The Rays have called up their top pitching prospect Shane Baz to make his major league debut tonight.
Baz was the Player To Be Named Later in the trade that sent Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in a twist of fate, was added to the major league roster in the corresponding move that transferred the since re-signed and re-injured Archer to the 60-day injured list.
The twelfth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Baz snuck under the radar last year as he spent the 2020 season at the Alternate Site where he was unable to play any games in the public eye. Whatever improvements he had made behind the scenes were not yet known, which led to the following write up from our top-prospect list pre-season, where he ranked 7th:
Baz shows a lot of similarities to Archer as a prospect. The biggest problem has been his lack of control that has led walk rates in the 12-15% range in the minors. The stuff is electric, as he combines a fastball that works 95-97 mph and can touch 100 mph as a starter. He has a plus or better slider as his put-away pitch that sits around 90 mph.
The reliever concerns are real, but the Rays will continue to try to keep him stretched out, hoping his athleticism leads to a more consistent delivery down the road. If he does become a reliever, it’s not a worst case scenario, as he could be a dominant force in the back of the Rays’ bullpen as soon as 2021.
In 2021 his one potential fatal flaw — command — took a major step forward. In 78.2 innings he lowered his walk rate to 4.4% while also seeing his strikeout rate surge to 37.9%. By count that’s 113 strikeouts and 13 walks this year, dating back to the start of the year in Double-A.
During his breakout season, Baz spent about a month playing for Team USA at the Olympics and earned a silver medal. Per a quote reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Baz is less nervous to face the Blue Jays than he was in Tokyo this summer:
“The Olympics were definitely nerve-wracking,” Baz said. “Kind of even more with no fans there, so you didn’t really have the buzz of the crowd to keep you into it. It was strange, but it was great. I think I was more nervous for that than I am now. So I think it will be good.”
Baz has made five starts since coming back where he has been dominant. According to the latest assessments Baz can throw a high octane four-seam fastball that sits in the 94-97 range, and remains capable of touching triple digits on occasion, despite working as a starter.
Rays No. 5 prospect, Shane Baz records his first strikeout for Team USA with a high 96 mph fastball!— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) August 2, 2021
His best pitch is a put away slider that sits in the 88-91 mph range. He has started to throw 85-88 mph changeup more often but is inconsistent. Right now it’s a pitch he rarely throws to right handed batters.
Pitching sparingly in September due to a back spasm issue, the top pitching prospect in the Rays farm system is hopefully well rested for his Rays debut against the rival Blue Jays.
Baz is currently is the No. 11 ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America, and coincidentally has chosen the No. 11 jersey.