McClanahan, Baz impress in Rays' sim game

July 12th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Though the Rays enter the 2020 season with World Series aspirations, the organization has also stockpiled enough talent throughout the Minors to give it the No. 1 farm system in baseball, per MLB Pipeline.

Wander Franco, the top overall prospect in the game, leads the way, but Tampa Bay has also continued its tradition of having multiple highly touted pitching prospects, which the Rays believe will help them extend their window of contention.

On Sunday, the Rays got a firsthand look at Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz, two of the prized pitching prospects in the Rays' 60-man player pool.

“That’s pretty exciting stuff to watch,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Every hitter came out of the box with their eyes open wide, because that’s as good of stuff as you’ll see from 20 or 22-year-old young men.”

Both McClanahan and Baz were among the pitchers Tampa Bay hitters faced during Sunday’s simulated game. McClanahan, who was on the Rays’ Spring Training roster, made a big impression in Port Charlotte, Fla., and that continued on Sunday.

McClanahan allowed one hit to Yandy Díaz during his one inning of work, but he was able to retire Hunter Renfroe, Michael Brosseau and Joey Wendle, who went down swinging. Overall, McClanahan threw 15 pitches, with 10 landing for strikes. McClanahan throws his four-seam fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, but his slurve opened some eyes Sunday, with Cash saying that the pitch “is a big league weapon.”

“I thought he looked great; I thought he picked up right where he left off,” said Rays catcher Mike Zunino. “When you’re throwing as hard as he is, throwing strikes is the key. If he continues to do that, he’s going to be a big help for us down the stretch.”

Long term, McClanahan believes he’s a starter, and the Rays will continue to give him every opportunity to start. With all the uncertainty surrounding this season, however, there’s a chance McClanahan gets an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues either as a starter or as a reliever, with Cash saying “his stuff would play in any league and in any inning.”

McClanahan says he’s ready for the opportunity, regardless of the role.

“You don’t play this game to be a Minor Leaguer,” McClanahan said. “You play this game to ultimately achieve that goal of becoming a big league player. I know I’m ready. I’ve put in the work, and whenever that time comes, I know I’ll be ready.”

As for Baz, who was acquired along with Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow from the Pirates in the trade that sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh, the Rays didn’t get a look at him during Spring Training, as the right-hander finished last season at Class A Bowling Green. But with no Minor League season, the Rays decided to add Baz to the 60-man player pool, mostly to continue his development.

On Sunday, Baz wanted to show that -- even though it's unlikely for 2020 -- he could contribute at the big league level if called upon.

“It was really cool,” Baz said. “I think that was a lot of people’s first time seeing me throw. It was kind of cool when I saw people standing behind the L-screen and watching the Trackman. It was really cool to see those hitters. I’ve watched them on TV countless times.”

Like McClanahan, Baz features a power fastball and a variety of breaking balls. His main focus on the day was throwing strikes, and he was able to accomplish that, throwing 11 of his 17 pitches in the zone. Baz faced Michael Perez, Renfroe, Brosseau and Díaz, who went down looking.

“The biggest thing for me is their ability to throw strikes, their understanding of how to make a small adjustment to get them back in the zone if they miss," Cash said. "A lot of times, for younger players, that’s what makes them spiral. These guys are extremely polished.”