When it comes to the MLB drafts, players are generally grouped into two main pots. College players, by and large, are safer picks with less projection remaining. This makes sense; they’re older, and have faced a higher level of competition. We, the greater baseball universe, know more about them. High school players are high risk players with upside, but also a lower floor.
Where some people tend to get lost is on the idea that college players can’t also be high-risk, high-reward players. Take South Florida lefthander Shane McClanahan, for example. The young southpaw has some of the most electric stuff in this year’s draft class, including a fastball that has reached as high as 100 miles per hour. His changeup is also a plus pitch, and he has an incredible 111 strikeouts in just 66 1⁄3 innings so far this season. He might have more upside than anyone else in his draft class.
But McClanahan also comes with more risk than some of the other college players in this draft. He has already had Tommy John surgery, and some believe his mechanics might give him further arm trouble down the road. He also has some command issues, as the 39 walks in those 66 1⁄3 frames attest. These risks will probably cost him a chance at the No. 1 overall pick, but his volatile profile could land him just about anywhere after the Detroit Tigers make their selection on draft day.
School: South Florida
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline prospect rank: 6
Previously drafted: 26th round, 2015
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: LHP Shane McClanahan
If you didn’t gather this from the above paragraphs, McClanahan’s biggest strength is a monster fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90s and can touch 100 miles per hour. It plays up coming from a lower arm slot on the left side, and is a double-plus pitch according to MLB Pipeline. Our friends at The Good Phight note that McClanahan will sometimes sit anywhere from 89 to 93 mph during starts with good movement and a smooth, repeatable delivery. Others, including 2080 Baseball’s Steve Givarz, saw more velocity from McClanahan at times.
Against North Carolina on Friday, his fastball was electric, sitting at 93-to-96 mph, touching 99 mph early in the game. When located, it was a tough pitch to square up as hitters were consistently late and under the pitch. The problem was the consistency in which he located the fastball. At times he would get too pumped up and fall out of sync, missing the zone completely. He adjusted later in the game by throwing at 89-to-93 mph with average command, but was able to reach back in the tank when he needed it, touching 97 mph in the 5th inning.
McClanahan’s best secondary pitch is a changeup that MLB Pipeline labeled a potential plus offering. They continued on to describe it as “a pitch he throws with good arm speed that features a ton of late drop to it.” Perfect Game noted that McClanahan was able to throw it “up to 87 mph with significant run to the arm side.” The Good Phight also pointed out that the change comes in 6-10 miles per hour slower than the fastball with late movement. 2080 Baseball was in lockstep, calling the changeup “a plus offering which looks the part of a Major League out-pitch.”
These two pitches, combined with “a loose and very athletic frame” give McClanahan the kind of upside few players in this draft class can match. He is an absolute monster when everything is clicking, as the gaudy strikeout rate suggests. Were it not for a couple of sizable flaws in his game (more on those in a bit), he’d be a candidate to go No. 1 overall. If he smooths them out, he could be an ace one day.
McClanahan’s biggest flaw is his control, a currently below-average tool that could derail his entire pro career. MLB Pipeline thinks it could reach average one day, but inconsistent mechanics have led to an uneven 2018 season. As mentioned before, McClanahan has walked 39 hitters in 66 1⁄3 innings. Baseball America described him as “regularly erratic to the plate” and “more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point,” while MLB Pipeline explained his big issue as “a delivery that features a fairly big recoil.” And, as 2080 Baseball noted, his mechanics get more erratic as he reaches back for more velocity.
The problem was the consistency in which he located the fastball. At times he would get too pumped up and fall out of sync, missing the zone completely. He adjusted later in the game by throwing at 89-to-93 mph with average command, but was able to reach back in the tank when he needed it, touching 97 mph in the 5th inning.
McClanahan’s mechanics are also what has led to his previous history of arm problems. He has already undergone Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss his freshman season. He has been healthy since then, but the unconventional arm action — he throws from more of a sidearm slot “that some scouts describe as high-effort,” per Baseball America — and his slender build leave some wondering whether he can take the pounding of a full MLB season.
McClanahan’s slider has been a useful weapon at times, but most scouts agree that it’s his third-best offering right now. MLB Pipeline only graded it as a potential average pitch, while 2080 Baseball noted he “showed feel for what looks to be an above-average secondary offering” in one viewing. Baseball America was the most optimistic, saying that McClanahan’s slider and changeup “both...project as plus pitches down the line although the changeup is currently more consistent than the breaking ball.”
Draft position: maybe slipping out of the top 10
Earlier this spring, McClanahan seemed like a lock to land in the top 10, if not higher. MLB Pipeline ranked him sixth on their draft prospects lists, while ESPN’s Keith Law noted “McClanahan is reportedly in the mix at No. 2 and elsewhere in the top 10” when he ranked him ninth on his list. But a somewhat uneven performance for the Bulls this season could see McClanahan slide down draft boards a bit. MLB.com’s Jim Callis predicted McClanahan could go 12th overall to the Blue Jays in his latest mock draft, while Baseball America dropped him two spots on their latest draft prospect rankings. He represents a bit more risk than other college pitchers on the board, but has too much raw talent for him to drop too far on draft day.
h/t Baseball America, FanGraphs, and 2080 Baseball for the videos