Texan pitchers have a reputation. They are known to be high velocity pitchers, fireballers of the purest breed. Foremost among high-heat extraordinaires in the majors is Noah Syndergaard, plucked from Texas. In fact, that reputation has become so well established that scouts and prospect junkies such as myself have adopted the word “Texan” as an adjective to describe fastballs with velocity to spare.
In this year’s edition of “Kids From Texas Who Throw Hard”, the most famous player may be Houston’s Seth Romero, but the one with the highest ceiling may well be Shane Baz, a righty from Concordia Lutheran High School.
For Baz, the value lies in his stuff. The first thing that strikes evaluators about his arsenal is how remarkably deep it is. Most high school pitching prospects feature three pitches, and the third is often far behind the others. Baz, on the other hand, will show opposing hitters a full five different offerings, all of which are viable options.
For the young righty, everything starts with his fastball. That is true on both a literal and figurative level. In a literal way, Baz has been cited to often open the count with the heater, preferring to challenge hitters with it early on in at-bats. The pitch can be a weapon in all of its forms. He dials it back to the 90-93 mph range, but is able to crank it up to 95. It showcases good life all through the whole velocity range, with gorgeous movement in both horizontal and vertical directions.
In a more figurative way, however, he views the offering to be at the core of his arsenal. In an exclusive interview, he said this:
I have to stick with my fastball. Obviously it’s gotta be your best pitch, you gotta live off your fastball. ... I’d say as a power fastball guy, I like to work off that a lot, and mix in the two-seam and cutter a little bit.
Unlike most pitchers with such good fastballs, though, Baz is more than a one-trick pony. He backs up his heater with a long list of secondaries, starting with a cutter that has been graded as being just as good as his fastball. Scout.com had only good things to say about it, remarking that “when it's really on, it has premium velocity with tilt and is upwards of 89 MPH with serious spin.”
While sliders and cutters are similar offerings, Baz has one of each. When he takes some velocity off the cutter, he is able to shape it into a truer slider that sits in the low- to mid-80s. The cutter is the better of the two, but both are legitimate weapons and induce whiffs.
He will also show hitters a curve that rests in the 70s, and while it is not as impressive as his other breaking pitches. His changeup is no plus and lags the farthest behind, but shows good fade and has a chance to become average.
FanGraphs notes one last positive about Baz in their preview of 2017 top draft-eligible righties. It says this:
I like that Baz’s four-pitch mix is not only robust for a teenager but also demarcated. There’s clear separation between the slider and curveball in both velocity and in movement, which I think highlights Baz’s advanced feel for both offerings.
Finding a pitcher with all of these ingredients added together is a rarity, and it will push Baz up team’s draft boards this spring.
As with most pitchers that possess such electric stuff, Baz’ control and command can falter. FanGraphs describes his control and command as “comfortably below average” and MLB.com mentions that it worsens when he get too reliant on his offered stuff and doesn’t use his fastball enough.
Command issues can be worked out, though, and the Detroit Tigers’ Daniel Norris is a very good example of that. What teams should be far more concerned about is his commitment to Texas Christian University.
In my interview with the precocious righty, he mentioned how much he wanted to go to TCU, saying this:
At TCU, I’m going to get to play two ways, and I’m really excited about that. School is what I’m looking to do right now. I can’t wait to get out there to Fort Worth and just be a part of that program. [If I were taken in the first round, signing] would definitely be something to talk about with my family. It would probably matter a little bit what team, but that would be something to talk about with my family. If I was blessed enough to be that high of a pick, I’d have to consider it for sure.
While a strong commitment to TCU may not be a weakness in his game, it will definitely be something that will make teams think twice about calling his name. A large signing bonus may pry him away, and some team may be happy to hand one out to a pitcher of his caliber. However, if he slips past the second round, it is highly unlikely he foregoes his commitment to TCU.
The key to Baz’ success lies exactly where it would be expected: command. Command of all of his pitches is important, but his fastball in particular is his focus.
I definitely want to work on my fastball command. It’s already pretty good, but it can always improve and it’s always better when you’re throwing more strikes.
If his command can improve to an average level, his ceiling is that of a mid-rotation starter with an above average strikeout rate but suffers the occasional blowout. If he can surpass that level, though, we’re looking at real potential for a top-flight starter who anchors the #2 spot in the rotation. If he can’t put the pieces together to start, he could easily slot into the bullpen, where his nasty fastball/cutter combo could play up and allow him to be a very good closer.
Where Baz falls in the draft all depends on how confident teams are that they can sign him. If a team believes he can be pried away from his commitment to TCU, he will go in the first round, as his stuff easily qualifies him for a top-30 look. If his commitment appears too strong to be overcome, he might warrant a flier in a later round. The teams that should look into him most are the Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Milwaukee Brewers.
Video via FanGraphs
Thank you to Shane Baz for agreeing to speak with us and for providing the picture used in connection with this article. The complete interview will be published on Bless You Boys this May. Stay tuned!