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Rays' Shane Baz Took Giant Strides In 2021



Shane Baz had a long list of highlights in 2021.

He was promoted in mid-June from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham. He pitched in the Futures Game. He pitched for the silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo.

Baz then made his MLB debut in September. A month later he got the ball to start Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.

The 22-year-old Baz ranks as the Rays' No. 1 prospect heading into 2022. He made just three regular season appearances, but in contemplating his postseason start—which ended with him allowing three runs in 2.1 innings—he was able to keep it in proper perspective.

“They're not really asking me to do anything I don't know how to do,’’ Baz said.

Baz gave credit to a core circle of family and close friends for providing the support to help him advance. But those who have played with Baz say he has an innate ability to handle his rapid progress well on his own.

“The kid might have the slowest heart rate I've ever seen,’’ said former Rays lefthander Dietrich Enns. “The game comes slow to him.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Baz earned the rapid rise.

“The funny thing about Shane is his three outings up here were definitely as good, probably better than anything that he had shown in Durham this year,’’ Cash said.

“He really took to the alternate site last year and made himself better, and this year he has just skyrocketed with the strike-throwing and the stuff.’’

Catcher Ford Proctor, who played with Baz at Class A in 2019 and at Double-A in 2021, said he saw it coming.

“I think just from ’19 to ’21, just how much he matured on the mound,’’ Proctor said. “In ’21, he showed up and he just carried himself like a big leaguer on the mound. Just how poised he was.

"Nothing really got to him. Like if he gave us a big hit or a home run, it was like, 'Whatever. I'll just get the next guy.' "

COOL RAYS

— Righthander David Hess, who was diagnosed in October with a cancerous germ cell tumor in his chest, announced in late January he was “cured” and cleared to resume baseball training with a plan to report to minor league spring training and return to the mound within a few months.

— Reliever Dusten Knight, a 31-year-old righthander who spent part of last season with the Orioles, signed a minor league contract.

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