I know it’s a little bit late but Vanderbilt emerged from Omaha with the title of College World Series champion after a hard-fought tournament. What’s surprising about Vanderbilt’s CWS win is the fact that it’s their first national championship in baseball despite being a highly-regarded school for developing future professional players.
Known for producing pitchers, Vanderbilt was really put on the map as the place where David Price earned his stripes before being selected first overall in the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (as they were called then).
Just in the last four years, 28 Vandy players have been drafted by big league teams and are already making big contributions in the minor leagues. Five of those were drafted in 2014 and haven’t been able to contribute yet but there are certainly some recognizable names on the list. The first Vanderbilt pitcher selected in 2014 was Tyler Beede, whose commitment to the college was so strong that when he was drafted in the first round in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays, he turned down an bonus offer that was reportedly $2.5 million.
The name that most people will know best is Sonny Gray, the right-handed starter for the Oakland A’s. Gray was a first round pick in 2011 and, after making his big league debut last year, he’s compiled an outstanding 12-6 record with a 2.82 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 8.4 K/9 (with a 3.0 BB/9) rate in 163 innings as a big league starter. That’s not bad considering that he (like Marcus Stroman who was drafted in 2012), is considered short for a pitcher and many pundits thought he’d be a reliever.
More recently, the Detroit Tigers have plucked a couple of Vanderbilt pitchers and both are among the club’s top prospects. In 2012, the Tigers selected 6-foot-6 righty Drew VerHagen in the fourth round and the 23 year old has made it all the way to Triple-A Toledo, making 16 solid starts this year with a 3.86 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. VerHagen has never really been a strikeout pitcher and his 5.1 K/9 rate is only a little lower than his career average throughout the minors. On the bright side, his 2.2 BB/9 rate is the lowest it’s ever been at the highest level of competition.
Pitching for the stacked West Michigan Whitecaps, Kevin Ziomek was a second round pick for the Tigers in 2013 coming out of his junior season with Vandy. Ziomek (who we interviewed earlier in the season) has been dominant in the Midwest League at the age of 22, posting a 2.40 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 over his 71 1/3 innings this season.
Grayson Garvin was a supplemental round pick (59th overall) in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Rays and, although he has missed a great deal of time thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2012 and other injuries along the way, he’s put up some very good numbers, reaching Double-A this season but only pitching in very short stints.
Taylor Hill went a little under the radar when he was selected in the 6th round of the 2011 draft by the Washington Nationals in 2011 but he’s actually joined Sonny Gray in the major leagues after making his big league debut just a few days ago. While the jury is still out on his major league career, Hill was absolutely dominating in the Triple-A International League before his call up, throwing 93 2/3 innings and posting a 1.92 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and an outstanding 7.22 K/BB ratio.
Not to be overlooked are some hitters like Conrad Gregor, a fourth round selection in 2013 by the Houston Astros. Gregor has a career .311/.405/.448 slash line in just a year and a half and has been hitting .390 with six home runs in 117 plate appearances since being promoted to the Lancaster Jet Hawks of the High-A California League.
Tony Kemp, taken the round after Gregor in the same year by the same team, was hitting .336/.433/.468 with 28 stolen bases in 72 games with Lancaster before a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi.
Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, selected in the 14th round in 2013 by the Baltimore Orioles, was hitting .306/.365/.554 with 34 extra-base hits in Class-A Delmarva before a recent promotion to High-A Frederick.
Vanderbilt’s allure, especially for pitchers, is unmistakable and their College World Series win is likely to convince other highly touted prospects to spend some time there before moving on to professional baseball.