Four Auburn baseball players start professional careers

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Ryan Watson

Special to the
Opelika Observer
From the AU
Athletics Department

Four Auburn University baseball players, Tanner Burns, Bailey Horn, Ryan Watson and Matt Scheffler have officially begun their professional baseball careers.

Pitchers Tanner Burns and Bailey Horn were drafted in the first and fifth rounds, respectively, while right-hander Ryan Watson and catcher Matt Scheffler signed free agent deals of their own.

About Tanner Burns

Bailey Horn

Auburn junior right-hander Tanner Burns was selected by the Cleveland Indians with the 36th overall pick in the competitive balance round A of the first round of the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft on Wednesday, June 10.

Burns becomes the ninth Auburn player selected in the first round in program history and the third in five years under head coach Butch Thompson. He joins Gregg Olson (1988), Frank Thomas (1989), Bryan Hebson (1997), Chris Bootcheck (2000), Gabe Gross (2001), Josh Donaldson (2007), Anfernee Grier (2016) and Casey Mize (2018) on the list of Tigers to go in the first round.

“Hearing my name called in the first round is a dream come true, but I want to be a big leaguer, not just a professional baseball player, so there’s still work to do,” Burns said. “I can’t thank my family enough for their unwavering support. They’ve been with me every step of the way. I also want to thank Coach Thompson and the Auburn baseball program for investing in me not only as a baseball player, but also as a person. Lastly, I want to thank the Cleveland Indians organization for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to take that next step toward achieving my dream. I can’t wait to get to work.”

Burns’ selection marks the 46th consecutive season dating back to 1975 that Auburn has had at least one player selected in the MLB Draft – tied for the longest streak in the Southeastern Conference.

Matt Scheffler

“Tanner came here with a great track record, a survival fastball and a competitive spirit and that made him a Freshman All-American,” Thompson said. “What I’m most proud of is the fact that he’s taken those things and has really developed. He’s an unbelievable teammate, all of his pitches are starting to develop, and I think he leaves Auburn with still a lot of room to grow and a high ceiling, which I think makes him even more valuable.

“He checks so many boxes as a person, teammate and competitor and has tremendous skill. You can kind of see that’s what is required of a first rounder is to check a lot of boxes, and Tanner Burns believes in himself and has a strong goal of being not only a major leaguer but a long-time major leaguer. I think he has what it takes.”

In two-plus seasons on The Plains, the Decatur, Alabama native posted a 14-9 record with a 2.86 ERA in 37 appearances and 36 starts. After going 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings in 2020, Burns was named Second Team All-America by Collegiate Baseball, becoming just the third two-time All-American in program history – joining Olson and Mize. He is also the only player in program history to be named either Freshman All-America or All-America in three straight seasons.

Burns made an impact in an Auburn uniform since he set foot on campus prior to the 2018 season as he started every weekend of his freshman campaign and ranked second on the team with a 3.01 ERA en route to being named a Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman Team performer. He followed it up as a sophomore by becoming the second Auburn player since 2000 with 100 or more strikeouts en route to being named Third Team All-America by Perfect Game.

Tanner Burns Photos submitted by AU Athletics

About Bailey Horn

Auburn redshirt junior left-hander Bailey Horn was selected by the Chicago White Sox with the 11th pick of the fifth round (142nd overall) in the 2020 MLB Draft on Thursday, June 11.

Coming on the heels of Burns being drafted in the first round the night before, it marks the fourth time Auburn has had two pitchers drafted in the top five rounds, and the first time since 1997.

“It was a surreal feeling to get that call. I just can’t explain it,” Horn said of being drafted. “I’ve had a lot of help to get where I am today, and I can’t thank the people in my corner enough. Coach Thompson took a chance on me out of junior college, and I can’t thank him enough for that. I’m excited for this next step in my career.”

Horn made his way to Auburn from McLennan Community College prior to the 2019 season and played a pivotal role in Auburn’s postseason run that culminated in Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time since 1997. The Waco, Texas, native gutted out a rain delay and pitched 6.0 scoreless innings in the regional final vs. Georgia Tech en route to being named to the Atlanta Regional All-Tournament Team.

“He’s missed some time at the collegiate level, but I think what he did in the postseason last year and how he started this year, even in the fall, from a professional baseball standpoint, they’ve seen him,” Thompson said. “He kind of came out of nowhere. The sky’s the limit. His best days are definitely ahead of him. There’s just not a lot of guys walking Earth that are left-handed with the power he has and are that type of athlete.”

Prior to the abrupt ending of the 2020 season, Horn was 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA and struck out 27 batters in 17.1 innings. He turned in 11.0 scoreless innings with 18 strikeouts and two walks in his final two appearances of the season and struck out a career high 11 batters in his final appearance vs. Chicago State.

About Ryan Watson

Auburn right-hander Ryan Watson signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, June 14.

“Playing for this University has been a dream come true,” Watson said. “I dreamed of playing for Auburn as a little kid and will cherish every moment of the last four years. Thank you to all the coaches, family, friends and teammates who have helped me get to this point in my baseball career. I’m excited to join the Baltimore Orioles organization and start this next chapter in my life.”

A local product from Auburn High School, Watson made 58 appearances, including five starts, in his four-year career on The Plains. He posted a 2-2 record and 4.67 ERA while striking out 79 batters and issuing 35 walks in 90.2 innings pitched.

“The entire Auburn Family joins in celebrating the career of Ryan Watson and his opportunity with the Baltimore Orioles,” Thompson said. “We thank Ryan for staying home to accomplish his goals of playing for Auburn and pursuing his degree before taking this next step into professional baseball.”

Watson saved his best for last, playing a key role in Auburn’s 2019 postseason run that culminated at the College World Series for the first time since 1997. He picked up where he left off as he allowed just one run in five appearances and 7.1 innings of work in 2020.

About Matt Scheffler

Senior catcher Matt Scheffler agreed to a free agent deal with the Seattle Mariners last Tuesday, June 16.

“It’s hard to put into words how amazing Auburn has been,” Scheffler said. “From a junior college kid coming out of Washington, the campus and community welcomed me with open arms. My coaches and teammates made me a better baseball player and a better man and have prepared me as much as possible to take on the next level. I know I have all the support from the Auburn Family, and I cherished my time on The Plains. I can’t wait for this next opportunity.”

In parts of two seasons on The Plains, Scheffler made 77 appearances and started in 75 contests, 74 of which came behind the plate. A transfer from Pierce College prior to the 2019 season, Scheffler was instrumental in the Tigers’ run that culminated in Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time since 1997. The senior backstop was a .289 career hitter and tied for the team lead with a .412 average through 18 games in 2020.

”He’s made everybody on our team better, our coaching staff better,” Thompson said. “Yeah, he can run for a catcher, way above average, and he has a great arm and can block, but his leadership to serve everybody on our pitching staff and on our team has been exceptional. People see the tools, but what puts him over the top is that the intangibles are off the charts and create a chance for him to have a long professional career.”

The Kirkland, Washington, native turned in a .989 fielding percentage behind the plate and threw out 14 would-be base stealers while picking off four others in his career. He handled a pitching staff that turned in 777 strikeouts and 12 shutouts during the last two seasons.

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