Kevin Ziomek didn’t think he had first-round stuff when he first stepped onto Vanderbilt’s campus.
Nearly four years later, he could be a first-round pick.
The left-handed pitcher figures to be the first of several Commodores taken in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. Ziomek might hear his name called Thursday during the first two rounds. Rounds three through 10 continue on Friday. The three-day draft ends Saturday with the final 30 rounds.
Of course, the weekend already figures to be eventful for the Commodores, who host Louisville in a Super Regional that begins Saturday.
“It would be awesome,” Ziomek said of being selected in the first round. “Honestly, just talking to some older guys, like [David] Price or Sonny [Gray], I think the only way you can really deal with all this is by worrying about the present and not thinking about the future. I think that is the best way to deal with it right now.”
As a junior, Ziomek has put himself in position to be the ninth first-round pick in Vanderbilt history.
Last year, he struggled with consistency during a 5-6 season as his ERA ballooned to 5.22. After a successful summer on the Cape Cod Baseball League, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder started 2013 on a torrid stretch by winning his first five starts.
Crediting increased self-confidence and the development of his slider and changeup, he is 11-2 in 16 starts with a 1.92 ERA, three complete games and 111 strikeouts — the 11th most in the country.
“I’ve grown so much as a pitcher,” Ziomek said. “From a mental aspect, developing my pitches, my command, all that kind of stuff, I think Vanderbilt has helped me tremendously. It has been a really great experience for me. I think myself and the rest of this pitching staff have proved competing here in the SEC we can bring a lot to the table. So I’m excited about what the future brings.”
He’s not the only one.
Including Ziomek, as many as 11 Vanderbilt players could be drafted this weekend. That includes the entire outfield (seniors Jack Lupo, Connor Harrell and Mike Yastrzemski), the right side of the infield (SEC Player of the Year and second baseman Tony Kemp and first baseman Conrad Gregor), catcher Spencer Navin, starting pitcher T.J. Pecoraro and reliever and Steven Rice. Starter/reliever Philip Pfeifer, who threw five scoreless innings Monday night, and closer Brian Miller, who finished that contest, could also be taken. Though just a sophomores, each is eligible because they turn 21 on July 15, well within the required 45 days of the end of the draft. All drafted underclassmen have until Aug. 15 to sign a professional contract.
Besides Lupo, Harrell and Yastrzemski, the rest are juniors and could return for their final season. Those considered “toss-ups” are Gregor, Pecoraro, Rice and Pfeifer.
All four might elect to extend their collegiate careers depending on draft position and the amount of the signing bonus. Harrell wrestled with that decision last summer after the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 31st round. He, and Yastrzemski, both turned down professional contracts in lieu of the opportunity to lead Vanderbilt deep into the postseason. Both have also helped their cases. Harrell is batting .313 and leads the team with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs. Yastrzemski was named to the All-SEC first team and defensive team and was named the regional MVP last weekend. He is hitting .322 with a team-best 19 doubles and 43 RBIs.
“Coming back, it wasn’t about [moving up in the draft],” Harrell said. “It was about being able to play this weekend. Having said that, I hope my body of work and our body of work has put guys like Yaz and Jack and I in positions where we’ll have good opportunities after the season.”