The quick end to the Georgia baseball team’s postseason — a 10-1 loss to Ole Miss in the first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament last month — was bittersweet for ace pitcher Robert Tyler, whose baseball career is on the threshold of a new beginning.
The Major League Baseball draft begins Thursday, and experts predict the 20-year-old Tyler will go as early as the first two rounds.
“I think Tyler is in a third tier of college pitchers who could go in the first round,” MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis says. “He has the best fastball of the group but ranks behind them in terms of his breaking ball and his polish.”
Tyler’s fastball can hit 99 mph, and that’s gotten the attention of coaches, scouts and definitely opposing players. Opponents hit just .200 against him during the regular season. However, his fastball alone may not get the right-handed pitcher a spot in a major-league rotation.
“I still think the consensus is that he winds up as a late-inning reliever who can focus on his overpowering fastball,” Callis says.
The intensity of the draft does not faze Tyler because he is no stranger to the process. Drafted out of high school in the 28th round, Tyler decided to go to college instead.
“I was predicted to go in between the first and third round,” Tyler says. “When that didn’t happen, I figured ‘OK, I am definitely going to go to school now.’”
Back in 2013, Tyler was not willing to settle. He wanted bigger and better, and when he chose Georgia, that’s what he knew he would get.
“He knows how good he is, we all know how good he is. He wanted to go a little bit higher (in the draft), he always wants to get better, so he chose to stay a little closer to home and get better,” says Gage McMillan, Tyler’s friend and a former teammate at Crisp County High School in Cordele, Ga.
Tyler’s decision to major in sport management and play college baseball made Georgia coach Scott Stricklin a happy man. Stricklin says he saw a lot in Tyler in the first conversation the two had within days of Stricklin’s hiring in 2013.
“His future is way too important, and we wanted to take care of him. I told him he doesn’t need to be anyone else. He just needs to be Robert Tyler,” Stricklin says.
As a freshman, Tyler posted the lowest ERA by a Bulldog starting pitcher in 10 seasons (2.68). He caught the attention of thousands early in his career at Georgia, but a forearm strain on his pitching arm injury caught Tyler in his sophomore season.
“When it first happened, everyone thought the worst,” Stricklin says. “That’s what we all thought, then the news came back it was a forearm strain so that ended up being good news.”
The rehab for Tyler’s injury was a daily routine meant to last 4-6 weeks, but it took more than two months. In his first start back, on May 3, 2015, against then-No. 8 Florida, Tyler received a no decision as the Bulldogs lost to the Gators 7-4.
During the struggle of watching his teammates play, Tyler was not alone. His best friend and fellow teammate, UGA pitcher Drew Moody, was dealing with his own arm injury, and he played a key role in keeping Tyler’s spirits high.
“We kept each other going. We would come into rehab at the same time, and we were both lucky to have each other,” Moody says.
Entering his junior season this year, Tyler was a preseason All-American and All-SEC selection. In the opening game on Feb. 19 against Georgia Southern, Tyler racked up 13 strikeouts in only five innings, leading Georgia to a 5-1 victory over the Eagles — the same team the Bulldogs were playing when he injured his arm as a sophomore.
In his three years with the Bulldogs, Tyler went 10-10, striking out 182 batters and compiling a 3.62 ERA in 35 games. He pitched 179 innings and started 32 games.
Three years of success only pushes Tyler to strive for more, and it also reminds him to thank his college teammates.
“All the guys and the coaches always stayed behind me through my time, so that’s pretty amazing,” Tyler says.
Maghen Moore is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.