Vandy Recruits Stay For Top Recruiting Class
By Will Kimmey
• See Also: The Dandy Dozen -- Top Five Recruiting Classes
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 impression.
“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 their progress.
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 first class.
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 facilities.
“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.
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