OMAHA, Neb. — Scott Brown may have the best college baseball job the country.
As the Vanderbilt pitching coach, Brown gets to pull the strings on the deepest staff in the country — a staff that runs out talented arm after talented arm.
Vanderbilt features junior right-hander Tyler Beede, the No. 14 overall draft pick this year, as well as three sophomore right-handers that could all be first-day draft picks in next year’s draft. Then there’s the four relievers that each have an ERA under 2.00 and lefty Jared Miller, who is 6-2 on the year after starting the season in the rotation prior to Carson Fulmer‘s conversion from closer to starter.
“Any time you have that kind of caliber of arms in the stable, you do have a pretty good job,” Brown said. “I know that every day. I’m fortunate.”
Vanderbilt‘s embarrassment of riches hasn’t quite been on display like it was Monday night in the Commodores’ 6-4 victory over UC Irvine at TD Ameritrade Park.
Beede struggled with his command and couldn’t hold an early 2-0 lead. Trailing 4-2, Vanderbilt pulled the plug on Beede in the fourth inning and turned the ball over to sophomore Walker Buehler.
“The game turned around when Walker came in,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “Walker Buehler [...] pounded the strike zone from the minute he got in there until the minute the game finished. Very impressive. Very mature approach to the game.”
Buehler dominated UC Irvine for 5.1 innings. He didn’t allow a hit. He barely allowed any baserunners (two walks, one hit batsman). And he blew the doors off seven Irvine hitters.
It was impressive performance that left Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie feeling like a trip to the dentist.
“This game was surprisingly a close score, because, I promise you, it felt like a root canal,” Gillespie said. “We got out everythinged…particularly once Buehler came into the game, he pitched like a first rounder waiting to happen.”
So Vanderbilt took out an ineffective two-time first rounder (Beede was drafted 21st overall in the 2011 MLB Draft) and put in a future first rounder.
Unlike UC Irvine, who is nearly doomed if a starter doesn’t perform well due to a lack of bullpen depth, the Commodores can make multiple moves. The Commodores all 99s cheat code allows them the option of having a quick hook if a pitcher doesn’t have his stuff one day.
“From top to bottom, all of them are more than capable,” Brown said. “They are all pretty good. It’s a nice feeling when one guy is not doing it, to be able to say hey let’s pass the baton to somebody else.”
“It never feels like we take a step back with any of these kids,” Corbin said, “whether it’s Walker or whether it’s [Adam] Ravanelle or whether it’s [Hayden]Stone or Jared Miller or Brian Miller.”
That gives Vanderbilt a decided advantage in the week-long bracket portion of the College World Series where teams get extra days of rest in between games rather than playing the same amount of games in four days during a Regional. Instead of having to save Buehler or Tyler Ferguson to start a potential fourth or fifth game down the line like might be necessary in a Regional, Brown and Corbin have been able to turn to either to pick up someone who is struggling.
“In a tournament setting, you start to look at a possible matchup and who matches up well with a certain opponent,” Brown said. “We’re always going to pitch to our guys strengths, but that is something you may take a look at.”
Tim Corbin knew the schedule allows for flexibility and tried to convey that to his pitching staff:
“We just told the kids, as far as roles were concerned, it was up for grabs. We were just going to do what we had to do from a skill-set standpoint to match up against the skill set of the team in order to put ourselves in an advantageous situation.”
With flexible roles up for grabs, pitching practices are competitive.
“There’s a stable of good, quality arms and they’re going to feed off each other and propel themselves to get better…kind of like a pro locker room,” Scott Brown said. “Everybody’s good, so I think they feed off of each other and they push each other. They pull for each other and I think that makes me the most proud.
“Tyler comes out of the game and Walker comes out and is like ‘I got you. I got you.’”
Buehler sure did.
His dominance and a three-run fifth inning propelled the Commodores into the championship round of Bracket One. Vandy will have two opportunities (if needed) to defeat the winner of Texas/UC Irvine to earn a trip to the College World Series championship series, which would mark the seventh consecutive season the SEC is represented in the season’s final series.
But if it wouldn’t have been Buehler, it would have been one of the other arms.
“They’re all pretty damn good,” Corbin said. “And I like what they’re capable of doing.”
Be sure to check out our other coverage from Virginia’s walk-off victory: