When Michel Baez signed with the Padres this past December, he did so as an unheralded prospect, failing to make any of the major international lists after surrendering 17 runs in 29 innings in the Cuban National Series. Nevertheless, the combination of a 6’8” frame and a 93-97 mph fastball was intriguing enough for A.J. Preller to roll the dice on the 21 year old right-hander even though it was going to cost roughly $6 million.
Despite Baez’ clear lack of experience and hype, the organization was pleased enough by his progress this spring to give him only a one game stint in the Arizona Instructional League before thrusting him into full season ball. And if that expedited promotion wasn’t enough pressure on its own, Baez’ debut with the Fort Wayne TinCaps was to happen on Independence Day in front of a record setting crowd of 9,266 fans at Parkview Field.
Baez would later to confess to Fort Wayne’s Fox affiliate, WFFT, that he was naturally and unsurprisingly nervous when he took the mound, but by the time he completed a dominant performance in which he allowed just two hits and zero runs over five innings, there was no question that he belonged on this stage or maybe even a bigger one.
I had the opportunity to talk with catcher A.J. Kennedy the night after he caught Baez’ debut game, and he couldn’t help but rave about the young pitcher, saying, “He was pretty electric yesterday. He mowed down nine guys, I think. I didn’t really have to do anything. He was just out here blowing it by guys, and it was awesome to watch. His first couple of pitches were jittery as you could tell….little quick to the plate…and trouble on the rubber, but after that, it was what I saw in Spring Training as he was calm and really good.”
Perhaps, the most impressive aspect of the performance was that Baez’ fastball was so devastating, touching 98 mph on the radar gun, that it was the only pitch he needed the first couple of innings. “We used pretty much the fastball early in the game because he could locate it and they couldn’t hit it. You know what I mean? So why would I change pitches if they weren’t hitting it?” Kennedy said, “But then, we just threw curveballs in to keep guys off balance. You know sometimes they try to ambush the heater early in the count. That’s why you kick in a curveball or changeup to try and keep them off that and then go back to the heater.”
Yesterday, almost a week after his debut, Baez took the ball for the second time as a TinCap, dazzling yet again behind his major league fastball. This time, he gave up just one hit while striking out another seven batters, which brought his season numbers to a sensational 11 IP, 16 K’s, 1 BB, 3 H, and 0.00 ERA line.
With the bevy of young starting pitchers in the lower minors already forcing upward movement, there might not be a lot of room for a quick promotion, but the organization might not have a choice if the next couple of starts proceed in similar fashion. Regardless, it won’t stop him from sky-rocketing up many of the prospect rankings that omitted him, including our own here at Padres Prospectus.