When it comes to the MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers have a type. Sure, they have drafted a promising position player here and there, but history suggests they have an overwhelming preference for hard-throwing right-handed pitchers. They have not shied away from taking high school arms in the past either. In fact, four of their past nine first round picks — Rick Porcello, Jacob Turner, Beau Burrows, and Matt Manning — all coming to Detroit’s organization straight out of high school ball.
Texas righthander Shane Baz could make five out of 10. The Concordia Lutheran High School product has earned first round grades from nearly every evaluator in the business, and should be available when the Tigers make their first selection at No. 18 overall. He sports a mid-90s fastball and a rather mature arsenal for a prep pitcher. There are some concerns — as there will be for anyone outside of the top few selections — but he also has a very high ceiling.
If you’re interested in learning about Shane Baz the person, check out the interview we published in May.
Everything is bigger in Texas, as they say, and fastballs are no exception. Baz doesn’t have the elite velocity of a Noah Syndergaard (few do), but reports indicate it has improved throughout the spring. Initially measured between 90-93 miles per hour, MLB Pipeline indicates that Baz is now currently sitting between 92-96 mph, along with a rather diverse arsenal for a high school arm (emphasis mine).
Baz may have the deepest arsenal in the 2017 high school class. His fastball has kicked up a notch to 92-96 mph with a peak of 98 this spring, and he has shown the ability to run and sink it while maintaining its velocity throughout a game. His 84-88 mph cutter generates a lot of swings and misses, and he also can turn the cutter into more of a true slider, spin a curveball that's a distinctly different pitch and unveil a changeup that could develop into a solid offering.
Jesse Burkhardt of Today’s Knuckleball painted a slightly different picture after he saw Baz pitch last fall, which further illustrates how many offerings he has.
He has scrapped the cutter that he’s leaned on too heavily in the past, instead throwing more 83-85 mph sliders that featured harder bite and more tilt than they have in my previous looks. The pitch can be projected to plus and is his best secondary offering. He also mixed in a 74-75 mph curveball and an 82 mph changeup, both of which have average potential.
Burkhardt also included video, which featured a Baz matchup against top prospect Hunter Greene.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen was also impressed with Baz’s variety of pitches.
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.
Odds are he will streamline that pitch mix a bit at the pro levels, but choosing from his three or four best pitches is a little easier than teaching someone a new pitch altogether (right, Jeremy Bonderman?).
The biggest knock on Baz is centered around his command. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen described it as “comfortably below average,” and Ryan Ozella of 2080 Baseball also had his doubts. Ozella gave a quick summary of how Baz’s rather clean pitching motion could still result in command issues after seeing him last fall.
Baz is a high-waisted pitcher with present strength in his lower half and a quick arm that comes out of a short circle right around his ear. He has a broad chest and the space to continue to add strength without affecting his overall build. His delivery doesn’t have a lot of moving parts and he keeps his hands close to his chest as he turns and lifts his front leg. The arm is very quick but it’s also max effort, causing some control issues. There were times where he rushed himself, opening up the front shoulder to try and get the arm through and causing him to miss his location.
Perfect Game echoed that sentiment, saying “Big key for the future is going to be his fastball command.” They also pointed out that his fastball can get a bit straight at times, which could become even more of a concern if he tries to max out velocity.
ESPN’s Keith Law ($) is the low man on the Baz totem pole, ranking him as the draft’s No. 45 overall prospect. Law’s description was rather brief...
Baz has touched 98 with a good slider, but there is concern about the delivery and how well hitters seem to see his fastball.
...but ranking him 30+ spots lower than other outlets like MLB Pipeline (No. 12) speaks volumes.
The wide variance on Baz’s ranking in this year’s draft speaks both to the volatility of high school arms and the overall depth of this year’s class. There are several different pitchers who fit this same mold, and a player’s ranking can depend on a number of factors, including how well (or poorly) he pitched in a single outing with scout(s) in attendance. The Tigers have not been afraid to go against the grain on draft day in recent years — Burrows was a surprise at No. 23 overall in 2015, for instance — and Baz’s recent uptick in velocity has probably caught their eye.
While the Tigers haven’t been linked to Baz at all throughout the spring, I imagine it would be tough for the team to pass on the promising righthander should he fall to them at No. 18 overall. However, given how lofty his ceiling is and the maturity of his secondary offerings, I don’t think he will make it that far.