Connor Kaiser may be the best defender in Tim Corbin's Vanderbilt baseball tenure
baseball Edit

The VandySports 100: No. 66, Connor Kaiser

Connor Kaiser, who manned shortstop for Vanderbilt's baseball team for most of 2016-18, makes our VandySports 100 at No. 66. You can track our countdown at our landing page here.

Connor Kaiser had a historic day in the 2018 Clemson Regional.
Connor Kaiser had a historic day in the 2018 Clemson Regional. (Joe Howell, Vanderbilt University)

Honors and awards: 2016 Freshman All-Southeastern Conference

2018 SEC All-Defensive team

2018 Clemson Regional MVP

In the VU record book: Most home runs in a game: tied-first (three, vs. Clemson, June 3, 2018)

Most RBIs in a game: first (10, vs. Clemson, June 3, 2018)

Most total bases in a game: first (14, vs. Clemson, June 3, 2018)

Before VU: Ranked the No. 286 player in the Class of 2015 by Perfect Game. Lettered three times in basketball and baseball at Blue Valley West (Ks.) High School. Baseball team won state title as a senior, and the basketball team finished runner-up his sophomore year. Won the Rawlings national Gold Glove award when he didn't make an error in 90 chances as a sophomore. All-league as a sophomore and senior, and all-state as a senior in baseball.

Freshman (2016): Played 46 games, starting 36, at shortstop, fielding .972 and 1.000 in league regular-season play. Was the team's Opening Day shortstop. Played in 22 SEC regular-season games, starting 19, hitting .271/.377/.356, with 12 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Singled twice and drove in two runs in a win over Texas A&M in the SEC tournament. Drove in two runs in a loss at Florida. Had a season-high three hits and scored two runs in a Feb. 26 win over Illinois-Chicago.

Sophomore (2017): One of three players on the team to play all 62 games; Kaiser started 19 of them. Fielded .969, and .972 in league play. Played in 29 SEC regular-season games, starting 27 while hitting .202/.258/.247 in them.Blasted his first career home run in an SEC tournament loss to South Carolina. Had three hits vs. Kentucky.

Junior (2018): Played in 59 games, starting them all, missing time only for an early-May injury. Fielded .988 for the season and made just three errors. Started all 28 SEC games in which he played, hitting .286/.364/.398 in league play with two homers, 13 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Named one of four national finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove award at shortstop. Went 5-for-7 and set school records for home runs (three), RBIs (10) and total bases (14) in the deciding game of the Clemson Regional, helping VU advance in a 19-6 rout of Clemson. Had a big two-out, two-run single in a win over TCU. Had a two-run, go-ahead homer to help VU snap a five-game mid-week skid in a win over Western Kentucky.

Post-VU: The Pirates took Kaiser in Round 3 of the 2018 Draft, making him the 86th overall pick. Kaiser has struggled to hit and ended last year in "A" ball.

Final thoughts, and why I ranked him where I did: There are some terrific debates to be had around Vanderbilt baseball in the Tim Corbin era, but one of the ones most easily settled in my mind is that of best defender. The program has had some fantastic ones, but I don't think anyone played as well as consistently at a high-impact defensive position the way Kaiser played short.

Yes, Kaiser did make some head-turning plays. But to fully appreciate him, you had to see him play on a daily basis. A tall, rangy player--his Minor League biography page lists him at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds--Kaiser was fluid and made everything look easy. He didn't have the strongest infield arm I've seen at Vanderbilt, but it was more than fine, especially given that he got rid of the ball in plenty of time and that his throws were almost exactly where they needed to be, virtually all the time.

This is how outstanding Kaiser was in the field: I remember watching him in the Auburn series of 2018 when he made an errant throw to first. I immediately thought, something must be wrong. Sure enough, Kaiser had suffered a minor injury (I can't find record of it, but I believe he tweaked his back) and missed the next two games (both of which VU lost).

Kaiser also had probably the best single-game offensive performance in school history with that three-homer, 10-RBI game to oust Clemson from its own regional. It was totally out of line with his career, but it could hardly have come in a better spot.

It's terribly difficult to know how to value defense the way it is offense, and to the latter, Kasier's bat kept him out of the lineup for parts of his first two years. But Kaiser's defense was so good that between that, and the performance at Clemson in 2018, I've slotted him here.

Connor Kaiser career stats
Season PA Avg/OBP/slg HR - RBI - RS R/ARC-27

2016

144

.261/.362/.311

0 - 19 - 23

5.7 - 6.0

2017

236

.222/.316/.284

1 - 18 - 32

3.8 - 3.9

2018

263

.293/.389/.446

6 - 46 - 46

7.2 - 7.6

Car.

643

.260/.356/.357

7 - 83 - 101

5.66 - 5.92