When the San Francisco Giants picked in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, the name of the school was far more familiar to Bay Area fans than the name of the player. The problem is, it's best known for football, not baseball.
"When you say you go to De La Salle, everyone asks about the football team first obviously, which they deserve," says former De La Salle pitcher and now-Giants prospect Clayton Tanner. "But the baseball team's, we're running for the championship every year."
Sure enough, Tanner won a championship and the Phil Nevin National Classic with De La Salle in his last two years playing there. But the move to the pros was a big change for the young man, and it was a little unexpected.
"The draft for me came on late. It wasn't until Easter that I started hearing from people," Tanner said. His fastball had taken a jump in velocity and that was starting to get people to notice him. But he was planning to go to Southern California and head to Pepperdine for the fall, plans which seemed solid, until the third round of the draft.
"When it actually happened, I was in shock for the first ten, fifteen minutes or so, and then it started sinking in. It was just deciding that I definitely wanted to sign, which I decided to do and haven't regretted since," Tanner said of becoming a Giant. "It was tough, just because I'd been set on Pepperdine for so long. Like I said, I didn't even think about the draft until a couple of months before it. So when I realized I'd actually been drafted, it was a total mind change of, ‘Okay, I'm not going to go to college, I'm going to go to pro ball.'"
"I still feel like I made the right decision," Tanner confirmed.
Tanner's career started with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, and though he had been a starter in high school, Tanner moved to the bullpen to start his pro career. But that isn't where he'll stay. "We talked about it with the coaches down there, and with Burt Bradley, the roving pitching instructor, and they just thought, first year, being young, they don't want you to be hurt."
In addition to moving to the bullpen, Tanner was given some time before really getting underway. "Once I got to Salem, I didn't pitch for about two or three weeks, so I had the chance to settle in and adjust to the whole pro ball scene," he said. "I still remember my first outing, though, and I was just so nervous. But it went well." Tanner did do well, gathering a 3.46 ERA in 26 innings of work.
The team, of course, went on to a record, championship season, helped in no small part by Tanner's work in the bullpen. And just like everyone else, what Tanner said was so great wasn't just winning, but all of his teammates. "Everyone's really tightly knit in high school, obviously. Coming into pro ball, I was expecting everyone to be off on their own, doing their own thing. But, we had a good brotherhood on the team, and it was cool. We were all rooting for each other."
"It was really awesome, especially for a first year," Tanner says.
This year, however, things could be different. Tanner is expected to start in Augusta's rotation, and be given every chance to extend himself. He doesn't expect the time in the bullpen to indicate anything else. "Last year, I sorta had to adjust to the bullpen, but it was just to keep my arm in good health and not get hurt."
Tanner knows that staying healthy will be important this year. "The main thing is health. This is my first full year, I just want to make sure my arm is feeling good." Tanner came into camp looking noticeably bigger than he was in 2006. "The biggest thing this offseason was just gaining weight. I put on about 15 pounds. I was just trying to get my body in better shape for my first full season."
And so, the dream is about to begin again for the young East Bay native. Playing for a local team and on the road for the big show sometime in the future. And that future looks quite promising.
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