Every first-round pick who turns down seven figures to play college baseball faces the same backlash from scouts, media and especially fans of the spurned professional team. The players are called greedy, foolish or worse. Their desire to play baseball is questioned.
They respond in varying ways. Some of them simply block it out and improve their draft stock in three years, as 2011 No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole did. Some wilt under the weight of expectations and criticism. Some get injured and never recoup the money they turned down as 18-year-olds.
None has handled it quite the way Vanderbilt righthander Tyler Beede did. The No. 21 overall pick by the Blue Jays out of a Massachusetts high school in 2011, Beede bared his soul in the form of a hip-hop song he wrote, recorded and posted on the Internet under the name “Young Beedah.” He raps:
“I signed myself up for a life of the unknown/got drafted in June my senior year, here’s why I told them no, it goes: there’s many reasons, just like there’s many seasons/it’s really what I believed in, nobody will ever see it cuz/people are blocked by the defense of money and greed/what you dream is more important than hundreds of G’s/I wonder, the need for people to continue they bickerin/I listen to people listin’ their reasons for pickin’ different/they all belligerent, they get ideas and visions/of the life I would be livin’ if I’d taken the millions”
The amount Beede left on the table in 2011 was reportedly $2.5 million. It’s more than most people earn in their lives, so some resent Beede for walking away from it. Beede, as his lyrics illustrate, has been shaped by the experience. But rather than derail him, it has helped him grow.
After a trying freshman year, Beede went 14-1, 2.32 as a sophomore and was one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award. His junior year has been up and down—he was 7-7, 3.49 with 92 strikeouts and 41 walks in 90 innings—but he remains a lock to be drafted in the first round again, giving him a chance to net a signing bonus in the neighborhood of what passed on three years ago.
“It’s a first-round talent without a doubt, and the physical tools to pitch for a long time in the big leagues,” Vandy pitching coach Scott Brown said. “But that emotional component, he’s going to be special. More than anything, it’s not trying to be somebody else. It’s identifying who he is, him being comfortable in his own skin. It’s emotional maturity that develops at some point in a young man. He’s just starting to really tap into his own emotional maturity, which I think comes from him having ownership over what he’s doing, having fun.
“He’s under a lot of pressure. The microscope of where he was and what he did, the years he’s had here, until you’ve walked in that man’s shoes, it’s hard to judge.”
Getting Beede to be himself—physically as well as mentally—has been a major goal for Brown this spring.
“The thing Tyler has really been focused in on in the last couple weeks, he’s trying to find who he is as a pitcher, rather than who everybody thinks he should be,” Brown said. “He’s trying to understand a rhythm in his delivery and his own rhythm, and develop his own personality on the mound. (Against South Carolina in Week 14), his competitive spirit was really good, and it was his own. It wasn’t this rah-rah Carson Fulmer face.
“I think his brain is so creative, with the musician side of him and the talents that he’s been given, that he has the ability to really try to think about what he needs to do and create it, rather than just be an athlete, the non-thinking stage, and just go. I’m trying to combine both aspects.”
Brown thinks Beede’s tendency to over-analyze is a big reason for his high walk rate over the course of his career, although it has dropped from 5.6 walks per nine innings last year to 3.8 this year. Beede said he would prefer to pitch to contact so he can pitch deeper into games, but he’s had a tendency to run up high pitch counts early in games before settling into grooves later, as he did against the Gamecocks, when he pitched into the ninth inning in what Brown called one of his best outings as a Commodore. Earlier this spring, Beede said he told himself to “throw the first inning in the bullpen” to try to find his rhythm earlier once the game starts.
“I initially tell myself to split the plate,” he said. “I pitch to contact, get ahead early, and don’t walk guys. It’s not my mindset to not walk anyone, but split the plate. I don’t necessarily need to be more fine, but I need to pitch to the spots on the corners and more the thirds than the halves of the plate.”
When he’s on, Beede shows three plus pitches: a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a consistently excellent changeup and a sharp power curveball that is less consistent. Landing the curveball for a strike can be a challenge, but he gets plenty of hitters to chase it in the dirt. He’s working on throwing it for a strike more often.
“I tell myself to make an adjustment, try to throw it at the batter,” he said midway through the season. “My focal point needs to be different. It’s certainly a pitch that’s progressed from the fall to now, definitely more consistent. I know when I feel a good one out of the hand.”
With at least five general managers on hand in his last start at the SEC tournament, Beede did nothing to help his draft stock, as multiple scouts expressed disappointment with his 80-81 breaking ball, which lacked finish. He threw it sparingly, relying instead on his 81-84 changeup, which he can fade or cut.
“My go-to secondary pitch was my changeup,” Beede said. “That was the only pitch I could really go to for a strike, to change their rhythm. Not too many curveballs.
“There were cases where I was just too erratic. My misses were just spraying everywhere . . . That falls on my shoulders; too many free passes.”
He isn’t a finished product, but his stuff is tantalizing, and he’s shown a knack for pitching himself out of tight spots in the last two years.
“The wins don’t show it, but he’s a much better pitcher, in a lot of different ways,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “He’s mature, he carries himself well, he gets over things pretty easy. He has a very good, professional approach in between the days he’s pitching, which is admirable and certainly seeable by a lot of our young kids.”