Tanner Vaughn knew what he wanted to be when he grew up by the time he was 9 years old.
The 2021 W.F. West grad and star pitcher for the Bearcats baseball team knew he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player one day.
“They make a lot of money, so why not?” Vaughn said.
He started playing baseball when he was just 2 years old — basically since he could walk — while living in Elma, and soon fell in love with the sport.
He and his family moved to Chehalis when he was 10 because of the reputable school district and baseball legacy here.
Plus, there’s Thorbeckes Wellness Center, a training facility for local athletes which has an elite athletic performance program, and the batting cages at Stan Hedwall Park, which creates the perfect atmosphere for budding youth athletes to succeed.
Vaughn has been a part of the Thorbeckes Athletic Performance program for the last two years and has been instrumental in helping him gain velocity and maintain it for longer periods of time.
He’s spent the past three years as a varsity pitcher for the Bearcats, culminating in a stellar senior season in which he was the top pitcher in the county.
The hard-throwing righty posted a blistering 0.71 ERA with 54 strikeouts and just three earned runs on 11 hits and 12 walks in 29.3 innings. He surrendered zero home runs and helped the Bearcats win the district championship.
But even a year ago, Vaughn already had a slew of scholarship offers to play at the next level, which included four Division-I offers, and at one time had committed to the University of Oregon.
That changed when he was recommended by a friend to a small junior college in rural southeast Kansas near the Oklahoma border.
“They said that’s the place to go if I want to get drafted,” Vaughn said.
Cowley College in Arkansas City, Kansas is a perennial Junior College World Series contender, and the Tigers finished fifth in the country with a 47-10 record in 2021.
Vaughn began talking with the coaching staff in the summer of 2020 while playing travel ball in Florida with a pickup team since there was little to no baseball being played in Washington state at the time due to the pandemic.
After finishing up the season in Florida, Vaughn and his family stopped in Kansas to meet with Cowley College’s coaches and throw for them.
Was he nervous?
“A little bit but not an insane amount, because I know what I’m capable of,” Vaughn said. “I just got to show up and be ready.”
His dad had a rule when he was younger, if you’re not sore, you’re throwing. It was an effort to build up arm strength. When you’re young and indestructible, you’re rarely sore, so Vaughn soon built up a cannon for a right arm.
He now unleashes fastballs in the low 90s, with an arsenal of four pitches he throws for strikes (fastball, curveball, slider and changeup), his best being offspeed stuff — either the changeup or curveball.
His repertoire instantly impressed the Tigers’ coaching staff. They offered him a scholarship on the spot — the maximum they are allowed to give to a recruit.
He accepted on the spot.
“I knew that was a school I wanted to go to because of how good their program is and how far they make it every year,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn, who had his pick of Division-I colleges to sign with, spurned those D-I programs because of one simple fact: he didn’t want to be locked into a school for three years and not be eligible for the MLB draft. University players aren’t eligible for the draft until after their junior year. Junior college players can be drafted after their first and second years.
Most of his teammates at Cowley will also be players who were Division-I recruits but are betting on themselves for a chance to get drafted.
That’s exactly what Vaughn is hoping for as the upcoming MLB draft is set to run July 11 to 13.
Vaughn has no idea what interest MLB teams have in him at the moment but he’s hoping for a late-round selection, and if the signing bonus is good enough, he may just take the opportunity and leave college behind.
Being a minor league baseball player is not a lucrative job; heck, it doesn’t even pay a liveable wage. That’s even with salaries being raised for the 2021 season from a weekly minimum of $290 to $400 for rookie and short-season players, which is where Vaughn would likely start out if drafted this year.
For now, Vaughn is waiting patiently to see if his name is called next month and if so, will he take the offer given to him or bet on himself once more, play a year at Cowley and see how next year’s draft shakes out?
“We’ll see how that goes, and if I get drafted or not,” Vaughn said. “If I don’t, then I’m going to college. It just depends on the situation, how much it is and if it’s worth it or not. What’s the point of that if you can go to college for a year or two and get more later, and an education?”
To watch the 2021 MLB Draft, tune in to the MLB Network on July 11, 12 and 13.