The Price Is Right

How Vanderbilt's ace got his groove back



 
 

Jan. 24, 2007

By Josh Cooper

Special to CSTV.com

               

The battles would occur almost every Thursday night during David Price's freshman year.

 

He and former Vanderbilt Friday night starter, and current Cleveland Indians prospect, Jensen Lewis would go back and forth dueling it out just to emerge victorious.

 

And then finally one would concede to the other as the winner in a killer match of Halo on Lewis' XBox.

 

"Anytime I saw a sliver of hope to talk some smack to him I could, and then was grossly defeated the next time we played," said Lewis a third round pick of the Indians in the 2005 draft. "Anything he picks up he's extremely good at which is really frustrating."

 

It's hard not to see the kid in David Price every time he picks up a baseball. Always smiling, always effervescent, the 6-foot-6 left handed Vanderbilt ace looks younger than his 21 years with his seemingly oversized straight brimmed hat and goofy grin.

 

But when he rears back with his left arm and lets the ball fly straight into the catcher's mitt at 95-miles per hour, Price suddenly becomes very adult to anyone standing in the batters box.

 

"He's nasty," said Tennessee catcher and Price's battery mate for the last two summers on the U.S. national team, J.P. Arencibia. "When you have to worry about a 95-mile per hour fastball it kind of messes you up when he has two off speed pitches he can throw for strikes."

 

According to Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson, Price has four pitches that he can use to get guys out. First, the fastball which runs in around 92-95 with a little extra umph up to 97 when he needs it. 

 

As a secondary pitch, Price has a hard slider that moves at around 83-85, and then a combination slider/curve followed by a new changeup that he developed over the summer.

 

"You could see right away when we were recruiting him that the sky was going to be the limit," Johnson said. "He was a kid who had very good arm strength and was a little raw."

 

When Price got to Vanderbilt, he found himself in middle relief, but quickly moved into the rotation.

 

That season he went 2-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 games, including a whopping 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings.

 

Price continued his hot pitching into the summer where he went 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28.2 innings with Team USA.

 

A local boy who grew up just 20 miles from Nashville in nearby Murfreesboro, Price was expected to carry the staff on Friday nights in 2006.  And at the beginning of the season, he showed that he had the potential to be the most dominant pitcher in school history.

 

In a school that had recently produced talented arms such as Lewis and current Cleveland Indians starter and 2004 first round pick Jeremy Sowers, Price had the chance to be the best of them.

 

In three consecutive weeks, Price struck out 11, 13 and 17 batters against Auburn, Florida and Arkansas.

 

During that stretch, he gave up just two runs in 25 innings pitched. Price was riding high, but was about to come crashing down the following week. That was when things started to get real fast real, real quick.

 

In that game against Alabama he allowed five runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings and in the following game he gave up a career high eight runs, then five runs in six innings his next start against Kentucky.

 

As a pitcher, the one thing Price could control was the pace of the game and he was letting the hitters dictate what was happening.

 

"It felt like every game I was in sped up so fast to the point where I couldn't slow it back down and then one run turned into two, three and four and five in an inning," Price said. "It felt like a snowball effect and I couldn't make a change."

 

Last season, Price finished the year 9-5 with a 4.16 ERA to go along with a school record 155 strikeouts in 110.1 innings.  And for the second straight summer he was selected to play for the United States national team - which was coached by Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin - and started his worldwide journey to try to get his groove back.

 

Against Chinese Taipei in the first game of the summer, Price was back to his old self, firing darts around opposing hitter's bats.

 

He allowed no runs on three hits while striking out ten batters in seven innings. The game was back at his pace and for the rest of the summer, Price was nothing short of remarkable.

 

He finished 5-1 with a 0.20 ERA while striking out 61 batters in 44 innings pitched to garner Baseball America's collegiate summer player of the year award.

 

"In the summer he regained his confidence and said `I'm back, I'm fine'" Corbin said. "He lost his inner confidence just a little bit, but you wouldn't know it externally because he's such a happy go lucky kid."

 

With his junior season fast approaching Price understands that his life may change a lot in June.

 

Several scouting services have predicted that Price will go No.1 overall in the first year player draft which puts the proverbial bulls eye on his back.

 

"A guy is going to get a single off him and think it's the greatest thing in the world, but it's just a single," Sowers said. "If he can prove he's resilient he can be just fine."

 

While the hype might make some people big headed, what sets Price apart, according to the coaches, is that he's still the same happy go lucky kid who used to hit balls over his house in Murfreesboro as a young child.

 

"He leads not only because of his abilities, but he leads because of his energy levels," Corbin said. "He's always ready to practice, he loves the game and those to me are the key components for being a good leader, and he shares everyone's successes. He could be an `I don't care what everyone else does' player and he's not like that."

 

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