After his sophomore year at Oak Grove High School, Tyler Vanderheiden wasn’t having much success on the mound so his coach asked if he would be willing to try throwing sidearm. Vanderheiden practiced over the summer and that was the beginning of his career as a submarine pitcher.
“Throwing sidearm is more of a personality thing,” said the Hattiesburg, MS native, “It’s about capability and comfort level. It just depends on the person – whether they’re willing to try it out and if it will work.”
Vanderheiden worked as the closer for his high school team. He said, “I was put in that situation and did well. I don’t try to think, ‘This is the last inning. I have to get this done.’ I just go out there and pitch.”
And he has the same mindset today, while on the mound for the Cyclones. The lanky 6’1” 174 lbs. right-handed reliever currently has four saves so far this season, ranking him second in the league in that category. He has yet to allow a run.
“When coming in in the ninth, I try to put less pressure on myself by visualizing the seventh inning – which is when I usually came into the game when I was in college” said Vanderheiden, “I don’t want to be that guy who messes it up for everybody. I’m just thinking about throwing a strike for the first pitch and getting that first out.”
But of course, the pressure rises when trying to close out a game once men are on base. “In that situation, I’m thinking about the ground ball double play,” said Vanderheiden, “If guys are hitting pop ups and line drives, I’m not doing my job.”
Having thrown a combined 7.0 innings in seven games for Brooklyn, Vanderheiden has walked two and struck out six. Aside from his July 1st appearance, where he allowed three hits to the Hudson Valley Renegades, Vanderheiden has held the opposition to no more than one hit in each of his other six games played.
Vanderheiden throws a four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. He said staying ahead in the count and having good command of his fastball are what have allowed him to be successful. Vanderheiden said he continues to work on his secondary pitch, “not just for show, but for consistency.”
According to a 2012 Mets draft scouting report, Vanderheiden doesn’t have excellent velocity – topping out at about 90 miles per hour – but, instead, relies on the unorthodox arm angle and outstanding ball movement to get outs. His heater has a lot of sink to it, so he could be a double play specialist, as well as the type of pitcher who can be relied upon to get tough righties out.
Selected in the 19th round of the MLB Draft this past June, Vanderheiden said he was watching soccer at home in his living room at the time, while his dad sat in the kitchen listening to the Internet radio. “I was so nervous. I was just trying to get away from baseball that day,” he said.
After hearing the news, however, Vanderheiden said, “It was pretty awesome to say the least. I thought I had a pretty good chance, but I wasn’t sure. I knew there was a Mets scout interested in me, but I never felt comfortable until my name was called.”
Prior to being drafted, Vanderheiden played college ball at Samford University in Alabama. He struggled during his first two years – posting a 15.79 ERA and 11.12 ERA in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively – before finding his comfort zone.
“I wasn’t prepared,” said Vanderheiden of his rocky start. “I had been kind of a Mamma’s boy, I guess you could say, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own and four hours from home. I was starstruck when I got to Samford. I had to perform at a much higher level and had to work myself into it.”
Vanderheiden continued, “After my sophomore year, I told myself that I needed to improve – that it was now or never, otherwise it would be a lost cause for baseball.”
Over his final two seasons, the sidearmer pitched to a 2.75 ERA (16 earned runs/52.1 innings pitched). During his senior season, he allowed only one earned run over the final 11.0 innings of work. Vanderheiden finished his career ranked second in school history with 85 appearances, all out of the bullpen.