Showcase | Story | 6/16/2016

Baz all biz at PG National

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Joy Absalon

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 16th annual Perfect Game National Showcase that on Thursday was two days into a six-day run at jetBlue Park this week and into next, turned into a one-day gig for hard-throwing right-handed pitcher and third baseman Shane Baz from Cypress, Texas.

After receiving their invitation to the PG National, Shane Baz and his dad, Raj Baz, flew into Southwest Florida from their Texas home Tuesday night and made it to jetBlue Wednesday morning. Shane took part in a batting practice session, went out pitched a few innings Wednesday afternoon and was back on a plane headed home to Texas by early Wednesday evening.

It was a short but very sweet experience for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Baz, who will celebrate his 17th birthday Friday back home in Cypress.

“I was so excited I really didn’t sleep that well (Tuesday) night,” Baz said from just outside one of the jetBlue dugouts on a steamy Wednesday afternoon. “I know this is a huge event and all the big-name guys are here. There’s always really good competition here and I just have to be at my best, you know?

“I do try to keep a really even keel. I don’t get too hyped up; I’ve just got to relax and play my own game. You can’t really change your mindset going into these things. You’ve got to be consistent.”

Baz is a Texas Christian University commit with a 3.5 grade-point average who came into the PG National sitting in the No. 16 slot in PG’s class of 2017 national prospect rankings (he is the No. 1-ranked right-handed pitcher in Texas). He has been a model of consistency throughout a nine-event Perfect Game career that began at the 2013 13u BCS Finals playing with the Houston Heat.

After delivering his fastball in the mid- to upper-80s mph at PG events in 2014, he first touched 91 mph while earning all-tournament recognition with the Heat at the 2015 17u PG WWBA National Championship. He touched 92 mph and was rewarded with a spot on the Top Prospect List at the 2015 PG Underclass All-American Games.

A little over a week ago, while pitching for Premier Baseball Futures 17u at the PG 17u/18u Texas State Championship in Tomball, Baz produced quite a bump in his velocity when his fastball was reportedly gunned at 95 mph. He had topped-out at 93 mph at two separate PG tournaments in the fall, so it wasn’t a monumental leap, but it did serve to pique the interest of the scouting community.

“I’ve just been working hard, working on my body,” Baz said. “I’ve been healthy – thank God I haven’t had any injuries – and I’ve been able to focus on getting stronger and keeping my shoulder healthy. When I had that outing I wasn’t even fresh – I had played a game at third base in the morning – so I’m anxious to see what I can do out here today.”

Baz’s fastball didn’t reach 95 mph during his PG National outing Wednesday, but he impressed nonetheless. According to the PG Blog, his “explosive fastball … with a long, loose arm action” sat consistently at 90-92 “with rising life.” The blogger noted he also showed some feel for his changeup along with a “slurvey breaking ball that changed shape and showed some sharpness.”

Most of Baz’s velocity is generated from the strength he possesses in his legs and core, along with the trust he has in his arm path while staying true to his mechanics. He’s been working with highly regarded and respected pitching coach David Evans from the Houston Heat organization since he was 10 years old and the results are there for everyone to see.

“(Evans has) worked with a lot of big-name guys and I just trust him with everything I’ve got,” Baz said. “He’s gotten me to where I am, for sure. And being with the Heat has been awesome. It’s been great exposure in front of the scouts and college coaches every time we go out and play.”

Baz’s father, Raj, has certainly enjoyed watching his son become one of the country’s top prospects in his respective age-group, but he gets more satisfaction watching Shane compete in an environment like the one the PG National presents. Every player on the field is a highly ranked and highly regarded prospect, and when you throw them all together in one room, it tends to bring out the best in everyone.

“You really don’t want your kid to be the best player on every team all the time,” Raj Baz said Wednesday. “You want him to fall somewhere in the middle and be challenged and be driven, and that’s always been our goal.  I’ve coached him throughout his youth baseball and in high school, as well, and it’s always been about being challenged. Whether that’s seeing better pitching, better fielding or harder hit balls. It’s just all about getting to the top.”

Shane Baz is a starting pitcher by trade, which could require him taking a slightly different mental approach into a showcase environment. He’s used to stepping out on the mound and pitching complete, seven-inning games and not just facing 10 batters in two innings or 15 in three, and usually less than that. But, in truth, his approach hardly changes at all.

It’s the same mentality, the same mindset. Baz starts a game with the notion in his head that he can’t try to do too much himself and feed off the energy produced by his equally talented teammates and opponents out on the field with him. “All of them are competitors and great players, and it makes you step-up, for sure,” he said. “You’ve got to play your best game or you won’t last out here. I love to -play with these guys – they’re all good – and it really brings you to the top of your game.”

Baz is excited about his commitment to TCU and the opportunity it gives him to work with head coach Jim Schlossnagle and pitching coach Kirk Sarloos. It’s important to remember that Baz is also a standout third baseman and the Horned Frogs’ coaching staff recruited him as a two-way player.

And then, of course, there is the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft, now less than a year away. Baz realizes MLB scouting departments have shifted their combined focus to the class of 2017 draft class, and while he insists he’d like to go to college he also admits the draft presents one of those “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” sort of deals.

As far as his baseball influences go, Baz said Evans has probably had the biggest impact, but he also gives a lot of credit to his dad. “He’s given me the opportunity to succeed in every situation and environment, and I just can’t be anymore thankful. He pushes me, and I just love it,” Shane said.

Shane Baz will be a senior at Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas, in the fall. He was also a standout football and basketball player up through his freshman year in high school and might have developed enough to become a college football prospect at quarterback. Raj Baz said he almost let loose an audible sigh of relief when his son decided to purse baseball.

“I wasn’t really surprised, I was actually glad, because of the injuries and things that can be accumulated through football,” he said. “… (Shane) kind of slowly drifted towards baseball because he always felt like his best chance to really move on would be with baseball.”

As Raj Baz waited for his son to take the field for game action at the PG National Showcase, he took a couple minutes to look ahead at the possibility of his son receiving an invitation to the grand Perfect Game All-American Classic coming up in August at Petco Park in San Diego. But mostly Raj took a moment to reflect upon how Shane reached this point in his career, how he ended up on this stage.

“You watch an 8- or 9-year-old grow up and get to this level, it’s just a testament to hard work; he’s really put in the time,” he said. “You never have to ask him to train, he’s always getting his work in without being asked. As a parent, that’s what you want to see.

“It’s enjoyable to watch your kid develop and mature,” Raj continued. “They’re still teenagers and there’s still a lot of guidance required but at the end of the day it’s really, really gratifying to see him at an event like this.”

And Shane Baz didn’t take for granted the opportunity with which he had been presented. At one point during his conversation with PG on Wednesday while he and reporter stood outside in the suffocating mid-day heat and humidity, he took just a moment to take a look around and take in his surroundings.

“Perfect Game does an awesome job of displaying us,” he said. “I mean, look where we’re at right now. We’re at the Red Sox (spring) training facility; it just doesn’t get any better than this. It was just awesome to be able to be around all these good players with all this exposure. I basically just want to prove to everyone that I’m the best player in the class of 2017.”

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