GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It’s been said that into everyone’s life a little rain must fall, but Vanderbilt University sophomore and recently anointed Perfect Game alumnus Conrad Gregor must feel like he’s in the middle of a thunderstorm.
The Commodores, who made the program’s first appearance in the College World Series last season, struggled to a 7-14 start before this weekend’s three-game Southeastern Conference series against No. 23 Georgia, including an 0-3 record in SEC play.
Gregor, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore and starter at first base who usually hits in the No. 5 spot in Coach Tim Corbin’s lineup, also has struggled. After those first 21 games, he was hitting .267 with just seven extra base hits.
“Every game we’re getting better,” Gregor said to Perfect Game, although that comment was made before the Commodores were swept in a three-game, SEC season-opening series by No. 1-ranked Florida in Gainesville. “We’re obviously a young team and we had a lot of spots to fill from last year, and as time goes on we’ll get better as a team. It’s just (a matter of) everyone doing their jobs and getting better.”
Gregor broke into the college game while playing in the rugged SEC in fine style during the Commodores’ run to the CWS in 2011. He hit .353 with a .456 on-base percentage, and added three home runs, 32 RBI and 33 runs scored as a freshman. He was an all-tournament selection at both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Regional Tournament.
Gregor felt he could use his freshman season as a springboard into an even more successful sophomore campaign, and still feels that will happen.
“Coming in as a freshman you have those jitters and stuff, but I feel comfortable and confident now with my role and what I can do to help the team win,” he said.
Corbin, in his 10th season at Vanderbilt, likes the way Gregor plays the game as well as what he has to offer off the field.
“He is a machine and I use that term respectfully,” Corbin said in a preseason news release on the Commodores’ website. “He may be the most complete student-athlete that I have ever coached. He’s a great student (and) he led our team in hitting and he works tirelessly on his defense. There is a reason why he is really good and it’s because of his every day investment.”
Gregor, a 2010 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, participated in the 2009 Aflac All-American Classic played at the San Diego Padres’ PETCO Park. A 40th round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2010, Gregor played with six future first round picks on the East Team at that All-American Game: Cameron Bedrosian, Chevez Clarke, Kaleb Cowart, Justin O’Connor and Karsten Whitson. The West Team boasted seven future first round picks, including a young phenom named Bryce Harper.
He played in 10 Perfect Game events in all, including six PG WWBA tournaments with the Midland Braves, Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects, Royals Baseball Club and Cangelosi Baseball. He also participated in the 2009 PG National Showcase with 19 future first-rounders, including Whitson – the only one of those that didn’t sign professionally and is now pitching at the University of Florida.
“Perfect Game was a great experience – a lot of exposure from a very young age,” Gregor said. “I started my freshman year at one of the winter showcases and all through high school I was playing at the Perfect Game tournaments. They’re really run well, and (they provided) a lot of exposure to college scouts and professional scouts. I think they’re put on by great people and they’re great events.”
Corbin also credits PG for making the task of indentifying standout student-athletes like Gregor a little less challenging.
“We started developing a little bit of a reputation of securing some good players and playing well,” Corbin said in Florida. “We’ve shown the development of good players and we’ve obviously been at many (Perfect Game) functions and have acquired many players from there, and that’s helped.”
Corbin expounded on that thought a little further:
“(Perfect Game has) made (recruiting) centralized more than anything, I think,” he said. “You have these huge events where there’s many numbers of kids at one spot, so what it does is bring everyone to the forefront of competition in one particular spot. And I think the other thing (PG) has done, is it’s allowed many (college programs) to become competitive because coaches can get there and they can see a lot of kids.
“No one gets missed; they’re there, they’re in front of you, they’re spoken about and they’re on the internet and the access to the kids and how good they are and what they are is very available to people who just want to work for it a little bit.”
Gregor was ranked the 75th top overall prospect in the national high school graduating class of 2010, and as mentioned was a 40th round pick in the draft by the White Sox. Gregor, who has not declared a major, was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll as a freshman and after being drafted in a basically un-signable round, there was no question he was going to wind up in Nashville.
“I was looking for a good academic school along with baseball, and Vanderbilt was the best fit for me,” he said. “They play in the SEC and they’re a top-20 school (academically), so you can’t get much better than that. I love the coaching staff here, I love the guys on the team and it was a great fit for me.”
And, while speaking almost a week ago, Gregor firmly believes the Commodores will right their ship and contend for an NCAA tournament berth as the season progresses. He thinks the young team was constructed to improve as the season grinds on.
“Our non-conference schedule out of the box was pretty tough, playing teams like Stanford and Oregon that are ranked teams and they gave us a test to figure out who we really are,” Gregor said. “I think that’s the best way to go, because if you teams that are of a lesser caliber during the non-conference, you don’t really know where you’re team’s at going into SEC play.”