AUBURN, Ala. – Tanner Burns, whom Auburn coach Butch Thompson calls "as competitive of a young man as I've even been around," has channeled his competitiveness into two new pursuits while he waits for Wednesday's Major League Baseball draft.

Golfing and bicycling.

Burns rides his bike, a gift from his older brother, 20 miles each Saturday with his cousin. With baseball on pause, golf clubs Tanner received as a Christmas present are seeing a lot of use. Burns has already improved his score from triple digits to an 84. In his most recent round, for the first time, he returned with as many golf balls in his bag as he had when he started.

Burns, who earned a position in Auburn's weekend rotation as a freshman in 2018, was slated to start the Tigers' SEC opener against Texas A&M on March 13 when play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately ending the 2020 season.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Burns said. "I thought maybe we were going to come back in a week or two."

In the past three months, he's maintained his regimen of throwing, workouts, sleep, nutrition and hydration.

"I'm doing the same things I'd be doing leading up to Friday night pitching," he said.

Burns, from Decatur, Alabama, and Auburn sophomore Garrett Wade, from Hartselle, take turns driving 20 minutes to each other's hometowns to keep their pitching arms in shape.

"It's nice having him, a teammate and one of my best friends, to throw with," Burns said.

Burns hopes to become Auburn's ninth first-round draft selection. He's one of 23 top prospects who will virtually join ESPN and MLB Network's draft coverage beginning Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT.

"It'd be awesome," Burns said. "It's every dream come true. That was the reason to go to Auburn in the first place. One, to have my name chosen, that'd be cool. The second one is to get the big leagues, so this is just another step of chasing my dream. The ultimate goal is to pitch in the big leagues, and pitch in the big leagues as long as you can. I'm excited about it. I'm fortunate to be in the situation I'm in."

Burns thanked everyone involved in Auburn's baseball program for helping reach this point, including Thompson, former pitching coach Steve Smith, current pitching coach Tim Hudson, strength and conditioning coach Chris Joyner and senior assistant athletic trainer Anthony Sandersen.

"It's not just me," Burns said. "I've had a lot of help to be put in this situation, my name being called."

Burns also thanked former Auburn teammate Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, who mentored Tanner during his freshman season.

"He didn't have to do that," Burns said. "I respect Casey so much. He'll go down as one of my best friends. We talk to this day. It means a lot having a guy like with so much talent, so much awareness around him, what kind of pitcher he is, to even want to try to help me out. That shows a lot about his character, and how he cares about Auburn and wants to win. He invested time in me and I'm very grateful for that."

Tanner Burns and Casey Mize

Thompson recalled Mize, at the start of his draft-eligible season in the fall of 2017, making a special effort to invest in Burns, Alabama's Mr. Baseball and the national high school player of the year.

"As soon as Tanner stepped on campus, I remember Casey Mize saying, 'I'm taking Tanner Burns under my wing,'" Thompson said. "'He's going to be my throwing partner every day,'" just as Keegan Thompson had done for Mize years before.

"I think Casey Mize will share in some of this with Tanner, because he took him under his wing from day one," Thompson said. "You need to surround yourself with people that will make you better, can make you faster. We see that happening in our program and I think that's amazing. Tanner got that whole first year just sitting there watching Casey - saw what he's going through, evaluated his game. I think a lot of growth came from their relationship and their connection."

Burns completed his Auburn career with a 14-9 record, 2.86 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 188.2 innings, helping the Tigers reach the College World Series in 2019 for the first time in 22 years. Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 37th round out of high school, Burns will extend Auburn's streak of having a player selected in the MLB Draft to 46 years, tied for the SEC's longest.

"He just loves to compete," Thompson said. "He's a great teammate. He cares about everybody around him. He's as loyal as the day is long. I appreciate and respect every one of those qualities about Tanner. I want the best for him.

"When you really like a guy, you never want him to leave. He's worked hard and put himself in position to take the next step."


Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer