Inbox: Rising pitchers, young shortstops

June 16th, 2021

My favorite baseball event of this or any year -- the College World Series -- starts on Saturday. I'm picking an all-Southeastern Conference final, with Vanderbilt successfully defending its 2019 championship by defeating Mississippi State. I also predict that Commodores right-hander Kumar Rocker will become the first player to win CWS Most Outstanding Player honors for a second time.

On to your questions . . .

Shane Baz is showing the high end command & control many analysts had been waiting to see for a while now. With his dominance over AA opponents steadily increasing, how close is he to MLB, and how high up the Top 100 could he leap in your next update? -- @Mat_Germain_

Baz always has had crazy-good stuff. He hit 98 mph with his fastball and had a plus mid-80s cutter in high school, which led the Pirates to draft him 12th overall in 2017, though they gave the right-hander to the Rays as part of the ill-advised Chris Archer trade a year later. He showcased one of the best arsenals in the Arizona Fall League after the 2019 season, reaching triple digits with his heater and running his slider into the upper 80s.

Baz had trouble harnessing his pitches, however, walking 80 in 157 1/3 innings (none above Low-A) in his first three pro seasons. This year has been entirely different, as he owns the best K/BB ratio in the Minors (49/2 in 32 2/3 innings) and ranks second in walk rate (0.6 per nine innings). He also has shown more feel for an off-speed pitch since making strides with his changeup during Spring Training.

After Baz dominated Double-A for six starts, Tampa Bay promoted him to Triple-A and he'll make his first appearance for Durham on Wednesday night. Honestly, if this control and command is for real, he's capable of pitching in the big leagues right now. If he keeps this up, he'll rank with the game's best pitching prospects and climb into the Top 25 or so on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

Do you see the Dbacks going HS SS? -- @FitzCardinal055

The strength at the top of this Draft is high school shortstops. Marcelo Mayer (Eastlake HS, Chula Vista, Calif.) and Jordan Lawlar (Jesuit Prep, Dallas) rank 1-2 on our new Draft Top 250, and Kahlil Watson (Wake Forest, N.C., HS) and Brady House (Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.) are just behind them at Nos. 4 and 7. The Diamondbacks own the sixth overall pick and have interest in all four shortstops, at least one (and as many as three) or whom should be available with their selection.

But industry sources believe that Arizona's upper management prefers taking a college player. I projected that the Diamondbacks would take Rocker in a mock draft last week, and Jonathan Mayo will link them to a college bat in his latest mock that will drop Wednesday night.

Ken Waldichuk is 23 and was not highly thought of coming into the season. He just dominated in [High-A] and was promoted. With much improved velocity this year, what is his upside now? -- @zs190

Waldichuk dominated as a Saint Mary's sophomore in 2018 but got caught up seeking more velocity in his Draft year and had a so-so season that dropped him to the Yankees in the fifth round. The left-hander posted a 49/7 K/BB ratio in Rookie ball during his 2019 pro debut, then had to work out on his own during last year's pandemic shutdown, so he didn't attract much attention.

That's changing now that Waldichuk has opened this season with 30 2/3 scoreless innings in High-A and leads the Minors in ERA, strikeout percentage (49 percent) and opponent average (.120). After employing an 89-92 mph two-seam fastball in college, he now works in the mid-90s with a four-seamer and has a sharper curveball and slider. Promoted to Double-A on Tuesday, he could become a No. 3 starter if he can maintain this stuff and refine his command.

What round should someone sign senior Kevin Kopps? He is old but how long would it take him to reach the bigs as a reliever? -- @zipkidcw

Kopps was a driving force behind Arkansas ranking as college baseball's No. 1 team for most of the season and may win the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player. The right-hander led NCAA Division I with a 0.90 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP, won 12 games and saved 11 as a reliever, and compiled a 131/18 K/BB ratio in 89 2/3 innings. The Razorbacks gave him the second start of his college career in the final game of the super regionals against North Carolina State, and he responded with eight strong innings before losing on a solo homer in the ninth.

And with all that said, Kopps didn't make our Draft Top 250, though he could have. He redshirted in his first year of college in 2016 and missed 2018 following Tommy John surgery, so he's a sixth-year senior who will be 24 years and four months old on Draft day. Purely a reliever, he achieved spectacular college success by throwing a lot of mid-80s slider/cutters, and scouts aren't sure how well that pitch will play at the next level while being set up with a fastball that sits around 90 mph.

Giving him credit for dominating the SEC, the best league in college baseball, Kopps fits somewhere from the sixth to 10th round, but he'll probably get picked higher than that because he'll come with an extreme discount because of his age. Whoever takes Kopps likely will challenge him with aggressive assignments, so we should find out quickly how well his stuff works against pro hitters. If he makes it to the big leagues, he could get there by the end of 2022.