Ryan Vanderhei and the University of Kansas have eyed one another since he entered the Estrella Foothills baseball program nearly four years ago.
The 6-foot 6-inch, 175-pound, right-handed pitcher is hard to miss. He boasts a fastball just shy of 90 miles per hour, consistently fills the strike zone and has that projectability factor scouts rave about.
On June 4, Vanderhei made it official with a verbal commitment to further his baseball career at Kansas after a strong junior season at Estrella Foothills.
“The coaching staff is phenomenal,” he said of the Jayhawks’ program. “They treat me as if I was one of their own before I was their own. Every little thing you could think of is just flat out perfect. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s just one of those things you want to be a part of.”
For a Wolves squad that won the most games in school history and captured back-to-back region titles, Vanderhei was a stalwart for head coach Patrick McCubbins.
He logged 30.2 innings on the mound this spring, striking out 38 batters while yielding 14 earned runs.
Vanderhei was equally impactful on the other side of the ball. He batted .342 in 29 games and slugged three home runs, tied with senior Tyler Godfrey and junior Jacob McLeod.
One of Vanderhei’s goals was to play baseball at the collegiate level. Along with Kansas, Washington State and Nebraska were in the mix. He certainly had options, but nothing compared to Kansas.
“It’s such a dream come true. In my opinion, it’s the best conference you can play in. You have schools like TCU, Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma. That’s a big deal. You’re playing on ESPN. It’s anything you could ever ask for.”
Vanderhei is unsure which role he’ll be tasked with at Kansas. He knows he’ll pitch, but whether it’s in the starting rotation or out of the bullpen remains unclear.
He’ll have another year to determine that role, but for now, he’s sharpening his tools while traveling the country this summer with a pair of club teams.
“I have a club team I travel out of state with, Northeast Baseball. Then I have an in-state club team that I practice with and have in-state tournaments called Gauchos Baseball Academy. I’ve been to Florida this year with Northeast and I just threw with the Gauchos in a tournament. I’ll be going to Nashville and Georgia this month, and then I’ll fly back out to Florida in a month or two.”
Baseball in Arizona means a year-round schedule where a true “off-season” is hard to come by. Vanderhei’s efforts this summer will bode well for McCubbins and an Estrella Foothills team that has experienced considerable regular season success over his career.
After committing to Kansas and working on his craft on the mound this summer, Vanderhei is fixated on bringing the Wolves their first state championship title in his senior campaign.
“I’m just trying to be a really good teammate and help our team go really far in the playoffs and see how good we can really be. Whatever role it takes for me to do it, I’m going to do it. I feel like this is our year.”