Former Tigers pitcher blossoms into Division I standout

People said that Brooks Vial was too small to be a Division I pitcher. Despite winning big game after big game at Hahnville High School, they said his fastball wasn’t fast enough, his upside wasn’t great enough.

Vial didn’t agree. At 5’10, 185 lbs., he not only succeeded at the Division I level, he thrived.  Vial concluded his collegiate career as the anchor of the Virginia Commonwealth rotation, leading his team in innings pitched,  wins and strikeouts, as the Rams won the Atlantic 10 Conference’s regular season crown.

“It’s nice, just to prove to yourself you can do it,” Vial said. “People believe in you (and) stick their neck out for you. So, it’s always nice to prove those guys and yourself right.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will. I’ve always really believed in myself.”

The former Hahnville High School star and left-handed pitcher, transferred to VCU after a strong two-year run at Delgado.

Vial struggled early in his tenure at VCU. Early in his junior season, his first with the Rams, Vial realized he needed to find a way to adjust. He allowed 14 runs over his first three starts, spanning 15 innings. It was uncharacteristic for a player who had established himself as a big-game pitcher on each of his previous teams.

But things clicked for Vial when he and the Rams faced Marist in a home game in early March of 2016. In that game, Vial went all nine innings, hurling a complete game shutout and allowing just five hits. In his final 13 starts of the year, he allowed three runs or less eight times and finished the season with a 4.05 ERA. He led the Rams in strikeouts, innings pitched and wins.

This season, he has been even better, cutting a run-and-a-half off of his ERA while improving his strikeout rate (7.71 to 8.16) and cutting down on his walks (39 in 93.1 innings to 33 in 92.2 innings). He raised his game in conference play, at one point tossing 34 consecutive scoreless innings against Atlantic-10 foes. The senior helped lead the Rams to a 35-22 record this season, going 9-4 on the mound with a 2.82 ERA.

A big part of Vial’s improvement at VCU he credits to an adjustment made early on in his tenure there, when Rams coaches guided him to increased utilization of his curveball. The staff utilizes Trackman, a 3D Doppler radar system being used by major league and colleges teams to assist in player development and more closely assess what each player does well.

What the data told the VCU coaches was that Vial’s curveball was a major league caliber weapon. The spin rate on his curve (2.600 rpm) was far above the team’s other pitchers, and research revealed the number was higher than the major league average for the pitch.

So, Vial met with his coaches, and they had a clear message for him: that curve would be his calling card, and for the remainder of the season he more than doubled its usage.

“I was okay with it,” Vial said. “When I had success in high school, I threw backwards (breaking balls first). I threw a lot of breaking balls, changeups, cutters … I was used to it. Once you get to college level, you throw a lot more standard. Last year I had command issues, so they said, ‘Okay, we’re gonna start using your curveball more.’ I just wanted to win.”

While Vial doesn’t hit 90 on the radar gun with his fastball, has nevertheless struck out nearly a batter per inning over his two years at the school. Thanks to his curve, even when batters make contact, he’s never been fazed.

“Just the fact the spin rate is so high, it doesn’t really get barreled up as much … you’re ok with contact, even if it’s not necessarily a swing and a miss pitch. Even when people know it’s coming, you’re still getting outs with it.”

His ability to throw his breaking pitches for strikes has always been a positive for him.

“I’d say breaking ball command is kinda my M.O.,” he said. “I throw a lot of sliders and curveballs for strikes. It kinda messes with a lot of people. It’s something you have to worry about, on a fastball count, 1-0, I can throw it for a strike.”

Vial caught the eye of VCU when he helped to lead Delgado to the National Junior College World Series in each of his two seasons there. He went 15-5 during his run at the school and posted a 2.66 ERA. Before that, he was an anchor of Hahnville’s rotation, earning All-State and District MVP honors as a senior.

He also has gotten the job done in the classroom. He was a NJCAA Academic All-American at Delgado and graduated from Hahnville Magna Cum Laude and as part of the National Honors Society.


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