Tim Corbin received a gift when Will Clinard passed on professional baseball and returned to school.
Now Corbin just has to figure out where to put him.
That’s the dilemma facing Vanderbilt’s 10th-year head coach as the Commodores wrap up fall baseball practices this weekend with a two-game series against visiting Cal State Fullerton at Hawkins Field.
“I’m really not too sure what we’ll do with him,” Corbin said. “… I think what makes it difficult for us is his value of where you want to put him — beginning of the game or the end of the game? When you look at our pitching staff, you have to determine where he can be best utilized with his experience. Could it be on a weekend or could it be several times — maybe three times — during the course of a week? I think those are the things we have to weigh.”
Clinard, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander, was drafted in the 30th round by the Minnesota Twins in June, but was the only one of a Southeastern Conference-record 12 VU players drafted in June to delay his professional career.
“I didn’t want to leave it. I’m glad to have the opportunity to come back,” Clinard, a native of Cross Plains, Tenn., said. “There were some possibilities [professionally]. My mind was set on coming back to Vanderbilt.”
As a result, Clinard, a fourth-year junior, is the elder statesman of the 14-member pitching staff, which includes six freshmen. Gone from last season are all three weekend starters and five relief pitchers, including closer Navery Moore.
Other than Clinard, only Sam Selman and freshmen All-Americans Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro (who will miss most of the upcoming season due to Tommy John surgery) saw significant action on the mound during the 2011 campaign.
The weekend starting rotation when SEC play resumes next spring will most likely include a freshman — possibly top prospect and first-round pick Tyler Beede. But Clinard, a quick pitcher on the mound, offers another option.
“I can be anything,” he said. “Any role the coaches need me to fill, whatever is best for the team is best for me.”
He uses three pitches — fastball, slider and cutter — and Corbin says he has developed a couple variations off his fastball, “which makes him effective.”
In 2010, Clinard went 4-0 in 21 appearances — all but one in relief — with a 2.68 ERA. Last season, as the Commodores made their run to the College World Series, he became Corbin’s go-to guy in the bullpen. He finished the season with a 2.77 ERA and 2-2 record but led the team with 34 appearances. He struck out 48 and walked just 10 in 39 innings pitched.
He pitched in six postseason contests, including three of the four CWS games, and allowed just one run on five hits in 11 2/3 innings. He pitched two innings or more in at least three games and worked 4 2/3 innings, striking out a career-high eight, in a decisive Super Regional victory over Oregon State.
“He evolved and progressed into an elite — not just a good, but an elite — pitcher at the end of the game,” Corbin said. “We were riding a kid who felt good about himself and who was hot. He was the one that got the throw-your-glove moment at the end of the game, but he was the one who deserved to be out there at that time. ... We had a lot of trust in him. I think the reason we had trust in him is because he trusted himself.”
Now Corbin must decide by the time the 2012 season opener rolls around in February if Clinard is better suited to stay in the bullpen or in the starting rotation.
“We certainly want to do what is best for our team, what is best for Will,” Corbin said. “If there are other staff members that show us the ability to pitch at the end of the game then that may free him up to start. ... There are a lot of different ways we can utilize his strengths.”