BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s pretty common for prep players to add some weight and muscle to their frame after they enter pro ball. Young players in the age 18-22 range grow a lot, which is part of the strategy to invest in prep players. A team can get a guy early out of high school, watch him mature in their system rather than in college, and end up with a guy who looks like he would have otherwise been a first round draft pick.
It’s a little different for Shane Baz. He was a first round draft pick out of high school. He didn’t need to fill out in order to hit 98 MPH with his fastball, or to sit around the mid-90s. But Baz is like every other prep player in that he can still fill out a lot in the upcoming years. That was a big focus for him this offseason.
Baz entered Spring Training looking like he’s added some muscle, and when I talked to him, I confirmed that was his goal. He was 190 pounds last year at the end of instructs. His goal was to come back at 197 and 8% body fat. He entered Spring Training at 200 and 6%.
“I was feeling really good coming in, and just hoping I can stay the same shape throughout the entire year,” Baz said.
Baz was already a hard thrower, although he did have some inconsistencies with his velocity at times last year, especially from the stretch. That can be a common thing for a guy like Baz, who didn’t have to focus on pitching from the stretch much in high school. He’s focusing on some small mechanical adjustments — mainly making sure he stays on his back leg longer — in order to fix the problem. But the added muscle could help him get a more consistent velocity across the board.
“I’m throwing hard,” Baz said of his stuff so far this year. “I can feel it coming out better. A lot of the hitters are having a tough time with the fastball right now. I know that’s because it’s partly Spring Training, but I’m throwing about as hard as anyone out here, and spotting it real well.”
Another thing that a pitcher like Baz had little use for and little practice with was a changeup. He had a fastball that could hit 98 in high school, along with two quality breaking pitches. There was little use for a changeup, and he didn’t really need one until he entered pro ball.
“I didn’t have the comfortable grip, and then in high school I kind of neglected it because nobody could catch up to the fastball,” Baz said of his changeup. “Guys can hit fastballs here, so you’ve got to have other stuff to throw. I didn’t have good grips, and I wasn’t used to throwing it. It was kind of a wakeup call last year, and I took care of it this offseason.”
Baz added a new grip this offseason, using an off-set circle changeup grip. He puts his middle finger on a seam of the ball, allowing him to spin the ball better, getting good movement, and better command than last year. He’s feeling comfortable with the pitch, seeing some good fade.
“The changeup is looking nasty,” Baz said. I’m feeling good with that. … I’m excited to have that pitch this year in my arsenal, and make it a complete four pitch plan.”
Baz does have a slider and a curveball to add to the fastball and changeup. However, the Pirates are seemingly having him only focusing on the slider at the moment, trying to develop a strong out pitch. He’s not throwing the curveball right now, but might add it before he goes to West Virginia. The focus right now is on the slider, a pitch that got him two strikeouts today in two innings of work.
The Pirates are planning on keeping Baz in extended Spring Training at the start of the year, although when I talked with Larry Broadway about his assignment, he said that Baz could follow a path similar to what Jameson Taillon did in 2011, where he went to West Virginia after about a month in extended Spring Training.
“I’m ready for whatever they throw at me,” Baz said of his assignment. “I think I can compete at that level [in West Virginia]. It all takes time. I’ve got to get my innings logged, and do my dirty work down here, and just be as ready as I can for the day that I get sent to a short-season team at the end of extended, or go up to Low-A.”
He’s got a few things to work on until then, although the workload restrictions are the main thing holding him back from West Virginia on Opening Day. The 2018 season will give a good glimpse of how Baz does in terms of fastball velocity consistency, along with the development of his changeup and the slider as his primary out pitch.