Triple-Digit Fastball In Tow, Baz Aims To Prove He Can Stick In The Rotation
Salt River Rafters pitcher Shane Baz could fit the profile of a hard-throwing righthander in the back end of a major league bullpen.
But don’t tell him that.
The 20-year-old native Texan believes he has what it takes to be a starting pitcher—and he really, really wants to be a stalwart in the Rays' rotation before too long.
“I’m definitely going to be a starter,” Baz said. “I know that I have starter stuff, and I know that it’s going to play at every level.”
Meanwhile, he understands that pitching in relief for the Rafters is a necessity because of the number of starting pitchers on staff, but he is eager to get back to a starter's role next season.
Arizona Fall League observers won’t argue that Baz doesn’t belong in the rotation. In his three AFL outings so far, Baz has used a high-spin, four-seam fastball that regularly touches 99 and 100 mph, two solid breaking balls and a developing changeup.
Baz was the player to be named later in the 2018 deadline deal between the Rays and Pirates that sent veteran pitcher Chris Archer to Pittsburgh, netting the Rays a pair of valuable big leaguers in outfielder Austin Meadows and righthander Tyler Glasnow. Coming just over a year after he was selected as Pittsburgh’s first-round pick (12th overall) in 2017, being traded that soon into his professional career was quite a shock to Baz.
“It was really weird having to hit the restart button, learn a lot of new faces, and learn how an organization works,” Baz said. “(But) it’s been awesome. . . . I’ve loved it with the Rays from day one.”
Baz is part of an enviable group of young pitching prospects accumulated by the Rays' organization, and he realizes that depth may keep him from moving through the farm system as quickly as he’d like.
“It’s tough to move up,” Baz said. “You learn that you don’t move just because there are so many good pitchers . . . an awesome core of young pitchers that are really good. It’s fun to be a part of that.”
One of Baz’s goals for his time in the Arizona Fall League is to improve the consistency of his breaking balls, both a cutter with shorter break and a slider with bigger break that he says looks more like a slurve at times. Baz is able to throw his changeup for strikes, but he needs to rely on it more often and get more separation from his fastball.
It helps that one of his Rays' pitching instructors, Jim Paduch, is doubling this fall as a coach with the Rafters. The two were together in at Rookie-level Princeton in the Appalachian League for part of the 2018 season, as well as in spring training this year, so Paduch has a good idea what else Baz needs to work on this fall.
“The velocity is always going to be there,” Paduch said. “It’s just a matter of him not overthrowing pitches and making sure he pounds the bottom of the zone and also working up when needed with the fastball . . . (getting) consistency in the zone with the fastball, and that relates to making sure his delivery is timed up, finishing and following through.”
Baz knows that continuing to refine his mechanics is important, especially in improving the command and control of his pitches, and he believes that he’s got a solid foundation in place.
“(Regarding) my mechanics, they check all of the boxes for what is a really good delivery,” Baz said, echoing the points made by Paduch. “It’s just a matter of staying within my game plan, staying within myself, not overthrowing, and just letting the ball come out and not trying to throw it by everyone. It’s been working really well.”
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While having a well-rounded arsenal of pitches is vital, it’s the fastball is Baz’s money pitch, even dating back to his high school days when he added a couple of ticks of velocity after spending more time in the weight room prior to his senior season. He’s continued to add strength through offseason training at the Dynamic Sports Training facility in Houston.
Baz admits to getting a thrill when his fastball starts to touch 99 or 100 mph, but he says that he doesn’t let it interfere with his mound routine during games.
“I’ve gotten into a really good habit of not looking at the radar gun,” Baz said, “which has helped me a lot with just throwing strikes. It’s just one less thing to think about. But it’s definitely cool because obviously everyone wants to hit 100.”
Paduch has been pleased with the work that Baz puts in to improve his craft, stating, “His work ethic’s great. He’s open to anything that we throw his way . . . willing to try numerous things and suggestions that we’ve given him. He shows up at the ballpark every day, putting his time in and getting his side work in.”
While he works hard at perfecting his craft, Baz knows the importance of having well-rounded interests to give his life balance. That’s where his mother has been an important influence.
“I’m a big believer in separating myself from baseball when you’re off the field,” Baz said. “I’m big into music, and I play the guitar. My mom’s a musician so it’s in my blood . . . she raised me right. She raised me on rock ‘n’ roll.”
— One of the most eagerly anticipated Arizona Fall League prospects, Peoria Javelinas outfielder Jarred Kelenic (Mariners), finally made his AFL debut this week after being delayed due to dental surgery. In his first action, Kelenic went 1-for-3 with a single against the Surprise Saguaros. Kelenic, 20, moved through three levels in his first full year as a pro, finishing the regular season with Double-A Arkansas. He was acquired by the Mariners organization in the offseason trade that sent veterans Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets.