2011 was the greatest year in Vanderbilt baseball history. A veteran-laden team ran out to a share of the SEC title, blitzed to their first ever College World Series trip, and found a way to have 12 different players drafted by major league teams all in the span of two short months. Their history-making run elevated the status of Vanderbilt athletics and cemented Tim Corbin's claim as one of the best coaches in the country.
It's been over a year since that famous class played their final games at Hawkins Field, and 11 of those players have since gone on to chase their dreams with minor league clubs. The 12th, Will Clinard, ended up returning to Vandy for his fourth year before signing with Detroit earlier this year. Today, we'll take a look at how these players have handled their first year away from Nashville and see who may be fast tracked for a MLB debut.
Since the Commodores sent an unprecedented dozen players to the draft last year, we'll start today by looking at the pitchers. Here's a look at how the Vandy hurlers of 2011 are faring with a full year of professional experience under their belts. First, the stats:
Last year, few Vanderbilt fans would have wagered that Mark Lamm would have the best minor league career of his #VandyBoy brethren, but the versatile reliever has emerged as a stalwart in AA ball for the Braves' system. Lamm, who pitched 27 strong innings in his final season in Nashville, leads the Mississippi Braves with nine saves and has posted a stellar 26:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 innings down south. If he continues to pitch well, he may be in line to be the first member of his class to make it to a AAA club.
What's also surprising have been the struggles between members of Vandy's formerly dominant weekend rotation. Sonny Gray, a first-round pick by the Athletics last season, has struggled with his control in AA play after shutting down batters with the same team last year. In five starts with the Midland RockHounds in 2011, Gray put together a .45 ERA and had a 18:6 K:BB ratio in 20 innings.
He has struggled to return to that form in 2012. His strikeout numbers have slumped and his walks have increased, diminishing his effectiveness on the mound. It's still too early to be concerned, but this regression has set back expectations for when Gray will make his major league debut.
Gray's rotation mates, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill, have also had difficulty in their sophomore seasons in the minors. Garvin has had some flashes of brilliance with the Rays's single-A affiliate (5.1 innings, 10 Ks in a start back on May 3), but ineffectiveness and injuries have derailed his 2012 campaign. He has pitched sparingly since May and has been on and off Charlotte's disabled list for the past month and a half.
Hill, who rocks a near-perfect dirt-stache in his profile picture, has been more consistent. Hill has been his typically reliable self for much of the season, but a few rough outings have upped his ERA to 4.46. He'll have to limit these bad nights if he wants to rise to the next level. He isn't striking many batters out (44 in 82 innings) and single-A batters are hitting .273 against him. Without electric stuff like Gray and Garvin have, he'll have to prove that he can be effective with his veteran style of pitching before teams will give him a second look. He has the talent to be much more than a single-A pitcher, but it may be tougher for him to earn the opportunity to impress - sweet mustache notwithstanding.
Jack Armstrong, who occasionally joined Gray, Garvin, and Hill in the weekend rotation, has yet to get his professional career underway. After sitting out last fall due to arm tenderness, he'll miss all of 2012 thanks to Tommy John surgery. The flamethrowing righty will remain a talented enigma for the Astros heading into 2013.
That leaves us with a pair of Vanderbilt relievers who have been impressive on the mound so far in 2012. Corey Williams, who may be best known for taking a bone-shattering line drive to the kneecap against Florida and still crawling to get the out at first, has emerged as the Beloit Snappers' closer, recording 12 saves so far this season. The lefty has had some trouble with walks (20 in 38 innings this season), but his ability to strike out batters has entrenched him as a key member of Beloit's bullpen.
Navery Moore, who closed for Vandy in 2011, has earned appearances as both a starter and reliever for Atlanta's single-A affiliate. While his results have mixed solid outings with terrible ones, he's been effective on the mound for the most part, limiting opponents to a .228 batting average. Moore has been a steady source of strikeouts, but he'll need more seasoning and consistency before a call-up is in his future.
Next week, we'll take a look at the heart of that 2011 team's batting order to check in on players like Aaron Westlake and Jason Esposito. Plus, we'll get a valuable update on which dugouts the Joe Loftus Random Event Generator is breakdancing into this year. Stay tuned.