Vanderbilt’s closer has an incredible story, one of perseverance and toughness.
Scouts at a showcase for 17-year-old baseball players started packing up and getting ready to leave when a 14-year-old took the mound. When Tyler Brown’s first pitch hit 92 mph on a radar gun, they all immediately returned to the bleachers. That has been the story of Tyler’s life thus far, the odds always seemed stacked against him. But his story is one of perseverance and resilience. Those qualities are what could make Brown a Major League closer in a few years. And I can’t think of any high school or college pitcher that I would want to close out games for the Detroit Tigers in a few years.
Brown set the single-season saves record at Vanderbilt University in 2019 with 17. His 17 saves ranked second nationally, and he was one of the six finalists for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award. No matter what or who has stood against Brown, he has found a way to be successful.
Brown was just 13 when his mother passed away. She had battled cancer and was in remission when she had a fatal stroke in their home. Brown would end up moving from family to family with tragedy following not far beyond. He lived with a little league coach for a time until the coach’s son, and Tyler’s close friend, passed away. He then moved in with friends of his mother but left after a car crash claimed the man’s life.
After Brandon and Koren Oswalt adopted Brown, he really began to excel. Brandon was a pitcher and coached Brown’s summer ball team. While in the care of the Oswalt family, Brown was able to get an explanation for his academic struggles with the diagnosis of dyslexia. He grew into a highly regarded pitcher and began hearing from scouts and college coaches. But once again, tragedy wasn’t far away from Brown.
When Vanderbilt’s coach, Tim Corbin, came to see him pitch, Tyler’s first pitch came in at 94mph. His second fastball would only register at 83mph. Brown had torn his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery. Because of his backstory though, Corbin decided to stick with Brown. He said that because he was tough enough to get through everything he did, he is worth taking a chance on.
Two weeks before enrolling at Vanderbilt, Brown found out that he was going to be a father. Again, Coach Corbin assured Tyler that he would not abandon him. With the confidence of his coach, Brown went on to have a successful freshman season appearing in 21 games.
Even a successful season for Brown was still mired in tragedy. His daughter was born with Down syndrome and Tetralogy of Fallot. She would need multiple heart surgeries and there were many complications. His season ERA was over six – a perfect example of why it’s a terrible idea to scout the stat line. If we “Porcello out” one game where he gave up six runs without recording an out, his ERA would be 4.58. After everything that Brown went through that season, him being able to keep his ERA around four and a half while striking out more than a batter an inning is, quite frankly, nothing short of amazing.
He was named Vandy’s closer for the 2019 season and set the school’s save record with 17, the second-most in the NCAA. He did not allow a run in 27 of his 31 games, and in 18 games he recorded multiple strikeouts. Brown has a mid 90’s fastball that he controls well and a nasty slider that sits around 85mph.
Last year, Brown showed the world that he had it in him to be a closer. He might have been the first relief pitcher off the board this July in the 2020 draft but it’s a difficult draft to project when or if relievers will get drafted. He announced on his Instagram that he was voluntarily choosing to stay at Vanderbilt for one more season.
Brown has that unquantifiable “it” quality that it takes to be a closer. Very few pitchers can keep their cool when the game is on the line. In the ninth inning, there is no one coming in to help you out of a jam. If you give up the lead, that’s it. Your team loses. In the postseason, the pressure isn’t just for one game, the work of the entire season sits on your shoulders. It takes something more than a 95 mph fastball and a wipeout slider to be the closer.
As Vanderbilt pushed toward and ultimately won the 2019 College World Series, Brown seemed to be unaffected by the pressure. Fifteen of his last sixteen outings were scoreless and he saved three World Series games. For most people, that amount of pressure would be unimaginable, but Tyler Brown isn’t just anyone. According to Coach Corbin, “To Tyler, that’s not pressure. That’s just competing. Life has thickened his skin. He’s had experiences you and I have not had.”
You have to be able to keep your cool during the toughest of innings. Brown’s history leads me to believe that not even a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of the World Series could possibly shake him.
We wish only the best of luck to Brown next season at Vanderbilt. He will be an exciting player to watch and one that the Detroit Tigers should keep an eye on for the 2021 draft. He is a player that, as Coach Corbin said all those years ago, will be worth taking a chance on. Hopefully, his senior season will go smoothly.
If it doesn’t, he’ll still find a way to succeed. For Tyler Brown, failure isn’t an option.