As Major League Baseball's Amateur Draft wore on Monday night, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin's influence permeated through the event. By the time the first and compensatory rounds concluded, four of his hand-picked pitchers had heard their names called.
Four players with Vanderbilt ties - two starting pitchers and two recruits - were selected in the first 60 picks of the MLB Draft. Friday/Saturday starters Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin were the first two current players to be chosen. Super recruits Tyler Beede and Kevin Comer were also picked out of high school, both by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Gray, a potential top five pick coming into the season, fell to the Oakland Athletics at 18 to start things for the Commodores. Gray had an impressive season, but questions about his size (at 5'11", he's smaller than most starting pitchers in the major league) left him sliding down the draft board. Scouts worried that he would reach his potential as a hard-throwing reliever rather than a front-end starter.
However, the Pride of Smyrna will have a chance to make an immediate impact with the A's as one of the most polished pitchers in this year's draft. Gray has been dominant at every level he's played at so far, ranging across high school, summer league, SEC play, and even an impressive stint with USA Baseball. He'll have the chance to prove that he can start at the highest level in the world, but first may have to earn his stripes in the bullpen depending on how Oakland plots his trajectory to the bigs.
Gray's partner in nastiness, Grayson Garvin, was the next Commodore to be selected on Monday night. Garvin, a physically imposing lefty who was 2011's SEC Pitcher of the Year, went 59th overall to the Tampa Bay
Devil Rays. He'll join another former Vanderbilt ace on the staff there - last year's Cy Young Award runner-up David Price.
Two other players with Vandy ties also heard their names called on Monday night, beginning Toronto's all-out assault on head coach Tim Corbin. The Blue Jays picked a pair of Vanderbilt commits with their five picks on Monday, selecting northeastern high schoolers Tyler Beede and Kevin Comer at 21 and 57, respectively. Beede is a polished right-handed pitcher who has a strong commitment to Vanderbilt and had been penciled in as a potential weekend starter with the upcoming departures of Gray, Garvin, and Taylor Hill. MLB.com suggested that Beede has the best mechanics of any eligible high schooler in 2011.
However, Toronto's selection of the youngster so early in the draft will present some headaches for Coach Corbin. Beede's been steadfast in his college choice in the weeks leading up to the draft, but there's no doubt that the Blue Jays have a plan if they were willing to use their first pick of the draft on the high school ace. Beede will have a tough decision to make over the next month. The Blue Jays will likely offer him a boatload of guaranteed money to skip college and come directly to the minor leagues. Will a substantial contract be enough to change his mind and lure him from Nashville to Toronto?
Comer will be in a similar predicament. He's a physically solid righty with a mid-90s fastball and strong curveball that would allow him to contribute immediately at Hawkins Field. However, he'll have to choose between playing for a scholarship in Nashville in 2012 or attending spring training with the Blue Jays. His potential contract and signing bonus probably won't be as rich as Beede's, but there's still a good chance that the senior could still choose the immediate professional track over college baseball.
For each high schooler, it will come down to money. If the Blue Jays can offer either pitcher what they believe they're worth, they'll sign. If Toronto's offer can't match the value of the exposure, development, and education that playing at Vanderbilt provides, they'll be walking down West End by late August. Given the opportunities that Vandy's 2012 rotation will present, the Commodores have a more than a fighting chance to hold on to either player.
Only two current players are off the board so far, and that means that a torrent of Commodores should hear their names called on Tuesday. Players like Jason Esposito, Aaron Westlake, Navery Moore, and Taylor Hill are all likely picks for the remainder of the early rounds. While the draft will scoop some of the 'Dores best players in 2011, they'll leave behind a strong network of developing players and burgeoning stars at the Hawk.
We'll have more updates here at AoG and on Twitter throughout the day. If you're on Twitter, check out @TrainIsland, @AnchorofGold, @VUHawkTalk, and @VSLNation, amongst others, for running commentary.