Baz leans on veteran trio for guidance

February 27th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- It was hard not to notice the crowd that gathered behind home plate around 10 a.m. on Saturday, when Rays pitching prospect scaled the mound on Field 4 at the Charlotte Sports Park complex.

And it was really hard not to notice a few specific members of that crowd: Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Chris Archer. Yes, all four players involved in the July 2018 trade with the Pirates -- including Archer, who rejoined the Rays on Feb. 9 -- were present as Baz faced hitters in live batting practice.

Baz, MLB Pipeline’s No. 90 overall prospect, pitched well for Class A Bowling Green in 2019 then spent last season at the Rays’ alternate training site before reporting to his first big league Spring Training camp. Baz said he’s been trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can from the veterans the Rays have acquired recently.

Coincidentally, three of the most helpful players from whom he’s sought advice have been Glasnow, Meadows and Archer.

“It's definitely really cool. Those dudes, all three of them are so nice to me and try to help me every chance they get,” Baz said Saturday on a Zoom call. “I've learned a lot from Archer already. Glasnow is such a great guy. He's helped me a lot. And I can always talk to Meadows about anything, whether it's what hitters think or maybe what their approach would be off of me. So it's great to learn from all three of those guys.”

At the start of Tuesday’s full-squad workout, Baz stood alongside Glasnow as the pitchers stretched in the outfield on Field 1. The 21-year-old right-hander has been following Glasnow so much, Baz said, “He probably thinks I’m a shadow.” Baz is watching and learning, too, trying to get a sense of the work it takes to succeed in the Majors.

“His work and how diligent he is and how focused he is and driven has been something very eye-opening for me,” Baz said.

Glasnow has been just as impressed by Baz.

“He's a really crazy-good athlete. Works really hard. He's built like a good pitcher -- like, he's just built like he can throw 200 innings,” Glasnow said. “A lot more mature and put-together at his age than I was at that age. I'd say he's wise beyond his years, for sure. … It’s like, sky's the limit.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Baz was throwing his fastball at 95-96 mph during his live BP session on Saturday. Baz was happy with the way he threw all four of his pitches for strikes. The strike-throwing stood out to Cash, too.

“Obviously we think the world of him,” Cash said. “Another guy, similar to [Luis] Patiño, that just continues to commit his stuff in the zone. Our pitching guys, our player development, they do such a good job of getting our guys in-house, that we're able to get from a young age, to trust that the best way to the big leagues is by throwing strikes, not to consume yourself with getting swing-and-miss, getting guys out of the zone, because that can have a snowball effect.”

It's unclear where Baz will start the season or how many innings he’ll be able to handle, although he’s entering the year with the mindset that he wants to play in the big leagues and pitch a full season. He’s comfortable with his delivery and his arsenal after his work at the alternate site last year, so his focus now is just getting ahead of hitters and letting his stuff play.

“Throwing four pitches for strikes, so that's kind of the name of my game,” Baz said. “Definitely where I want to be right now. It's so early, and I feel great, so I'm feeling good and confident.”

Around the horn
• First baseman Ji-Man Choi did not work out on the field on Saturday due to a sore right knee. He had been scheduled to start Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener, but instead he’ll have the day off. Kevin Kiermaier (hip tightness) ran on the field during Saturday’s workout, further indicating that the Rays are just being cautious with the center fielder early on in camp.

• Tampa Bay’s first two Grapefruit League games are expected to be seven-inning contests. Clubs can agree to further shorten games based on their available personnel, as they want to adhere to health and safety protocols by not sending as many extra position players and pitchers on the road. The Rays will play nine innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday.

• Right-handers Chris Ellis, Hunter Strickland and Andrew Kittredge and lefty Jeffrey Springs are scheduled to pitch against the Braves on Sunday. Austin Meadows, Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe, Mike Brosseau, Yandy Díaz, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Willy Adames are among the big leaguers expected to be in Sunday’s lineup.

• Prospect Joe Ryan and reliever Nick Anderson also faced hitters on Saturday morning. Another highlight of the final workout before games: the infield drills that took place on Fields 1 and 2. Cash called the big leaguers’ defensive work “really, really encouraging” and “impressive.”

“You could not have asked for a better infield session,” Cash said. “Really crisp. I mean, there just weren't many balls that missed at all, if any.