Vanderbilt did something a lot of college coaches thought near
impossible. That the Commodores signed a talented recruiting class
wasn’™t the shocker’"though it might have been a few years ago’"but
getting every member of a group that included at least four players
with second- to fourth-round draft grades to attend class left a strong
“It’™s the first time I can remember as a recruiter or a head coach
that we kept everyone,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “There were
some guys that could have gone either way (signing professional
contracts or enrolling in college). We did a lot of work (recruiting)
and had confidence, but this is still unusual.”
Recruiting coordinator Erik Bakich joked that getting the players’™
initial commitments turned out to be the easy part compared with the
work required to keep the players. That entailed frequent contact with
the players, from phone calls to e-mails to text messages to in-house
visits, ensuring they knew how much the Vanderbilt staff cared about
As a result, Vanderbilt’™s 12-player class rates as the nation’™s best.
Scouts accurately gauged Pedro Alvarez’™ tough signability, though it
appeared the third baseman from Horace Mann High in New York City might
sign before the end of the summer. He raised his profile at a handful
of major summer wood bat tournaments and the Red Sox, who drafted him
in the 14th round, made significant offers. Alvarez ultimately turned
down a final offer from Boston on the night before he attended his
New Commodore classmates Brett Jacobson, a righthander from
Carefree, Ariz.; Josh Zeid, a righthander from New Haven, Conn.; and
Diallo Fon, an outfielder from Suison City, Calif., all earned similar
draft grades and held similarly firm on their commitments.
“It’™s a special group because they all held their ground (in regard
to professional careers and signing bonus demands),” Bakich said.
“Education was very important to every one of them.”
Corbin deflects any praise for Vanderbilt’™s recruiting success to
Bakich, though neither professes knowledge of any secret tricks aside
from hard work, persistence and an honest, positive approach with
recruits. Corbin, nicknamed “Turbo” for his boundless energy and hard
work while at Clemson, has worked to mold Bakich, 27, in his relentless
image. The pupil has proven apt thus far, though he tosses credit back
to Corbin as “one of the most proactive coaches in recruiting I’™ve ever
seen” and notes pitching coach Derek Johnson’™s role as well.
It’™s not a stretch for a school to sign a collection of players this
talented, but rarely does the program end up taking hat sizes for each
of them the following spring. Consider national champion Texas, which
signed four players with similar draft stock to those in the Vanderbilt
group. Despite losing shortstop Johnny Whittleman and righthander Josh
Wilson as second-round signees of the Rangers and Cardinals, the
Longhorns consider it a recruiting coup that outfielders Jordan Danks
and Kyle Russell ended up matriculating in Austin.
Sure, the cases aren’™t exactly analogous as Texas tends to sign
plenty of the top-rated in-state players each year and allows the draft
to whittle down the class while Vanderbilt does more picking and
choosing on the national level. That’™s evidenced by the Commodores’™
class offering as much geographic diversity as it does talent.
Vanderbilt’™s recruiting philosophy best mirrors the one so
successfully used by Stanford over the years, and one that has helped
Rice and Tulane emerge as powers more recently. These private schools
sell the value of their top-rated academic programs, mining the theory
that talented players who are considering college instead of
professional baseball want the best education available.
That does limit the crop of recruitable players’"as this class of
universities hold more rigorous admissions standards’"but Bakich
describes that as an advantage. He’™s able to winnow his list of targets
early by nixing those with substandard grades and then spend more time
on those that meet that criterion.
While Vanderbilt’™s academic reputation is well established, it
hadn’™t earned the same acclaim on the diamond when Corbin arrived in
the summer of 2002 after a successful stint as Clemson’™s recruiting
coordinator. The Commodores hadn’™t even made the Southeastern
Conference tournament in a decade. Corbin and Bakich couldn’™t sell
success until they earned it, so recruits heard about Vanderbilt’™s
education, its status as the only private school in one of the nation’™s
top baseball conferences and the city of Nashville.
It wasn’™t easy at first, as the parents of at least one national
recruit told Bakich in frank terms that Vanderbilt couldn’™t be further
from their son’™s consideration. “A lot of these kids had no idea where
Vanderbilt was or what conference they were in,” Bakich said. “That’™s
indicative of a school most know as not an athletic powerhouse.”
That gave the staff an added incentive to work harder in recruiting
and on the field. And things are changing. Making the SEC tournament in
2003 and reaching super-regionals in 2004 gave Vanderbilt on-field
credibility and led to more improvements to the school’™s baseball
“Early on, I did compare us to a Stanford or a Rice,” Bakich said.
“The only difference was tradition. That’™s what we’™re building. We
backed that up in ‘™04. To get to a super-regional in our second year
was a pretty big step. High school kids and coaches could see there’™s
another academic school emerging on the radar.”
There’™s no better example than this class.