Kevin Vaupel and Derrick Tarpley are standout baseball players who have always dreamed of playing in the Major Leagues, but neither expected to hear his name called when the MLB draft took place earlier this week.
“No, not really,” Tarpley said.
But in both cases, it was the unexpected that moved them a step closer to realizing their dreams.
Tuesday was a special day for the two, as they were the only graduates of WPIAL schools to be selected in the three-day draft. Vaupel is a South Park High School graduate who played collegiately at Seton Hill, while Tarpley is a recent graduate of Brownsville High School.
Vaupel, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound left-handed pitcher, was picked in the 16th round by the Miami Marlins. Tarpley, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound outfielder, was taken by the Oakland Athletics in the 18th round.
“It was awesome,” said Vaupel, a 2019 South Park graduate. “The week prior, I told my family that I had been looking forward to this since I was 4 years old. It’s the reason why you do what you do every week. It still feels surreal.”
Vaupel is enrolled in the master’s program at Seton Hill and was planning on taking advantage of his COVID year playing for the Griffins next season. But Vaupel said he spoke to the Marlins during the draft and that the team told him it might select him somewhere between Round 15 and the 20th and final round. And when the 15th came around, Vaupel received a call from his adviser, who relayed some big news.
“He called and said the Marlins could be in play. He said to look for it this round or next round. Then they said they were taking me in the 16th,” said Vaupel, who went 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA and had 68 strikeouts to just 11 walks in 53 innings last season.
Not only was Vaupel glued to the draft coverage on MLB TV, but so was Tarpley. If he were to get picked, Tarpley said he thought the Athletics would be the one to pull the trigger. The team had an area scout at most of his games this season, said Tarpley, who batted .450 with three home runs, 19 extra-base hits, 18 runs scored and 12 stolen bases his senior season.
“I was in my living room, and I got the call five minutes before the pick,” Tarpley said. “It was a dream come true.”
Both Vaupel and Tarpley are great stories. Vaupel used a strong senior season at Seton Hill, one in which he suffered a season-ending elbow injury, to become the highest-drafted player in program history. Tarpley, meanwhile, is a unique draftee in that he is African American. It’s unknown as to how many Black baseball players have been drafted in WPIAL history, but rest assured there haven’t been many. He’s also the first Brownsville player to be selected directly out of high school since 1975.
Tarpley is part of Pittsburgh Hardball Academy, an organization founded in 2020 whose mission statement describes itself as a “nonprofit youth advocacy organization that strives to enrich the lives of youth in the Greater Pittsburgh area. We have an intent focus on empowering underrepresented populations. We deliver meaningful enrichment programming to create positive and transformative outcomes on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Our vision is to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive landscape across our region.”
More than 30 participants have continued their academic and athletic careers in college, but Tarpley is the first to be selected in the draft. College is still an option, as well. Tarpley signed with Youngstown State, where he has been planning to major in exercise science.
“They have helped me a lot with everything. Not just baseball, but academics, banking and just life,” Tarpley said of the Pittsburgh Hardball Academy, which he has been a part of since his freshman year.
While an important part of Tarpley’s story is diversity, a big chunk of Vaupel’s tale is overcoming adversity. Vaupel was college roommates with late Seton Hill baseball player Maclean Maund, who was tragically killed in January 2020 as the result of injuries he suffered in a car accident. Vaupel would wear Maund’s jersey number, 40, for the remainder of his Seton Hill career. Just after Maund died, COVID-19 rocked the world. Seton Hill coach Marc Marizzaldi said that Vaupel had strong starts to both his sophomore and junior seasons but didn’t finish either campaign strong. Vaupel then developed into one of the top pitchers in the PSAC last season before seeing his season cut short due to a partially torn UCL he sustained April 14. But, once again, Vaupel overcame a setback and this time put himself in the draft conversation.
“I can’t describe how happy I am for Kevin and his family,” Marizzaldi said. “It’s a cliche, but nobody deserves it more. Like most professional athletes, he is driven, he’s a great competitor, and has a great work ethic. But he’s been through so much the last four years.”
Vaupel will join a former Seton Hill teammate in the Marlins organization. Patrick Monteverde is a Fox Chapel graduate who is having a tremendous season playing for Double-A Pensacola. Monteverde is 8-1 with a 1.93 ERA and participated in the All-Star Futures Game last week in Seattle. Monteverde was a teammate of Vaupel’s during Vaupel’s freshman year before playing his final season at Texas Tech.
“I’ve been talking back and forth with him,” Vaupel said. “That’s a huge asset to have a kid there that I’ve played with.”
While Vaupel and Tarpley were the only graduates of WPIAL schools taken in the draft, there was one other former WPIAL player selected. He was picked by the Pirates, too. Left-hander Magdiel Cotto was the team’s 11th-round pick out of the University of Kentucky. Cotto attended Bethel Park High School before moving to South Carolina in the spring of his junior year. He then played for the University of South Carolina for a season before transferring to Kentucky.
As you might expect, Cotto was a big Pirates fan growing up, among his favorite players being Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Burnett and Russell Martin. So, being drafted by his favorite team was pretty special.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Cotto, whose grandma still lives in the area. “I grew up going to games. I played [at PNC Park] my sophomore year. It means a lot. I was fortunate that one of my teammates from college also got picked by the Pirates [right-handed pitcher Austin Strickland in the eighth round], so there will be a face I know there.”
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Cotto is a big guy with a big arm. As a junior at Kentucky this past spring, Cotto made 16 appearances, all in relief. He went 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA. Over 18 innings, Cotto struck out 26 and walked nine.