Most prospects await their draft fates on couches, surrounded by loved ones.
For reasons beyond the obvious, Zebulon Vermillion is not like most prospects.
The righty, coming off a strong fifth-year senior season at Arkansas, was working a kids camp at the university, guiding youth players ages 6-12 who have professional dreams, when his own dream came true. The Mets had called his adviser and were going to take him in the 10th round, and he encouraged the children to watch as the pick was being made.
“They were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ ” Vermillion said on a phone call from Fayetteville this week. “It was pretty fun having all those kids cheering for me.”
As the kids were celebrating, the name was going viral. Zebulon Vermillion, as he has to explain to just about everyone he meets, was born in Vail, Colo., not too far from the Rocky Mountains and a summit known as Pikes Peak. His parents, the outdoorsy type, read that the apex was named after Zebulon Pike, and it stuck with them.
Vermillion’s last name is Nordic and middle name — Cassis — French, after a fishing port in Southern France. His mother, who is trilingual, loves the city.
The Mets drafted 22 players, but perhaps none more interesting than the player most call “Zeb,” who says he is not fluent but speaks some French, Spanish, Russian and Japanese, which should serve him well as he rises through a system that tries to find talent from anywhere.
“Even if it’s not like I can really [fully] communicate, there’s at least something [a foreign prospect and I] could start to talk about or have some relation in,” said Vermillion, who grew up in Kansas. “It’s pretty unique.”
Of course, the Mets drafted him not because his name could win Scrabble games but because his arm might win big league games.
The 6-foot-5, 23-year-old has done “anything you can think of when it comes to pitching.” In various seasons at Arkansas, he has been a starter, closer or multi-inning reliever, proud that he can do whatever the Mets ask. Most recently, Vermillion pitched to a 2.39 ERA in 26 ¹/₃ innings out of the Razorbacks bullpen, striking out 28.
Vermillion arrived at Arkansas living in the low-90s, but work on his body (up about 70 pounds, from 180 to 250 in his five years at college) and analytically (“the more information, the better”) have helped his stuff take leaps. His fastball is up to the upper-90s, which he pairs with a slider and a cutter that he developed late this season and became a major weapon.
“When I was pitching in the College World Series, I think I threw like 60 percent cutters,” Vermillion said of his two outings in which he threw a pair of perfect innings from the bullpen.
He did not know the Mets were interested, but he will join a system that is top-heavy and hoping its 2022 First-Year Player Draft will help replenish the lower levels.
He’s an interesting, older arm to watch who could move quickly. He might be an even more interesting personality to chat with around the Mets, though.
“I’ve got a unique name, but I’ve also got a unique character,” Vermillion said. “I’m a hard worker, I love pushing myself and my teammates. I just want the best for everybody.”