Tanner Rainey walks with a quiet, unassuming confidence — and a mid-90s fastball. It's a combination that makes Rainey the kind of raw power-pitching prospect the Mustangs’ parent club, the Cincinnati Reds, absolutely love.
But there’s more. Rainey can also hit the daylights out of the ball. Or at least he used to.
Despite putting up gaudy numbers at the plate in his senior season at NCAA Division II University of West Alabama this past spring – a .386/19/65/.842 slash line in 53 games – the Reds want to mold Rainey into a starting pitcher after taking him with the first pick of the second competitive balance round of the 2015 draft.
It’s a challenge Rainey, a right-hander, is already taking on with a starter’s mentality.
“Any time I’m on the mound, I’m better than who is at the plate. I’m going to get him,” he said Tuesday. “It’s my job to get him out and give us a chance to win. I plan on going out every time I get the ball and put up zeros.”
Rainey pulled double duty at West Alabama, appearing in 26 games as a relief pitcher in addition to playing first base. He led the Tigers with nine saves, and had a 4-1 record with a team-best 1.59 earned-run average.
This year, Rainey was named to the All-Gulf South Conference team as both a first baseman and a pitcher. He was picked as the MVP of the league tournament after hitting three homers in the championship game.
Mustangs manager Dick Schofield said Rainey would warm up his arm between innings of his college games in the event that he’d be needed on the mound, a routine that proved resourceful.
“He’d just walked from first base to the mound,” Schofield said.
Rainey made his first professional start in an 8-7 victory over Missoula on Monday at Dehler Park. He pitched two shutout innings, giving up two hits while striking out three and walking two.
“I felt pretty good. Comfortable for sure,” he said. “I thought I had all my pitches working for me. It could have been better – I could have eliminated the walks. But for the most part, pretty solid.”
Schofield liked what he saw.
“He’s just a power arm,” Mustangs manager Dick Schofield said. “He’s probably 94 to 96 (mph) when he’s letting it go.”
Schofield said Rainey will be on a strict pitch count early this season, but that his leash could loosen later.
Entering the draft, Rainey knew he’s be taken as a pitcher. Scouts told him so. But he also is sitting on a commodity most players don’t have. So if pitching doesn’t work out … who knows? He could still fall back on his enormous power potential.
But it’s not in his plans at the moment.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing professional baseball,” Rainey said. “Whether it was pitching or hitting, it didn’t matter. But I’m a pitcher now, and I don’t ever want to see myself fail.”