It’s been just under a month since Michel Baez took the Midwest League by storm, striking out nine hitters before a record breaking crowd at Parkview Field; however, with another premier pitching prospect slated to join the crowded TinCaps’ rotation tomorrow, you have to wonder if Baez’ time in Fort Wayne will be short-lived.
After all, in his four starts at Single-A, Baez has continued to look every bit as dominant as he did in that first start, allowing a mere two runs in twenty-three innings. Additionally, he’s posted at least seven strikeouts in all four starts and held opposing hitters to a paltry .130 batting average. Yet, what is even more impressive than those numbers is the fact that he has achieved them while predominantly throwing one pitch, a searing fastball that touches 98 mph on the radar gun.
Sure, he’ll occasionally mix in a breaking ball or changeup to keep hitters off-balance, but honestly, his 6’8” frame creates an extension in his delivery that makes that 98 mph look more like 99-100 mph in effective velocity, leaving hitters baffled and overmatched.
When A.J. Kennedy was asked about the high fastball usage after Baez’ first game, he told Padres Prospectus, “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? 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.”
While the usage has not quite been as imbalanced as it was in the game Kennedy was talking about, it is still becoming abundantly clear that Baez’ fastball is all he needs, on most nights, to succeed at this level, so it seems logical that he would be promoted soon to force him to hone his entire arsenal, especially if he comes out on Monday and pitches another gem.
Now, I haven’t been told this is the case by anyone in the organization, which makes this simply speculation; nevertheless, at twenty-one years of age and seemingly unchallenged in the Midwest League, Baez would be a more likely option to be promoted to make room in the rotation for Morejon than Mason Thompson (19), Reggie Lawson (19), Pedro Avila (20), Ronald Bolanos (20), and Jim McDade (24). This isn’t to say that Baez is a more developed pitcher than those five guys, nor is it to say that he’s a better prospect. (To be honest, I’d bet on a healthy Mason Thompson long-term over Baez because I believe the only reason he’s flying under the radar was the unfortunate timing of his Tommy John Surgery, but I digress.) Yet, Baez presently own the most advanced and effective pitch on the team in his plus-plus fastball, and even if his other two offerings project to be average one day, it’s hard to know where they are developmentally if he only needs them sparingly to be effective. He’ll progress more by facing tougher competition at Lake Elsinore and being forced to use a more diverse attack, which is not something that can be as emphatically said about the rest of the TinCaps’ starters at this juncture.
Again, it’s only speculation here, but I wouldn’t expect Baez to stick at Fort Wayne more than one or two starts unless the organization feels that him being in a playoff push would be a vital step in his growth.
Update: 7/28-3:42 pm PST
Madfriars is reporting that Mason Thompson has been placed on the disabled list:
Commence your overblown panicking @Padres Twitter. Main Thompson has gone on the DL in Fort Wayne.
— madfriars (@madfriars) July 28, 2017
Despite the news, I remain high on Thompson long-term and still expect Baez to be promoted soon. Both Henry Henry and Emmanuel Ramirez are having stellar seasons at Tri-City, so they could be options to join the TinCaps if they wanted to maintain a six-man rotation. However, Will Stillman, who has already made several starts for Fort Wayne, could be a more probable choice.