ARCOLA — Tanner Thomas didn’t want to wait to make a decision on his athletic future.
He’s come to understand that “baseball is starting to become one of those sports where a lot of people commit early, and that’s your time window for certain schools.”
So the Arcola freshman made the plunge Wednesday.
Thomas verbally committed to Louisville baseball before playing a single high school game with the Purple Riders yet. The 14-year-old held offers from the Cardinals and Indiana, and he announced his choice via Twitter.
“It’s always been my dream to end up playing baseball at the next level,” Thomas said. “For it to finally be a real thing is pretty awesome.”
Thomas is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound right-hander who has made waves as a pitcher. Shooter Hunt, Prep Baseball Report’s scouting vice president, shared video of Thomas pitching in a Twitter post last September.
“Thomas comes in pounding the zone at 83-85 (miles per hour) with an athletic delivery,” Hunt wrote. “Breaking ball is highly advanced with tight spin and sharp, later break at 70-72. Ball jumps out of his hand. Impressive.”
Thomas said Louisville offered him as “a two-way player” versus just in a single role. He added that he reached out to the Cardinals’ coaching staff first — to stay in line with NCAA recruiting rules — and then recently attended a camp on the Louisville campus.
“Their player development system is really good. They’ve had so many players go to MLB,” Thomas said. “Adam Duvall just won a Gold Glove and World Series for the Braves. That’s one of their players. They had (catcher) Will Smith win a World Series (with the Los Angeles Dodgers) last year.
“That’s one of the things: Going to MLB is my goal. They’ve also got a really good academic program. Not to mention their facilities, which are next-level, as well.”
Thomas is the latest in a recent line of local talent to select Louisville baseball as a college home. Champaign Central graduate Cam Robinson currently is a right-handed pitcher on the Cardinals’ roster, while Centennial graduate Luke Smith and former Central standout Jake Snider having played recently for Louisville.
Thomas said he started to notice around a few years ago that “I had the talent to be something special in baseball.”
So he joined the Canes Midwest travel program out of Mooresville, Ind., and played with the team last spring.
“As soon as I joined the Canes (my recruitment) really all took off,” Thomas said. “All this stuff’s definitely new to me. We just followed what everyone was telling us ... and this kind of worked out.”
Thomas was an important piece of Arcola football’s run to the Class 1A quarterfinals this fall. He hauled in 27 passes for 521 yards and 11 touchdowns as a receiver, and he even briefly filled in for senior Beau Edwards at quarterback during the regular season.
Thomas said he’s currently taking a breather from baseball in anticipation of the Purple Riders’ upcoming boys’ basketball season, which commences Nov. 29 with a home game against Uni High.
“Pitching’s probably my best thing right now, but I’m definitely a really good hitter,” Thomas said, before quickly adding that he wasn’t trying to brag about himself. “Pitching’s definitely gotten a little higher than my hitting.”
Thomas has the chance to put Arcola baseball on the map for the next four seasons, as well. The Purple Riders own just one regional championship in that program’s history, captured all the way back in 1984.
“It’s a little bit of pressure, but I’ve been kind of attacked with pressure my whole life,” Thomas said. “It’s just going to be playing. It won’t affect me when I’m on the field.
“I feel we can compete pretty well. We’ve got a lot of players that play travel ball at Arcola in my grades and younger grades, so we’re going to be pretty good in a few years.”