Every Friday afternoon he can be seen taking the mound for the Spartans. He is the ace of MSU’s pitching staff, and for good reason — he is one of the most dominant pitchers in the Big Ten. Redshirt-junior Cam Vieaux has pitched a spectacular brand of baseball this season and because of that other teams loathe him, but respect him.
Vieaux dons the number 36 on the back of his green and white jersey that reads Spartans on the front. He struts around with confidence and the season both he and the Spartans are having in 2016 just seems — special.
A hard worker
Being a Friday starting pitcher on any college baseball team is a big accomplishment, and for Vieaux, it was a position he had to work tirelessly to get.
While nearing the end of his high school career for Walled Lake Western, the Novi, Mich. native had little idea of where he would play post-high school. Vieaux, who hadn’t attracted any scholarship offers from a major university to play baseball, was set on playing at the junior college level. MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., however, had his eye on Vieaux and offered the southpaw a preferred walk-on spot for the Spartans, which Vieaux accepted.
After working hard with the team during the offseason, Vieaux was redshirted for his freshman year with the Spartans. With the added benefit of taking a year off and working with pitching coach Skylar Meade and the rest of the coaching staff, he would be ready to pitch the next season.
“He’s a freakish athlete,” Meade said. “But he was kind of like a wild horse, he’s got all the tools but he just needed some navigation.”
Vieaux was impressive in his first season with MSU, appearing in 18 games throughout 2014. The 6-foot-4 lefty first appeared out of the bullpen for Boss, but transitioned into a starting pitcher in the middle of the season. By the end of his freshman campaign Vieaux had a 6-5 record with a 3.18 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 70.2 innings of work. Despite the change from late inning work to the starting rotation, Vieaux was still selected as a member of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and was voted as the team’s pick for the Steve Garvey Most Improved Player Award following his redshirt.
In 2015, Vieaux statistically fell victim to the sophomore slump, but started a team-high 15 games for MSU in his sophomore season and showed a lot of true signs of growth and development. In 90.1 innings last season, Vieaux struck out 71 opposing batters and finished the year with a 3.49 ERA.
“I don’t know if I’d say he took a step back a year ago,” Boss said. “He was in a different role a year ago. For all intents and purposes he was our number one guy for a majority of the year, and for a redshirt-sophomore that isn’t an easy thing. ... Maybe from a numbers standpoint you could say he took a step back but developmentally, not a chance. He was really good for us in that role and it’s helped him acclimate himself this year into that Friday night role.”
Vieaux’s performance through two seasons put the starter in a position to be one of the eight Spartans picked up in the 2015 MLB draft. Vieaux was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round as the 580th overall pick. Vieaux was one of three Spartans to be drafted by the Tigers — the others being then-junior Cam Gibson and former senior third baseman Blaise Salter.
Still a workhorse
Despite being drafted as a sophomore, Vieaux decided to return to play his junior season with the Spartans. It was a decision some could have considered risky, but his performance this season is paying its dividends and helping his draft stock tremendously.
This season had been a breakout one for Vieaux — an anticipated one since the start of the season when he was put on a Big Ten Players to Watch list compiled by coaches prior to the start of the season.
“When you see yourself having a lot of success, then it just makes you want to continue and get better,” Vieaux said. “I think that’s what my goal all along has been — to just be the best I possibly can.”
So far through nine starts in 2016, Vieaux is on pace to have his best statistical season with MSU. Through his most recent start against Indiana, the Spartan ace has a 6-2 record with a league-leading 1.46 ERA.
On top of that, Vieaux is holding opponents to a .217 batting average, which ranks fifth among all pitchers in the Big Ten and has struck out 63 batters, good enough for third in the conference. In his best outing this season, Vieaux pitched a complete game shutout against Purdue to help MSU win 11-0 over the Boilermakers on April 15.
“He’s really learned how to control himself,” Meade said. “Now he has great confidence and I love that about him. But a lot of that is keeping his mind clear. He’s focusing on each pitch, he’s not trying to go so fast, he’s just taking it one pitch at a time and executing, and when you take that approach, which he’s done the entire year, that’s why you have success.”
While leading MSU’s pitching staff, the Spartans jumped out to a 14-1 record – a school record – to start the season and have consistently been in the top tier of the Big Ten standings for the duration of the season.
“I just want to play as long as I can,” Vieaux said. “Playing in the Major Leagues was a life-long goal and four years ago it didn’t seem as realistic as it does now. I just don’t want a minor league career, I want to make it all the way and establish a career at the big league level so I’m going to continue to work and do whatever it takes.”