This year’s crop of high school arms from Massachusetts is one of the best in recent memory, but several of those pitchers have commitments to elite academic universities that scouts will have to weigh.
“We’ve either got a couple future big league pitchers, or we’ve got a couple future senators,” one area scout joked.
Tyler Beede, a Vanderbilt commit, has been drawing the most interest among the intellectual pitchers—and, for that matter, more interest than every prep player in the Northeast. A second area scout called him the best high schooler in New England.
A late start to the season and poor weather has limited Beede to only a handful of appearances this spring, but talent evaluators have been flocking in waves to see each week’s outing. One of Beede’s recent starts featured about 35-40 area scouts and at least five scouting directors. In five starts this season for Lawrence Academy (Groton, Mass.), Beede is 5-0, 0.39 with 71 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched, while walking six and allowing only seven hits.
The weather in the Northeast has been cooler and wetter than usual, but Beede hasn’t let it affect his performance. When hitters don’t wear batting gloves, some people view that as toughness. You could say Beede was gritty in his second start of the season, when the game-time temperature was about 25 degrees and he didn’t wear long sleeves.
“I went out there with short sleeves on and everyone was like, ‘Dude, you’re crazy.’ I skipped the Under Armour and went right to the short sleeves, because I thought it was a nice day,” Beede said. “I really am used to the New England weather, and it’s just who I am, that type of pitcher. . . It just gives you a toughness. You’ve got to long toss a little longer, you’ve got to stretch out a little more and run a little bit to get the blood flowing. It really doesn’t bother me once (I’m) on the mound.”
But nothing seems to bother Beede when he’s on the mound. The righthander has an ideal pitcher’s frame, standing at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot, Beede’s fastball sits at 88-93 mph and touches 95. He has good arm speed on his 78-80 changeup that flashes plus, and he has a firm 75-78 curveball that’s presently average but has good shape.
“It’s hard to argue with his stuff when he’s giving you three potentially plus pitches right now,” said a third area scout, adding that Beede likely projects as a sandwich-round selection.
Though Beede said he worked on his curveball the most last offseason, his changeup has an interesting back story.
“It’s not a circle change, it’s not a box change, it kind of lays in my fingers and whatever happens to my hand moving, it happens. Sometimes I don’t even know which way the ball is going to move, and if I don’t know which way it’s going to move, the hitter doesn’t,” Beede said. “I hold my palm up. All of my fingers are on the top of the ball. It’s like a two-seam grip. My thumb and pinky aren’t on the sides, they’re all on the top aligned. It’s something I pronate over, and it either drops or fades, and sometimes it cuts. It’s a real unique pitch for me.”
Some scouts had questions in the past about Beede’s mechanics and arm action, but he has smoothed them out this year, repeating his delivery well and getting good extension out front.
“I was falling off, and I wasn’t staying over my back leg as much, so I added in a (movement) to my delivery, kind of going over my head like a Curt Schilling type of windup. I’m doing that, so it’s helping me stay more balanced and stay over my back leg longer and rotate my hips better. That was one of the things, and my arm slot dropped a little bit last year, so that was something I worked on when I was doing my throwing program. It’s really gotten better.”
In the offseason, Beede works out at Cressey Performance, a baseball-specific exercise facility in Hudson, Mass., where major leaguers Kevin Youkilis and Tim Collins train. Beede started working out with Eric Cressey three years ago at the suggestion of former big leaguer Rich Gedman, and since then, he has added about 40 pounds to his body and about eight to 10 mph in velocity on his fastball. Fellow top Massachusetts prep pitchers Adam Ravenelle, Devin Perry and Andrew Chin also train with Cressey.
“(Cressey) does a lot of flexibility, shoulder strength and care. He keeps me healthy,” Beede said. “He’s gotten me to this point and I obviously wouldn’t be where I’m out without him.”
Beede’s father, Walter, who was selected by the Cubs in the 13th round in 1981, has also been influential in his development. Walter, a first baseman and catcher, had a one-year stint in the minor leagues before a rotator cuff injury ended his career, but during that season he played on the same team as Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid.
“My dad has been everything for me," Beede said. "He’s taught me all the ins and outs of baseball. He’s taught me the simple mechanics when I was younger to how to be poised and composed on the mound. That’s probably the best advice he’s ever given me, two words: poise and composure. That’s something I always wrote under the brim of my hat since I was in little league. It was always a reminder if I ever got hit around a little bit or if I was giving up runs, I would step to the back of the mound and take a deep breath, look at my hat, and get back on the mound. … (My dad) has been with me every step of the way.”
