Tanner Witt is getting close to pitching in a game for Texas this spring. It’s an encouraging sign for the highly-regarded right-handed pitcher, who only made two starts last season. He suffered an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in March 2022 and missed the remainder of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Early in the recovery process, Witt made it a goal to pitch this season. He will throw off the mound against live hitters for the third time in his recovering process this week and is “shooting for late April” to return to game action, he said. Witt’s return to the field will instantly give Texas a boost due to his experience and skill set on the mound.
“Most people would say, ‘Why are you going to throw? There is no point,’” Witt said. “It goes back to the competitive aspect for me. I want to get back on the field, but obviously, I want to be smart with it. I always wanted to get back out there, as this is potentially the end of my college career.”
Even with Witt’s injury, scouts rave about his ace potential on the mound. His size, exceptional pitch mix and potential are reasons why scouts project Witt as a likely early-round pick in July’s MLB draft.
This year marks Witt’s second time going through the draft process. Being familiar with most area scouts has made the draft process easier during his recovery process. He was a potential first-round pick out of the Texas high school ranks in 2020.
“The area scouts have been really good with letting me go and letting me focus on rehab,” Witt said. “They were super upfront about not wanting to bother me too much. They knew it wasn’t easy and let me focus on rehabbing.”
Out of high school, Witt had plenty of teams interested in him in the draft. He could have pursued a pro career but wanted to attend Texas and play college baseball. He leaned on his family for advice during the process.
Witt’s father, Kevin, was a first-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994 out of high school. The first baseman played parts of five seasons in the major leagues. His experience has helped Witt throughout his prep and college careers.
“I always wanted to go to college,” Witt said. “It would have had to be life-changing stuff to get me away. I knew this college experience was something I didn’t want to miss out on. My dad went out of high school and had a good career, but I think he always pushed me to college.
“I’m super grateful and don’t regret anything that happened. I wouldn’t want it any other way because of how much I have learned at Texas.”
Witt is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot. He uses an athletic and repeatable delivery.
His above-average fastball is a mid-90s offering with notable run. He has an advanced feel for his above-average 12-6 curveball. It features quality spin rates and tunnels well off of his fastball. He also mixes in a quality changeup and occasionally his respectable slider.
Witt has a strong mentality on the mound and does a great job attacking the strike zone. He has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher at the next level.
“A lot of guys throw hard with off-speed,” Witt said. “I don’t think that separates anyone from anybody. What I think separates me is my mentality. I can deal with failure really well. For me, I truly believe whoever goes into the box that I’m better than. I wouldn’t tell anybody that, but that thought goes through my head. If you don’t truly believe you can beat the guy you are facing, it’s not going to go well for you.”
Texas boasts a 26-12 record this season. The Longhorns have consistently competed at a high level under coach David Pierce. They have advanced to the College World Series in each of the last two years and three of the last four tournaments, excluding the 2020 season.
Texas will likely ease Witt into game action in preparation for postseason play. Witt’s experience pitching on college baseball’s biggest stage freshman year has motivated him to pitch in that environment this season.
“That was so much fun,” Witt said. “We didn’t get where we wanted to that year. But we learned a lot. It does make a huge difference. You want to get back. The last two years, we have made it to Omaha. We don’t know anything different. That is not something you take for granted. We are working every day, and we are big into the work. That’s why we get where we do because of the work we put in.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for eight years. He has interviewed 433 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.