Vandy’s pitching tradition carries on with Beede, super sophs

Vanderbilt junior Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.58 ERA, 108/47 K-BB) -- who'll likely draw the Commodores' first start in the upcoming College World Series -- was taken by the San Francisco Giants in last week's MLB Draft (14th overall).

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Once upon a time, Penn State was known as Linebacker U. for all the star players it produced at the position.

The college baseball version of that is Vanderbilt, which can now be rightly called Pitching U. The school has become a beacon for attracting top talent on the front end … and eventually turning out some of the game’s best pitchers.

That includes a trio of Major League Baseball standout starters — Tampa Bay’s David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner and current MLB strikeout leader; Atlanta’s Mike Minor, the crafty southpaw slowed by injury this season; and Oakland’s Sonny Gray, an American League Rookie of the Year candidate and already the ace of a first-place team (Athletics).

On top of that, there are currently 14 more ex-Commodores pitchers in the minor leagues, including five at triple-A, four at double-A, two at single-A and three in developmental leagues.

"We certainly use it to recruit because it serves as the foundation for pitching success and a progression of experiences that it takes in order to reach the ultimate goal," Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin said of his program attracting the top high school talent to Nashville.

"Because, obviously, they come here," Corbin added, "they do want to go to Omaha (Neb., for the College World Series). But in the back of their mind, they want to play at the highest level someday."

Making the College World Series — or, at least, coming close — has also become standard operating procedure for Vanderbilt baseball. The Commodores, who have made the NCAA tournament 10 straight years, just hosted and won a Super Regional to advance to the CWS for the second time in four years.

On Saturday night, No. 20 Vanderbilt (46-19) plays No. 13 Louisville (50-15) in the opening round of the eight-team, double-elimination College World Series.

In 2013, the Commodores entered the NCAA tourney as the No. 2 overall seed, but lost to the same Cardinals in the Super Regional.

Once again, Vanderbilt’s strength involves starting pitching, led by junior Tyler Beede (8-7, 3.58 ERA, 108/47 K-BB), who topped the nation in victories last year (14). Last Thursday, he was taken for a second time in the Major League Baseball draft — this time to the Giants (14th overall).

Out of high school three years ago, Beede (drafted 22nd overall by the Toronto Blue Jays) turned down a signing offer of $2.2 million to attend Vanderbilt. Like Price, Minor, Gray and other Commodores before him, Beede put professional baseball and significant money on hold to go the college route.

"I wanted to follow in the footsteps of guys like Price and Gray and Minor and all those guys and just have the opportunity to play in a College World Series," said Beede, who is expected to start the CWS opener against Louisville. "To say that we have validated that by going there (to Omaha), it is a pretty special feeling."

Every Commodores draftee — especially the pitchers — must weigh the pros and cons of forgoing the quick cash for the potential rewards of playing college baseball. For Beede, his decision worked out just fine.

"It just gives you confidence knowing that the developmental process here is successful and that it works," Beede said. "There are obviously keys to success. As a player, you have to take pride in your own craft.

"You have to put in your own work ethic. Obviously, there is a system that works here, and there is a culture here with the way coach Corbin runs things and develops players."

Beede wasn’t the only Commodores pitcher drafted last week. Also selected were Adam Ravenelle (Tigers, 4th round), Jared Miller (Diamondbacks, 11th round) and Brian Miller (Rays, 15th round). Junior shortstop Vince Conde (Yankees, ninth round) was also drafted.

"A lot of it has to do with the culture here, both the academic piece and just the culture coach Corbin has presented," Commodores pitching coach Scott Brown said of recruiting and developing pitchers. " … A lot of it has to do with the resources, as well.

"Our pitching lab is just a tremendous area where a lot of growth can take place, a lot of individual growth with the access they have all the time to it. It has all the tools they need to be successful."

In his 12th season, Corbin initially laid the foundation for Vanderbilt becoming a pitching hotbed alongside former pitching coach Derek Johnson, who departed two years ago to become the Chicago Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator.

These days, some of the best pitching talent in the country annually signs with the Commodores.

In fact, six incoming recruits were drafted last week, including four pitchers. Among the stars of the 2014 class: Touki Touissant (Diamondbacks, Round 1/16th overall) and Justus Sheffield (Indians, Round 1/31st overall), the latter of whom was recently named Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Like those highly drafted and eventually signed by Vanderbilt in previous years, Touisssant and Sheffield must now decide whether to go the pro route or enter school and not be draft-eligible for three more years.

"They all came here, and they all got drafted much higher than they did (originally), and they were all in the big leagues within two years, some a year," Corbin said of Price, Minor and Gray, as well as Pirates all-star third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

"So, it just points to the level of competition, experiences and how through this you can get an education and you still can reach your dream."

Then again, it is understandable that a young man would accept life-altering money right out of high school, instead of rolling the dice on getting just as much money or more after their junior year of college.

"On the other side of that is 18-year-old kids are fickle," Corbin said. "Unfortunately, some of the parents are, too. The advice they get — and not just from the parents — but advisement doesn’t always point in the direction of strengthening the mind.

"It points to the quickest way to get a dollar, short-term financial success, that often times does not lead to long-term success."

Corbin notes the Commodores have had seven signed pitching recruits not enter school and turn pro after being drafted in the first round. Of that group, four are out of baseball, while the other three are still working through the minors.

"I won’t take a backseat," Corbin said of not deferring to the pro ranks when it comes to convincing a highly drafted recruit to come to school instead of turning pro.

"And I have not been ridiculed," he added, "but challenged from the standpoint of, ‘How can you look at a kid and tell him that he should turn down this amount of money, whatever it may be, to come to school?’ I just have no problem saying that. I have never personally made choices on opportunities with money. If I had, I wouldn’t be there."

There is certainly the burden, though, of developing players who were initially drafted but came to Vanderbilt.

Vandy has players, selected out of high school in 2012, who could be part of next year’s MLB draft: The list includes sophomores Carson Fulmer (Red Sox, 15th round), Walker Buehler (Pirates, 14th round) and sophomore Tyler Ferguson (Giants, 40th round).

"It’s about happiness. It’s about growth. And it’s about a support system," Corbin said of choosing the collegiate route. "And I always felt like college is a place that they make all the choices.

"They choose their coach. They choose their friends. They choose where they are going to eat. They choose where they are going to sleep."

When players turn pro right out of high school, however, their world changes more dramatically than going from the prep level to college, according to Corbin.

"The other opportunity at (age) 18, there are no choices," he said. "They are by themselves. They are on their own. Their coaches fluctuate. Their life changes. Their friends are acquaintances.

"I don’t think their friends or acquaintances are rooting for them to get where they want to go because their friends want to go to the same place they want to go. And the quicker they go down, the faster they go up.

"Here, there is a common goal of success, team success. I think that is healthy for the individual."