SEC Earns High Marks In Recruiting

Lefthander Jake Eder is the top-ranked player in Vanderbilt’s recruiting class and could be the Commodores’ next star on the mound. (Photo by Mike Janes)

Vanderbilt has established a consistent presence in Baseball America’s recruiting rankings throughout Tim Corbin’s tenure at the school, which began after the 2002 season. The Commodores’ newcomers are the top-ranked recruiting class for the fifth time and extend their record streak of ranked recruiting classes to 13.

Top 25 Recruiting Classes
1. Vanderbilt
2. Florida
3. Arkansas
4. Arizona State
5. South Carolina
6. Auburn
7. Florida State
8. Miami
9. Kentucky
10. Michigan
11. Louisiana State
12. Virginia
13. Louisville
14. Texas Christian
15. Clemson
16. UCLA
17. Southern California
18. Texas A&M
19. East Carolina
20. Oklahoma
21. Florida International
22. UC Santa Barbara
23. Arizona
24. Mississippi State
25. Texas Tech

As well as Vanderbilt has recruited under Corbin, however, it still found a way to reach new heights this year. The Commodores’ 17-man recruiting class includes 10 players who were ranked on last year’s BA 500, which includes all draft-eligible players. Since BA expanded its draft rankings to 500 players in 2012, the record for the most BA 500 players in one recruiting class was eight, which Vanderbilt set in 2015. To put it another way, two percent of the 500 best players in last year’s draft class are now Commodores.

Hauling in this kind of prolific class required a certain amount of luck for Vanderbilt. It didn’t lose a single player in its class to the draft, a rarity even for a school that has seen high-profile prep players such as David Price, Tyler Beede and Donny Everett make it to campus.

“We found ourselves to be fortunate, and we don’t take that for granted,” Corbin said. “With the losses we’ve had over the last four years and the unfortunate losses as well, we really needed to retain some bodies.”

Vanderbilt has seen a significant amount of talent leave the program since its back-to-back appearances in the College World Series finals. The Commodores have had eight players drafted in the top two rounds over the last three years, including top-five picks Dansby Swanson and Kyle Wright. And while Vanderbilt landed the No. 1 recruiting class in 2015, it had six commits drafted (and signed) in the top three rounds over the last two years. Additionally, Evan Steele transferred to junior college after one season and went on to become the 73rd overall pick in this year’s draft.

The largest loss of all was the tragic drowning death of Everett in 2016. On an emotional level, it was devastating for the Commodores, and it also left an on-field hole.

This year’s Vanderbilt class has all the makings of a new foundation for the program, however. Lefthander Jake Eder (No. 69 on the BA 500) leads the group, while shortstop Austin Martin (No. 134) and catcher Philip Clarke (No. 167) give the Commodores solid up-the-middle players to build around.

Clarke is also emblematic of the class’ early connection with Vanderbilt. He is a Nashville native and one of six Tennessee prep products in the class. Corbin said Clarke and others were eager to ingratiate themselves with the team after committing, stopping by their training sessions as well as going to Commodores basketball and football games.

“They wanted to be a part of the Vanderbilt community,” Corbin said. “Every time they had free moments, they would come over here. It helped build a closer relationship. They had a strong emotion toward the school.”

While Vanderbilt’s haul was unprecedented, Florida pushed it for the No. 1 ranking. The defending national champion Gators brought in six players ranked on the BA 500, led by shortstop Brady McConnell (No. 39), the second-highest ranked player not to sign. The Gators finished ranked No. 2, their fifth straight top-five class.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he likes the number of up-the-middle players and the balance of hitters and pitchers in this year’s class. That was a point of emphasis for him and recruiting coordinator Craig Bell in the 2017 and ’18 classes because they expected heavy losses in the draft those years. After losing Alex FaedoDalton Guthrie and Mike Rivera to the draft this year, Jonathan India, Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer, among others, are expected to follow next June.

“We’re going to lose a ton,” O’Sullivan said. “We knew this year and next year’s class are going to be the bulk of our club going forward.”

With Vanderbilt and Florida leading the way, the recruiting rankings have a heavy SEC flavor. The conference produced the top-ranked class for the seventh year in a row and a record six of this year’s top-10 classes. That success comes at a time of considerable coaching turnover in the conference, which has seen seven head coaching changes and 13 recruiting coordinator changes in the last two offseasons.

Vanderbilt has been a part of the assistant coaching carousel the last two seasons. Former recruiting coordinator Travis Jewett largely put together this class before he was hired away by Tulane to be head coach last July. D.J. Svihlik held that role last year, before Mike Baxter replaced him on the staff this summer.

Now, however, the recruits have become freshmen, ready to help the Commodores on the field this spring and seasons to come. Corbin is excited to see what they can accomplish.

“Being able to bring them in, captivate their attention and get them moving (in) the Vanderbilt direction,” Corbin said. “They can lean on one another. When you have a group that large, they can form a pretty good foundation.”

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