After attending a baseball camp at Vanderbilt as a freshman in high school, Tyler Beede envisioned himself in a Commodores uniform.
Last week, he stood on the edge of Hawkins Field where he impressed Vanderbilt coaches four years earlier.
“I kind of knew, gut feeling, I would be down here at some point,” Beede said. “I think this experience, this team and this university is a priceless opportunity. There was no way I was saying no to this.”
Beede is one of 12 freshmen going through their first fall practices, a month before perennial powerhouse Cal State-Fullerton comes to Nashville for a two-game fall ball series on Oct. 22-23.
On Tuesday, the recruiting class, which also features a junior college transfer, was ranked second in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.
There is no hiding, though, that Beede is the Commodores’ prized jewel.
Back in June, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder from Auburn, Mass., was drafted 21st overall in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. The franchise also drafted another Vanderbilt pitching commit — Kevin Comer — 57th overall and signed him to a pro contract on the last day of the signing deadline.
Beede, a right-handed starting pitcher, wasn’t ready to go to the pros.
Prior to the draft, he emailed scouts from the 30 professional teams who courted him during his high school career at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass. He asked them to hold off on drafting him because he was planning on honoring his commitment to Vanderbilt — one he made Christmas of 2009.
The Blue Jays, however, took a chance. And Beede listened to their offer as the mid-August deadline neared.
Their final pitch was $2.4 million. Beede said no thanks.
He was the only 2011 first-round pick who did not sign a pro contract.
“The money obviously had to be a factor in the process,” said Beede, who was hoping for an offer of $3.5 million. “At the end of the day, I’m happy with this decision. This is what I wanted to do. I had a number but it didn’t get down to it. It didn’t come close. It was a 'take it or leave it' thing and I was sticking to my number. I was completely fine with it.”
He figures to play a prominent role on Vanderbilt’s pitching staff for at least the next three years — when he again is eligible to be drafted.
In fact, Beede could put himself in position to not only start as a freshman when the spring rolls around but be the Commodores’ Friday night starter — a role usually designated for the team’s ace.
“He wouldn’t be drafted where he was if he wasn’t skilled,” said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who grew up with Beede’s father, Walter. “He has size. He has durability. He has arm strength. But he also possesses the skill set to pitch. I think going through the baseball industry at that level they were speaking of him as a guy that would be able to move rather quickly through a system. He obviously is a guy that we are going to want to see develop and hopefully help us out right away.”
Beede possesses big-league velocity as he hit 96 miles per hour earlier this year. He also has a deep arsenal, capable of throwing a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball.
Seven of Vanderbilt’s pitchers from the 2011 team that reached the College World Series for the first time in program history signed professional deals over the summer. That included all three weekend starters.
Relief pitcher Will Clinard, a redshirt junior from Cross Plains, was the only drafted Vanderbilt player — out of 12 — to return.
Clinard could move from the bullpen to a starting role to fill a big need. T.J. Pecoraro appeared to be on track for a starting role this year. But he will be out for most — if not all — of the 2012 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow in May.
Left-handed Kevin Ziomek, who was named a Freshman All-American along with Pecoraro, might be one of the frontrunners for a weekend starter position.
Even so, the Commodores will most likely have to start a freshman on the weekends during Southeastern Conference play.
“I am obviously going to do my best to get that Friday night spot,” Beede said. “Whatever role I have I will do my best to participate and compete for the team to win. ... We are excited about this season. We obviously have high expectations for ourselves every year. So it is going to be fun.”