07/04/2023 12:18 PM
Article By: Daniel Curren
Tanner Witt began his collegiate career with the Texas Longhorns with all eyes on him. As one of the top recruits in the nation, Witt had high expectations placed on him as a teenager. As Witt now makes his final push before the MLB Draft, the happiness he feels is incomparable now to ever before.
Coming into college, Witt was ranked by Perfect Game as the #6 overall player in Texas in the H.S. Class of 2020. He was also ranked the #74 player and #14 right-handed pitcher in the nation.
He excelled in his freshman year with Texas. In 57 innings pitched, Witt posted an impressive 3.16 ERA and 73 strikeouts. He then pitched for the Chatham Anglers in 2021, striking out 17 batters in 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA. He was quickly on his way to becoming a top collegiate prospect. But then, a setback struck in his sophomore season when his velocity was down.
“It wasn’t just one pitch, it was more of a gradual thing,” Witt reflected on being taken out after his second start in 2022. “It wasn’t something that we expected, but I got the news.”
That news was among the most devastating any pitcher can receive - Witt needed Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction, better known as “Tommy John Surgery”.
Tommy John Surgery is an elbow procedure in which a player’s UCL is replaced either with a tendon in their own body, or someone else’s. The average recovery time is 12-14 months.
Witt found himself sidelined for the rest of his sophomore year, and most of his junior year.
“The hardest part was not being able to play with those boys for the rest of that season,” Witt said. “Those were all my close friends. Still are. Always will be. So not being able to finish that season with them was hard.”
After surgery, Witt set his sights to get back on the mound. The mental side of his recovery became a key component to his journey to return to pitching.
“Throughout the whole thing, I’m trying to find small victories,” Witt said. “Just getting to the field, that was a victory in itself. First time playing catch again, or my first time back on the mound, I’m trying to find small victories in everything I did.”
The recovery process came with several trials and tribulations for the determined Witt. Every day presented new challenges, and no two days felt the same.
“Some days you wake up and feel great, some days you wake up and you feel like your elbow isn’t even fixed,” Witt said. “That process and the roller coaster of emotions, that’s probably the hardest part.
On May 1, 2023, 428 days after he was removed from his last start of 2022, Witt stepped back on the mound to pitch for the Longhorns. It was a moment he had worked tirelessly and waited patiently to get to, and he took none of it for granted.
“It felt awesome,” Witt said. “That was a huge victory. I enjoyed every second of it."
Witt appeared in six starts for Texas after his return and posted a 10.97 ERA. He also returned to the Anglers for a second summer in the Cape League
With eight starts under his belt post-surgery between Texas and Chatham. Although he has struggled to record outs compared to before, Witt has embraced the process.
“I’ve had failure, which is obviously not ideal, but you learn a lot from failure,” Witt said. “This game can kick you around, and I’m kind of at that point, I’ve had a few shaky outings. I’ve been learning a lot through it, which is good in the long run.”
Witt is still working his way back to where he was as a pitcher before surgery. He has impressed Chatham manager Tom Holliday with how he has handled himself every step of the way.
“Nobody pulls for Tanner Witt harder than I do,” Holliday said. “When your velocity goes from 95 to 90 and you’re still pitching and smiling and having fun like he is… it’s great.”
In his most recent outing, Witt pitched four shutout innings against Harwich where he struck out five and allowed one hit. Holliday is hoping Witt can continue to build up his confidence during this stint in Chatham.
“I think that he needs to walk off the mountain feeling really good about himself again,” Holliday said. “He hasn’t had that and he’s the kind of guy that people in the dugout pull for him because he’s a great teammate.”
Witt is eligible for the MLB Draft that begins on Sunday. He can either sign with the organization that drafts him, or go back to Texas for his senior year. No matter what decision is made, he has made the comeback and is back on the mound, something that he will always cherish as a significant milestone in his career.