts. Great ball-tracking ability. Polished hit tool. Burgeoning power. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with that one.
The 2022 draft is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, primarily because of the plethora of high-quality college position players that will be available. One of these is Vanderbilt SS Carter Young.
Young is well known to amateur baseball fans. His .429 OBP led the fabled 2017 18U National Team, a collection of players that included the likes of Jarred Kelenic, Kumar Rocker, Nolan Gorman, and Ryan Weathers and won the 18U Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada. Then, after arriving in Nashville in the fall of 2019, Young promptly beat out eventual 2020 1st rounder Austin Martin for the Commodores coveted starting SS role. In the abbreviated season, Young acquitted himself nicely, hitting .328.
Young has had an impressive 2021 campaign so far, and the weekend series against Florida provided a nice glimpse of the kid’s all-round ability. Defense is currently Young’s strong suit and he showed why in Sunday’s series finale. On three separate plays, Young looked like a big league shortstop. In the 1st inning, Gators leadoff man Jacob Young kicked things off with a hard grounder into the “5.5 hole.” Carter made an excellent stop though couldn’t complete the play. Three innings later, on a slow Nathan Hickey roller, Young charged in, showed soft hands and a quick transfer, and made an on-the-money throw to nail Hickey. Finally, in the 7th inning, Young ranged all the way to his right to hoover a grounder off the bat of Jordan Butler. His strong throw nabbed Butler by a step.
Young’s no slouch at the plate either, as his team-leading 10 home runs indicate. He attacks pitches from both sides of the plate and uses the electricity in his wrists and forearms to generate power that one would not expect from his slender 6-00/180 frame. While Young’s steep swing path enables him to inflict tremendous damage against pitches below the waist, it’s made it difficult for him to have success against high heat. During the course of the weekend, Young got beat on a series of 93+ heaters that were above his swing path. So far, that pitch has been his kryptonite, and SEC hurlers have begun to adjust their game plan accordingly—in conference play, the Selah, WA native is hitting .220 with a 32-percent K-rate.
Young’s difficulties with elevated fastballs notwithstanding, he has an excellent chance of following in former Commodore SS Dansby Swanson’s footsteps as a premium draft pick next year. Young’s excellent work ethic, raw skills, high baseball IQ, and the fact that he still has over 500 PAs in front of him to iron out the kinks before next year’s draft all work overwhelmingly in his favor.