USC’s English hopes wait pays off in MLB draft

Tanner English sticks by his decision to play collegiate baseball at South Carolina.

Coming off a Class AAA state championship at St. James in 2011, English was drafted in the 13th round (420th overall) by Tampa Bay in the 2011 First Year Player Draft but decided not to sign a contract with the Rays and instead play for the Gamecocks.

That decision may have paid off for English as this year's draft approaches.

Baseball America ranks English as the 212th-best prospect in the 2014 draft, and he could possibly hear his name called much earlier than he did in 2011.

"I wouldn't change anything for the world. Everything happens for a reason," English said. "Honestly I don't think I could've handled [signing a contract] coming right out of high school. I've made so many great relationships in college and I've definitely grown but I wouldn't change it for the world."

Even though he may be drafted, English said there's a chance he could return to South Carolina for a senior campaign.

"There's always a possiblity I could be back. I don't know if that will happen; only time will tell," he said. "I dont have an exact figure [for me to sign]. I don't know yet, it'll have to be a game-time decision for me. But playing at South Carolina has given me the opportunity to play in front of a lot of people and even MLB scouts. But, I could get the opportunity to say I can be a professional baseball player here in a few weeks, so you never know."

During his freshman year, English played in all 69 games with 68 starts and hit .298 with 23 RBIs, 43 runs scored and stole 12 bases en route to being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. English helped the Gamecocks reach the College World Series in 2012, but South Carolina fell short to Arizona in the championship.

But just playing in Omaha was something special for English.

"It's been the best experience in the world. A lot of kids grow up and watch the College World Series and going to play in Omaha I can say I'm one of the few people in the world that have done that," English said. "Even though we lost, it was still a great experience."

Though this year was a bit disappointing with the Gamecocks failing to advance out of a regional they hosted, English said he will cherish the time he spent at South Carolina for the rest of his life and will carry it with him wherever he goes.

"I can't tell you how much fun I had playing baseball, meeting friends, going to classes, I even met my girlfriend," English said. "It's just been an awesome experience and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to go to the best school in the nation, in my opinion."

St. James baseball coach Robbie Centracchio said English's speed and work ethic separates him from the rest of the pack.

“Tanner didn’t fit the profile with size and still doesn’t, but his ability to throw and run has surpassed everyone," Centracchio said. "Everyone thinks you’re born with that kind of speed and arm but every year Tanner has worked his tail off with speed guys and worked in the weight room so he can get to where he is now. Back when he was playing for me, you could see him out in his neighborhood running sprints in the middle of the night, working on his speed. It just shows how dedicated he is. His work ethic as well is just so special."

English gives Centracchio a lot of credit for helping him become the player he is today.

"At St. James, coach [Centracchio] really helped us be a winning program. He put us on the map; We won a state championship and we couldn't have done it without him," English said. "He really cares about the guys and makes it a really fun game to play and that's the biggest thing. A lot of times people forget to have fun and forget it's just a game."

College of Charleston junior Gunnar Heidt, English's teammate at St. James and close friend, keep up regularly and even played on the same team in the Cap Cod league last summer.

"Gunnar is by far one of my best friends in the world. We would go to the end of the world for each other. If I'm not talking to him twice a week there's something going on," English said. "He's a great baseball player and I wish him all the luck in the draft. He's going to get the chance to [play professionaly] and I hope everything works out for him. I love him to death and couldn't be happier for him; he's one of my best friends."

Heidt is ranked as the 230th-best prospect in the draft, according to Baseball America and has joked with English about them both getting drafted by the Texas Rangers and playing for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

English likes the idea.

"That would be awesome," he said. "We always talk about being picked by the same team but that would be really cool. You never know who is going to pick you but it could be a possiblity. If that happens, it would be a pretty funny conversation between the both of us. It's definitely a possibility."

English and Heidt also regularly give back to the St. James program, Centracchio said. The two visit the school as often as they can.

"[English still] gives back. Nobody realizes how much of a toll [the season] takes on these college kids. With them playing in Super Regionals and having to go straight to the Cape Cod league, Tanner came to our camp and took pictures with kids and signed autographs," Centracchio said. "A lot of kids wouldn’t do that kind of stuff coming off such a long schedule. Gunnar is same way; he comes back every December and comes to our field and anyone that needs help he gives pointers to the kids and help them with everything they need. It’s cool with them giving back.”

For now, English said all he wants is to keep playing baseball.

"It has always been a dream of mine to play baseball professionally and it would be pretty cool to be able to say I'm a professional baseball player," he said.