Summer Player Of The Year: David Price

A year ago, 6-foot-6 sophomore lefthander Andrew Miller posted an utterly dominant summer and captured Baseball America’s Summer Player of the Year award, then went on to win BA’s College Player of the Year award the following spring while leading his team to the College World Series and becoming a first-round draft pick.

David Price could be excused for daydreaming of a similar fate. He might be well on his way.

Price, a 6-6 lefty from Vanderbilt, was nearly untouchable for Team USA this year, going 5-1, 0.20 with 61 strikeouts and seven walks in 44 innings to win BA’s Summer Player of the Year award for 2006.

“He’s very deserving,” said Team USA coach Tim Corbin, who also coaches Price at Vanderbilt. “He was very consistent–our No. 1 pitcher at the beginning of the summer, and our No. 1 pitcher at the end. I think David was a leader, kind of a go-to guy. He had done this before, and he felt comfortable in this situation.”

Price found himself on the national team last summer after going 2-4, 2.86 with 90 strikeouts in 69 innings for the Commodores as a freshman. He led Team USA starters with 39 strikeouts and a 1.26 ERA in 29 innings, further fueling expectations for his sophomore season.

And for a while, Price lived up to those expectations. After his masterful 17-strikeout performance against Arkansas on April 7, Price was sitting pretty at 5-2, 1.81 with a 97-17 K-BB ratio in 60 innings.

Then, all of a sudden, the meat of the Southeastern Conference schedule hit him hard. He allowed five earned runs against Georgia. Then Alabama roughed him up for eight earned. Kentucky put up four earned against him, and Tennessee posted another eight-spot. Price was reeling, so Vanderbilt moved him out of his Friday starter role. He rebounded with three solid starts down the stretch before giving up seven more earned runs in his final start of the year, an NCAA regionals loss to Georgia Tech. Price finished 9-5, 4.16 with 155 strikeouts and 43 walks in 110 innings.

“I just felt like every game I got into sped up on me so much, I couldn’t slow it back down,” Price said. “The game would just get real quick, you don’t take time between pitches, you just don’t think. You just keep going through the motions, even though they’re the wrong motions, and you don’t make any adjustments.”

Price sat down with Vandy pitching coach Derek Johnson after the spring was over and broke down his season. Price said he realized his mechanics would get out of whack when the game sped up on him–his hips would flatten out, taking the sharpness off his slider and velocity off his fastball. But Johnson helped Price put his struggles in perspective and regroup.

“After everything was said and done, I’m glad it happened my sophomore year instead of my freshman year, and I’m glad it happened my sophomore year instead of my junior year,” Price said. “Now I know what it feels like to have a game speed up like that.”

The summer was a different story, as Price came out and dominated wire to wire. He was able to blow away most batters with his two plus offerings–a mid-90s fastball and a vicious slider–but after facing teams like Taiwan and Japan a half-dozen or more times, Price needed to show another look. He worked hard with Team USA pitching coach Jim Schlossnagle to refine his changeup, and by the end of the summer it was a go-to pitch for him.

More importantly, Price sustained his success all summer, avoiding the big-inning meltdowns that plagued him in the SEC season this spring.

“He’s starting to slow himself down. He realizes that if he has a tough inning it’s not the end of the world, he just has to refocus, slow everything down, focus on the things that make him a good pitcher,” Corbin said. “This year, if he had a tough outing, he would try to correct right away, work too hard and do too much, and sometimes it would blow up on him. Rarely do things blow up on David. I think the experiences of the spring helped him in summer.”