NEW YORK—Although velocity is the easiest and first component of a fastball grade to identify, the other two elements, fastball movement and command, can be even more important. With plus movement and strong command, lefthander Tucker Baca demonstrated why with a two-hit complete game shutout (seven innings) with seven strikeouts against one walk for Team Elite in the opening game of the Metropolitan Baseball Classic.
“My game plan was to keep the ball low and let my fastball movement do the work, throw strikes and mix speeds,” Baca said.
Baca executed his game plan, as he registered eight outs on the ground before the opposition drove the ball out of the infield.
Although their deliveries are not exactly the same and their lower halves work differently, Baca’s delivery and arm action has some similarities to another long, lean and limber lefthander, Chris Sale. Baca has considerable flexibility and athleticism throughout his delivery. While Baca generates substantial torque, the lefthander has good balance at release point with his head over his center of gravity. He has a long, whip-like arm action and the ball jumps out his hand from a low three-quarter slot, creating plus armside run and sink, which helped his 85-88 mph fastball that touched 89 play up beyond its pure velocity.
He had strong command and avoided hitter’s counts, never reaching a 2-0 count. Baca and his pitching coach recently made some changes to his delivery, sharpening his command and helping him maintain his velocity better than previous outings.
“We worked on staying back with my lower half, because a lot of times my body drifts and I don't use as much of my lower half as I should and my velocity drops,” Baca said. “It has helped me be more consistent with my delivery.”
Despite consistently throwing strikes, his changeup was not at its best in the first few innings.
“Normally my changeup is my best pitch but I didn't have it going early on,” Baca said. “But my curveball, I found it towards the later innings and I was able to get ahead with it for strikes, which was big. But my changeup got better and it was a pretty good pitch.”
At its best, his low-to-mid 70s changeup has above-average tumble, allowing him to pull the string on hitters from both side of the plate. He started to spot the pitch well and keep it low in the zone. His breaking ball has three-quarter tilt.
During the summer showcase season, most pitchers don't pitch more than a few innings at a time. But the MBC tournament, with four games in three days, favors more typical pitcher usage patterns, and Baca was able to keep his pitch count low enough to make it through seven innings by only allowing three base runners. Adding to the feat, his opposition, the Orlando Scorpions, had one of the best lineups of the event.
At 6-foot-2, 177-pounds, Baca has a lean, athletic and wiry physique. With long legs and a wide back, Baca has a projectable build with wiry strength. He has dedicated himself to a workout regime this summer and increased his caloric intake substantially. Baca said he has gained 15 pounds since the spring. There is a noticeable difference in his upper body, namely his shoulders and traps, since the beginning of the summer.
Baca, who attends North Gwinnett High, Suwanee, Ga., is young for the class and will still be 17 on draft day. He is committed to Arizona State.
“I have wanted to go to Arizona State since middle school,” Baca said. “That was where my dad went to school and I have a lot of family in Arizona. It was a pretty easy decision. I went out there and they offered me so I committed on the spot.”
• A cousin of Brandon Phillips, South Gwinett High, Snellville, Ga., infielder Montrell Marshall showed the ability to impact the game offensively and defensively, like his three time Gold Glove Award-winning cousin. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with long legs, Marshall has a large frame, present physicality and room for further strength gains. Using a spread stance and short stride, Marshall drove a Carson Sands fastball over the left-center field wall at MCU Park-Brooklyn, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones of the short-season New York-Pen League, for the first home run of the tournament. The Auburn commit made two strong plays at third base, the first coming on a backhand play up the third base line and the latter coming in the top of the seventh inning, when he made a sliding stop to his left and a strong throw to get Scorpions Carl Chester, one of the faster runners in the class, at first.
• Another defensive standout was Scorpions shortstop Brendan Rodgers, a member of the 2015 class. The Lake Mary (Fla) High product has a long, athletic and rangy build at 6-foot-2, 175-pounds. Rodgers has natural, fluid actions and lateral quickness to go with good hands and defensive instincts. The Florida State commit has a loose arm and the ability to throw from many angles accurately. He is adept around the bag on the double play. Rodgers is also an above-average straight line runner and got one of the Scorpions’ two hits, a single. At the plate, Rodgers has a simple set-up and line-drive bat path. Rodgers showed some power and loft in batting practice, hitting two pull-side home runs.
• Long Island Titans righthander Brady Renner, who attends St. Dominic High in Carle Place, N.Y., struck out seven in three relief innings. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound George Washington commit with a strong lower half generated lots of run and sink on his 85-87 mph fastball from a side arm slot. He showed feel for a changeup with tumble and run and varied the shape of his slider.
• A 6-foot-3, 215-round Rice commit with broad shoulders, a tapered chest and well-proportioned build, righthander Michael Rodgers has further room to fill out his frame. Rodgers sat 88-90 mph with his fastball and touched 91. The St. Thomas High (Houston) product created downhill plane from an arm slot that was nearly over the top after throwing from a more conventional arm slot earlier this summer. He commanded his fastball well, working down in the zone, and showed the ability to pitch to either side of the plate. Despite some length to his arm action, Rodgers repeated his delivery and finished his pitches well. He showed the ability to spin a mid-70s breaking ball that he varied the shape of that is a projectable offering and mixed in an 82-84 mph changeup.