Waterloo High junior right-hander Erik Kaiser went from pitching only 2 1/3 innings all season for the Bulldogs last spring to committing to Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference powerhouse and one of the top college baseball programs in the country.
Vanderbilt won the national championship in 2014, then reached the title game at the College World Series again last spring before losing to Virginia.
Kaiser is a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 205-pound pitcher who has hit 93 mph and consistently throws in the 89-90 mph range. He chose Vanderbilt over offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri State.
“I want to play in the SEC against the best competition in college baseball,” Kaiser said. “It’s also close to home. It was really a combination of the coaching staff and I really liked all the guys there, the baseball program and I liked the academics. It was a really good package.”
In other area recruiting news, Althoff High senior receiver Keenen Young has given a verbal commitment to Division I Jackson State.
Vanderbilt is approximately 4 1/2 hours from the metro-east in Nashville, Tenn. Kaiser’s verbal commitment gives Waterloo three Division I recruits with Arkansas recruit Jordan McFarland, who transferred from Gibault after his junior season, and pitcher Tyler McAllister (Missouri State).
Kaiser and McFarland were teammates on the St. Louis Pirates travel team last summer.
Waterloo coach Mark Vogel said Kaiser dealt with some arm issues last spring, but a bigger reason for not pitching him more was his value as a position player and hitter.
“This spring we didn’t throw him much, he was our everyday third baseman,” Vogel said. “What changed this summer is his velocity is up, the control improved all summer and he’s starting to throw a pretty good breaking ball. You start putting all that together with how hard he throws and you really have something special.”
Kaiser’s father, Jeff Kaiser, played on Waterloo’s state tournament qualifier in 1984 and later starred at Missouri State. He was a sixth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants as an infielder and played two seasons in the minor leagues.
Kaiser’s son rocketed up the recruiting lists this summer while playing for the Pirates travel team, especially after pitching before nearly 100 college coaches as a summer showcase event in early August.
“It happened very fast for him,” Pirates coach Rick Strickland said. “At the high school level level he hadn’t pitched a whole lot, but his upside on the mound was tremendous and he was a pretty good position player, too.
“He had a big arm — that was always there — but he was able to throw strikes with not only his fastball, but also his breaking pitches. He’s still growing and he’s not done yet. It’s probably the best arm we’ve had at this stage of the game since Jake Odorizzi.”
Odorizzi is the former Highland High School All-American and USA Today National Player of the Year who was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s currently pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I talked to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt coaches and they were both very high on (Erik),” Vogel said. “They obviously see a lot of upside in Erik being only a junior and doing some of the things he did in these showcases. He’s just scratching the surface as a pitcher because he’s been more of an infielder and every day player.
“The sky’s the limit and these schools see that.”
Kaiser admitted being surprised a bit when the college recruiting became a lot more intense over the summer.
“They were hitting me really hard, I was talking to a lot of coaches,” he said. “It feels really good.”