Vandy signee dominating state baseball scene

He's the best high school player in the state of Tennessee, and he plays for the state's best team. Vanderbilt plucked Kyle Waldrop out of UT's backyard last fall, and he could be the Commodores' most talented signee since Jeremy Sowers. But will Waldrop opt to follow in Sowers' footsteps, passing up the inevitable major league dollars for the college experience at VU?

Knoxville (Tenn.) Farragut High baseball coach Tommy Pharr is no longer surprised by anything his star pitcher Kyle Waldrop does on a baseball field. For the last two seasons, the coach of the defending state champion Admirals has seen his star dominate the high school scene as few players in state high school baseball history have ever done.

As a pitcher, the lanky righthander has not given up an earned run all year. He's won all ten of his starts for a perfect 10-0 record, and has over 70 strikeouts to his credit, with only 6 walks.

Batting? He's maintained a batting average just under .500 for most of the year, with 12 home runs and 53 RBI's. He's easily the biggest reason Farragut (37-2) has spent this season in the USA Today national Top 25 and is favored to win its second straight state title.

"This year he's just been dominant on the mound," Pharr said last week. "He's just been so consistent. His ERA is still at 0.00."

Although the Knoxville phenom signed a letter-of-intent with Vanderbilt last fall, it's anything but certain Waldrop will wind up at Vanderbilt next fall. Waldrop's appearances this season have drawn major league scouts like flies, and it's almost a given that in June, the Farragut senior will become the highest-drafted Vanderbilt signee since Jeremy Sowers in 2001. If the buzz is to be believed, he's a first- or second-rounder.

"He's a pretty imposing presence," says Pharr. "He's 6-4, 6-5, about 205, just a real strong kid. Physically he's gifted in so many ways. He's just a great athlete.

"One of his best features is his competitiveness, and that's true whether he's on the mound, or whether he's at bat. Every at-bat is extremely competitive for him. He never takes any time off. He's an extremely hard worker."

Waldrop is blessed with a fastball that's consistently gauged somewhere between 88 and 92 mph.

"He'll hit 92 some," Pharr said. "He pitches all the time in that range-- he doesn't just throw 90 one time and then 86; he's pretty much in that range all the time.

"He has a great breaking ball, and probably his best offspeed pitch is his great changeup. He can locate and throw pitches behind in the count, so he's pretty hard to handle."

When Waldrop is not pitching for Farragut, Pharr positions him either at first base or in the outfield.

"At first base he's a big target, and plus, it helps his arm. He gets plenty of work on his arm there. But he can also play in the outfield, and a lot of the scouts think that he might have a chance to play there."

A number of college baseballers pitch and play another position, but rarely does that happen in the bigs. Waldrop may ultimately be forced to choose between pitching and being a heavy-hitting everyday player. When asked which way that might eventually go, Pharr shrugs.

"I've talked to several scouts and they don't know-- and that's their job," Pharr said.

"I can almost see it either way. He's such a good athlete. He runs well, and obviously has a great arm and bats well, so I can see certainly see him doing that. But I can also see him up on the mound too, so it's hard for me to even say. Most of the scouts I've talked to, they're not sure either."

Before he settled on Vanderbilt last fall, the Farragut phenom was coveted by pretty much every school in the Southeastern Conference, as well as several schools outside the conference, Pharr said.

"He had a lot of opportunity. He's a very good student also. But when he went to Vanderbilt, he just fell in love with the school and fell in love with Coach Corbin and what they were doing there. He visited there and watched practice, and was impressed with what they were doing and how things were run.

"It finally came down to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, and I think he just felt like Vanderbilt was a better fit for him.

"He's an exceptional student and a very sharp kid. It's like everything else he does-- he works hard at everything, and school is no different. He has kind of a quiet demeanor about him.

"He's respectful, well-mannered, just a class person. A lot of kids with his ability would be a little cocky. He's a very humble kid who just does what he's supposed to do."

Waldrop has provided Pharr with a host of great memories and bravado performances, but one from last year's state tournament stands out.

"We were down 2-0 to Hendersonville, which had a very good club," Pharr remembers. "Kyle was aggravated because he had given up two runs.

"The next inning he comes up with two men on base and hits an absolute bomb that puts us up 3-2. Then he held them the rest of the way."

Will Waldrop follow in Sowers' footsteps and postpone a professional career and signing bonus for a college education? Vanderbilt fans will have to hold their collective breath on that one. Corbin could conceivably also lose another talented signee to the draft, Murfreesboro-Blackman pitcher David Price.

"I don't think it's a gamble when you recruit kids to come to Vanderbilt, because obviously you've got the education you can speak to, and the value of it," said a hopeful Corbin last fall. "I think both those kids will end up going to school here, and will have a big impact on our program right away."


Photos by Dan Barile, farragutpress, used by permission. Top Stories