Shortly after the Pirates selected prep right-handed pitcher Shane Baz with the 12th overall pick, the comments started rolling in that he might be a difficult guy to sign, and one of the toughest guys to sign in the draft this year. Baz has a commitment to TCU, along with the potential for three plus pitches, and a fastball that already sits 92-96, touching 98. He’s a talented pitcher with a good commitment to a school that he likes not only for the baseball program, but for the education.
That said, I think it would be a total surprise if he ends up passing on the Pirates to go to college. Baz didn’t address the issue of signing tonight in his conference call with the media, saying he wasn’t really thinking about it much right now.
“I haven’t gotten there yet,” Baz said. “I’m just enjoying this for now. I’ll have to speak with my advisor and go over that another time.”
But there are so many indications that point to him signing, starting first with his praise of the organization. Baz was highly complimentary of the Pirates’ system. That isn’t a surprise to hear about the team that just drafted him, but a lot of the comments he made went beyond the normal praise.
“I was hoping for them because they are such a good program,” Baz said. “They’ve got such good development, and they’re just a classy organization altogether.”
The Pirates have a strong track record of developing pitching prospects, with two first round picks in the major league rotation right now. Baz is aware of the trend, praising their track record when asked about it tonight.
“They have an awesome track record,” Baz said. “I’m definitely honored they picked me. They’ve got to have one of the best systems in baseball, if not the best.”
Baz knew that the Pirates were interested in him. They followed him throughout the season, talked with his father a bit, and had a meeting with him before the season started. Pirates’ area scout Wayne Mathis, who Baz described as “awesome”, was in touch throughout the whole process. Mathis will be a key part in getting Baz to sign, and would have been a key guy for the Pirates in knowing whether Baz was signable. The fact that there’s a good relationship here is a good thing.
The Pirates almost certainly have had the chance to follow Baz for more than just the 2017 season. They drafted Ke’Bryan Hayes as a first round compensation pick in 2015 from the same school. That would have given them a chance to follow Baz early in his pitching career, and see how he developed along the way. Baz said he hasn’t had a chance to reach out to Hayes yet, but said that he planned to send him a text tonight, in a comment you might be able to read into as Baz tipping his hand a bit.
“I definitely have to send him a text, too, and let him know that we’re both gonna be together,” Baz said.
While the Pirates have most likely seen Baz for longer than just the 2017 season, they saw a different pitcher this year. He started the year ranked as an early second round pick, but moved up the draft boards during his senior season. Part of this could have been due to the expansion of his arsenal. Baz added a new cutter/slider in the last year, and saw the pitch turn into a swing and miss pitch that has plus upside, giving him the potential for three plus pitches.
“I started throwing it last summer about a week into the summer early June,” Baz said. “I had a natural feel for it as soon as I picked it up. It was really awesome that I picked it up and it came naturally. It was great that I had a feel for it right away.”
I find it doubtful that the Pirates would have drafted Baz without knowing he would sign. This isn’t the Mark Appel situation from a few years ago. The Pirates didn’t expect Appel to fall to them, and didn’t have a chance to talk with him about his price tag before drafting him. They almost certainly have had those conversations with Baz, or at least have a feel for what he will want to sign. The fact that he has a good relationship with the signing scout is an indicator that the Pirates have some familiarity here.
The standard practice in the first round for all teams is to touch base with everyone who is expected to be available around your pick, know what everyone is asking for, and only draft a guy if he can be signed. A situation like Appel can throw a wrench into things, but Baz isn’t that type of situation. This is a more standard pick, and I find it hard to believe that the Pirates make the pick if there’s any risk he doesn’t sign.
When you add in his glowing reviews of the organization, and the fact that it would be difficult to turn down $4 M, I don’t see a scenario where Baz turns down the Pirates and goes to TCU.