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College | Recruiting | 11/21/2019

Building a Champion

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Austin Martin (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Head of the Class: Vanderbilt

In addition to becoming a perennial baseball powerhouse on the field, with two national championships over the last six seasons, Vanderbilt has also established itself as the best when it comes to recruiting. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that those two occurrences are directly linked to one another.

Perfect Game’s recruiting rankings date back to the high school class of 2011. Our annual Head of the Class recruiting series that accompanies the NLI period began back in 2014. In those six years Vanderbilt has had the No. 1 ranking four times. One other time they were ranked second and the other time fourth.

But those rankings occur prior to the draft. Since the PG recruiting rankings are based on points tied directly to the number of ranked recruits each program has, how many players each team gets on campus is what truly matters. Given how deep the Vanderbilt recruiting efforts go, it still has come out on top more often than not, finishing with the top post-draft recruiting class in four of the last five years (2015, 2017-19).

Not surprisingly, you can tie the Commodores’ success directly to the talent they’re welcoming to campus on a yearly basis. Even during the years when they’re hit harder than usual through the draft, they’re still able to develop an incredible amount of talent.

It’s hard to argue with the allures of turning pro at a young age. The primary objective, after all, is to eventually play in the big leagues, so being one step closer in a competitive setting – not to mention with a big pay day in sight – is hard to compete with.

So, too, is the opportunity to play with the Vandy Boys.

“Just the relationships I’ve made while being here,” Austin Martin told PG during the College World Series about his decision to honor his commitment. “I’ve met a lot of amazing people that I know will be in my life for a long time. That goes a long way. Education is also very important. It’s just good to be able to come here and do school, stick to my routine.

“I’ve matured a lot as a person (and I’ve) learned a lot from Coach (Tim) Corbin as well as the rest of the staff. There’s a lot of upside to coming to school.”

Martin and the Commodores will face a new set of challenges in 2020. While the pitching staff returns an incredible wealth of talent, the starting lineup is going to have a lot of new faces. Martin will do his best to lead that group, and his position may be similar to that of Adley Rutschman with Oregon State a year ago, a program that also returned a significant amount of pitching and one star hitter following their CWS title run from 2018.

And if Vanderbilt’s recruiting trends have taught us anything it’s to be ready for the next wave of talent.

Here’s a look at the team’s recruiting efforts from 2011 through 2017. Keep in mind the program won national championships in 2014 and 2019 and finished as the CWS runner-up in 2015.

Year Rk. Players
2011 5 Tyler Beede, Philip Pfeifer, Adam Ravenelle, Vicente Conde, John Norwood, Jared Miller, Zander Weil, Brian Miller
2012 2 Carson Fulmer, Rhett Wiseman, Walker Buehler, Dansby Swanson, Xavier Turner, Tyler Ferguson
2013 5 Jordan Sheffield, John Kilichowski, Ben Bowden, Jason Delay, Penn Murfee, Ronell Coleman, Hayden Stone, Bryan Reynolds
2014 14 Jeren Kendall, Kyle Wright, Matthew Ruppenthal, Will Toffey
2015 1 Donny Everett, Alonzo Jones, Julian Infante, Chandler Day, Ethan Paul, Patrick Raby, Connor Kaiser, Stephen Scott
2016 9 Drake Fellows, JJ Bleday, Tyler Duvall, Reid Schaller, Zachary King, Harrison Ray, Jackson Gillis
2017 1 Jake Eder, Jayson Gonzalez, Philip Clarke, Hugh Fisher, Austin Martin, Mason Hickman, Pat DeMarco, Tyler Brown

The rest of the 2018 class is to be determined, although Kumar Rocker’s incredible achievements – which include his 19-strikeout performance in the Super Regional round in addition to his Most Outstanding Player award honors from the College World Series – already make that 2018 class a rousing success.

While it’s too early to pass judgement on the 2019 class, considering none of the players have played a single inning of college baseball that counts towards the standings, the talent is certainly in place. Their top recruit, Jack Leiter, could be poised to join Rocker in the weekend rotation, although we’ll stop far in advance from suggesting he’ll come close to enjoying the same kind of initial success.

There have been some hiccups (by Vanderbilt’s now lofty standards) along the way, however.

From the 2014 recruiting class the team saw highly-ranked recruits Touki Toussaint, Justus Sheffield, Dylan Cease and Isan Diaz spurn the Commodores for their own pro aspirations. All four players have already had a taste for the big leagues with much brighter days expected.

The players that did make it to campus that year – Jeren Kendall, Kyle Wright, Matthew Ruppenthal and Will Toffey – all made their presence felt significantly.

The same can be said for the 2016 class after Ian Anderson and Braxton Garrett were plucked up early in the first round of the draft. Among the players to make it to Vanderbilt from that class were JJ Bleday and Drake Fellows who, of course, played crucial roles in Vanderbilt’s national championship run last year.

The next two years is when it gets interesting. On paper, the 2017 class may look to be one of the more memorable in Vanderbilt’s history. However, both Philip Clarke and Pat DeMarco were draft eligible as sophomores and opted to go pro after winning a championship.

And from the 2018 class, while securing Rocker was a major score for the program, losing promising prospects such as Ethan Hankins, Ryan Weathers, Will Banfield, Xavier Edwards and Nicholas Northcut could leave the program with more holes during the 2020 season than they normally would feel comfortable with.

Looking back to Vanderbilt’s first championship, the 2012 class that included Carson Fulmer, Walker Buehler and Dansby Swanson, among others, is going to be hard to surpass.

In 2014 and 2015, the team’s national championship and CWS runner-up seasons, Fulmer and Buehler combined to go 38-7 with a 2.31 ERA and a ridiculous 465-to-152 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Swanson was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2014 College World Series before his incredible 2015 season in which hit hit .335-15-64 before being selected first overall by the Diamondbacks in the draft that year.

Joining Martin from the 2017 class were Mason Hickman, who went 9-0 with a 2.05 ERA last season, as well as bullpen mates Tyler Brown, Jake Eder and Hugh Fisher. While Clarke and DeMarco are no longer with the program, another talented recruit, Jayson Gonzalez, is, and he may get his chance to stand out in 2020.

One class deserves special attention and that’s 2015. Donny Everett’s tragic death is obviously at the forefront from this class, and it saddens us to think about Everett, his family and close friends every time his name is brought up. While Everett was expected to be a big part of Vanderbilt’s success during his time on campus, the team’s ultimate success last year served as a tribute to his memory.

And a few of Everett’s classmates from 2015 – most notably Ethan Paul, Patrick Raby, Stephen Scott and Julian Infante – made sure to put their mark on Vanderbilt’s memorable 2019 season.



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