The Commodores were the only SEC program to not have at least one recruit elect to bypass college and go straight to professional baseball. Louisiana State, Tennessee and Alabama each had three signees bolt for the pro ranks rather than enroll at their respective school of choice. Georgia, Arkansas and Florida each lost two elite recruits to the pros.
"The award speaks for itself and certainly justified," said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. "I haven’t seen a college pitcher more impactful to his team because of his defensive abilities. Sonny is an outstanding pitcher, but this award separates him as the best defensive pitcher in the country. When he’s on the mound, he is a fifth infielder."
Vanderbilt had been eliminated in the regionals on Monday night in two of the past three seasons. This Commodores team may lack the elite players it had with David Price and Pedro Alvarez in the recent past. But its power comes from elsewhere.
"We're plenty talented mentally and we're plenty talented right in the chest," Corbin said. "That overcomes anything we do physically."
Junior right-hander Taylor Hill will get the start for the Commodores in tomorrow's opening round game against Illinois State at the NCAA Louisville Regional.
Best No. 2 seed: Vanderbilt
The Commodores will be tough for nationally seeded Louisville to deal with. The ‘Dores entered the SEC tournament in good shape to earn a No. 1 seed, but took a step back after going 1-2. Vandy has a solid team and a spectacular ace pitcher in right-hander Sonny Gray.
After a long day that started at 9:30 a.m. and included strong outings by juniors Jimmy Nelson, Drew Pomeranz and Anthony Ranaudo, the scouting contingent was considerably thinner by the time the late game between Vanderbilt and Arkansas started. Those who remained were treated to the most electric stuff of the day, courtesy of Vandy righthander Sonny Gray—just a sophomore, and not draft-eligible.
There might not a better pitching matchup this whole year than Vanderbilt's Gray vs. UCLA's Cole on Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, in the first day of the Dodgertown Classic. The two flame-throwing righthanders are two of the top four prospects in the sophomore class, and they were teammates with Team USA last summer, when Cole went 4-0, 1.06 and Gray went 3-1, 0.75.
"You're talking about two premier arms," Bruins coach John Savage said. "A premier program in Vanderbilt, Coach (Tim) Corbin, Sonny Gray. And then the summer that Gerrit had with USA. Two projectable high draft picks in the '11 draft. It should be fun to see those two good arms."
"Being a player, having fans in the stands is a boost," pitcher Sonny Gray said. "You're playing for Nashville and the University as well as the fans. It makes you want to do that much better. It means a lot to see a big crowd, especially when it's cold out there in February.
"Put on a heavy jacket and come out and support us. It's going to be a fun season. Hopefully it will be a season that we'll never forget. We've put in a lot of work in the offseason and it's nice when fans come out and show their support."
1) Virginia* (2)
4) Kansas State
Projected national seeds in parentheses.
*-Projected winner of an automatic bid.