Aside from training with Cressey, Beede has stayed active by playing football. He first picked up the pigskin as a seven-year-old and played every season until his junior year in high school. After spending two years at his local public high school, Auburn High, Beede transferred to Lawrence Academy, one of the top private schools in the state. Beede didn’t play football right away at Lawrence because he didn’t want to fall behind academically, but he took to the gridiron as a senior, playing wide receiver, cornerback and long-snapper.
“It’s tough going all year without having that competitive drive in a sport,” Beede said. “To have that week-to-week basis of going out there and hitting some guys and getting that competitive edge or adrenaline going, is something good to have.”
Even though baseball is his sport of choice, Beede has a running joke with Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin that he might try to walk on to the football team as a long-snapper.
Beede said he transferred to Lawrence Academy because its rigorous academic curriculum would help prepare him for college. And he said he chose Vanderbilt because it would help prepare him for life after baseball.
“The transfer from Auburn to Lawrence Academy wasn’t easy, because we won a Super Bowl and a state championship (at Auburn), and that made it really tough to transfer out of there. But at the same time, it wasn’t so much about athletics as academics,” Beede said. “Trading my athletic ability for the greatest education I could get was a real big thing for me. Everyone knows you can’t play baseball your whole life, and you’re going to need your degree to fall back on. I feel like Vanderbilt offered a pretty great education for me. The baseball team is up to No. 2, in the top five in the country, so they’re doing well and they’ve gotten better each year.”
Lawrence Academy readied Beede for college in other ways too. He lives in the dormitories on campus during the week and goes home on weekends, preparing him for what it’s like to like to live on his own.
Beede has embraced the Lawrence Academy experience to the fullest, according to Lawrence Academy coach Chris Margraf. Beede takes independent dance classes with renowned instructor Brian Feigenbaum, and Beede is described as “the it factor” in the class. Beede also was one of eight finalists for Lawrence Academy’s school-wide poetry recital contest. In Beede’s two-week out-of-classroom experience, he focused on writing music. And he is a proctor at his dorm on campus, serving as a residential assistant and organizing Sunday night dorm meetings.
“When I first got to know him, I’m thinking all along, ‘Why the hell does this kid want to leave Auburn High to come to Lawrence Academy when, A, it’s going to be much more demanding academically and, B, he’s going to be a fish out of water, he’s going to no longer be the big fish in the small pond. But that says everything about Tyler Beede, the fact that he was willing to challenge himself in a new environment academically and athletically,” Margraf said. “He’s really grown over the last two years in so many ways. Here’s an athlete who never would have considered himself a poet or being able to re-state anything and he’s all the sudden up on stage in front of 400 people doing a great job, and it was all about the delivery. … He just beats to his own drum and doesn’t hang out with only one peer group.”
Beede’s well-rounded experiences and his mature and cerebral nature off the field translate when he’s on the mound. As a third area scout said, “He handles himself like a pro already.”
But whether Beede plans to honor his commitment to the Commodores or more immediately fulfill his lifelong goal of playing professionally remains to be seen. Some have speculated it could be tough to buy Beede out of Vanderbilt.
“Right now, all I’m thinking about is college,” Beede said. “That’s the only guarantee. I’m very excited about Vanderbilt, it’s something I really want to do. But right now I’m just focusing on playing baseball, pitching and having a fun last month of high school before I head off and go wherever I go.”
Tyler said his father isn’t pushing him toward Nashville, Tenn., and isn’t pushing him toward signing, though Walter is giving his son “advice every day.” The elder Beede remembers the grueling minor-league bus rides and missing out on an opportunity to attend Arizona State, but he knows Tyler has dreamed about playing professional baseball since he was a child.
Beede’s future will come into focus on draft day, though he knows there are plenty of variables that will impact his decision: “I can’t control what team I play for, I can’t choose where, I can’t choose how much money they offer me,” he said. Still, June 6, 2011 is a date Beede has been looking forward to from a young age.
“That’s a day I’ve circled on my calendar,” Beede said. “That’s going to one of those days, adrenaline is just going to be pouring out, having that time with my friends and family and the people who have gotten me to this point. It will be a real special day, and I’m really looking forward to it.”