Top Rays prospect Shane Baz will make his Major League debut on Monday against the Blue Jays, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Baz was the third piece acquired along with Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow from the Pirates in the now infamous Chris Archer trade. The 22-year-old’s stock has risen since the trade, though the former first rounder has always shown tremendous promise.
In the Tampa development engine, he has become a refined starting prospect at the top of an impressive farm system. He was the Rays’ top prospect on Baseball America’s midseason report, and he’s the top prospect by MLB.com’s rendering as well. Baz won a silver medal alongside current Ray David Robertson while with Team USA at the Olympics in Japan.
He is not currently on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding roster move will be necessary. For what it’s worth, that means he’s not eligible for the postseason roster. Given that fact, this start is most likely of the ’spot’ variety, though he could theoretically be added to the postseason roster through a petition to the Commissioner’s office as an injury replacement. That process has often been exploited in the past, and the Rays have shown a willingness to throw young hurlers into the postseason fire (see McClanahan, Shane).
Besides, while the Rays own the best record in the American League, they have the most dynamic (read: unpredictable) pitching staff. Practically speaking, it’s entirely unclear who might get the ball in a potential opening round playoff series, so there is at least a possibility that Baz could pitch his way onto the playoff roster. Because playoff roster changes cannot be made mid-series, the only opening he’s likely snag would be as a starter. Best case, he could make maybe three starts before the year is out – if the Rays view this promotion as an actual audition for playoff baseball.
The prospect of Baz as a playoff weapon isn’t all that far-fetched when you consider his dominance in the upper levels of the minors this season. He made seven starts in Double-A with a 2.84 ERA, striking out 49 in 32 2/3 innings. After earning the rapid promotion to Triple-A, Baz went back to work with a 1.76 ERA over 10 starts totaling 46 innings with a 64-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those eye-popping numbers certainly must make the Rays consider giving him an opportunity to help the parent club right now.
The rookie southpaw McClanahan is the only sure thing to be in the playoff rotation right now, and he’s currently on the injured list. Drew Rasmussen is making a strong push to be a postseason starter as well, having not allowed more than one earned run in any of his past six starts since joining the rotation. Ryan Yarbrough, Michael Wacha, and Luis Patino round out the rotation for now, though the Rays are likely to use at least one rotation spot (and maybe more) for bullpen days come the postseason.