Stuff has never been Shane McClanahan‘s problem. It’s everything else.
Height, injury, mechanics, headcase, control, unproven college track record — you name the baseball adversity and McClanahan is facing it. Still, one can’t help but daydream after seeing that triple-digit fastball and plus curveball.
He was a bit of a late bloomer in high school with nothing really special about him. Not until he started throwing harder as a senior did McClahahan really get noticed at all. Even then, it was just enough to get on a lower-tier program: University of South Florida. While at USF, McClanahan kept gaining velocity, which continued even after he needed Tommy John surgery as a freshman. McClanahan dominated much of his college career with the occasional bout of inconsistency:
|South Florida (2017)||76.0||3.20||1.11||104||36|
|South Florida (2018)||76.0||3.42||1.30||120||48|
Note both the high K-rate and high-BB rate. This is who McClanahan is at the moment: a tremendously talented lefty who has shown he can battle through all of his impediments to produce good numbers. If he begins to address some of those impediments, however, he could produce great numbers. It’s a good thing he was drafted by an organization known for developing prospects: Tampa Bay.
Despite flashing top-10 potential in college, McClanahan fell all the way into the supplemental round where the Rays scooped him up with the 31st pick in 2018. If anybody can harness his raw ability, it’s Tampa Bay. After proving he didn’t belong in Rookie ball right after being drafted, McClanahan will face better competition in Single-A for likely all of 2019. While in Bowling Green, he will work on his control, his demeanor, and his changeup. So far there haven’t been much improvement on any:
Once again, the K-rate (13.21) and the walk-rate (5.74) are excessive. Those rates are also the reason that despite starting seven games in 2019 and only giving up 4+ runs once, he doesn’t have a quality start because he has yet to reach the sixth inning. McClanahan’s maturity also hasn’t improved much. He can often be seen walking toward the dugout after he delivers a pitch that he thinks will result in strike three, and by often I mean once an inning. When the call doesn’t go his way, he visibly reacts with either some sort of facial expression, or sunken shoulders, or even quickly turning away from the ump to grimace and slap his glove. It’s unclear if he understands that all of these actions show up the umpire and/or hitter. What is clear, however, is that a call that doesn’t go his way affects him.
Now let’s look at what makes him so good, starting with his bread-and-butter, the fastball:
The poor hitter’s reaction is common to McClanahan’s fastball. It’s not just the velocity that makes it jump up on hitters. He hides the ball well from behind his legs to start to behind his head before going into his three-quarter arm slot. His motion helps his already-fast heater play up, but it also makes his delivery messy. It’s excess movement and harder to repeat, which contributes to the control issue.
Next, let’s look at his curveball:
When his curveball flashes plus, this is what it looks like. McClanahan busts it inside with plenty of vertical and horizontal movement. You can see how devastating this pitch is if he can keep it down just a little more, leaving the hitter almost no chance to put it in play.
Now, if you look at his follow through, you’ll also notice that he finishes these pitches differently: also something he will need to work on. With the curveball, he follows through to guide its movement across the plate. With the fastball, he recoils at the end of the delivery like so:
The strikeout potential for McClanahan is tremendous, but he has two major hurdles to clear before succeeding as a starter at higher levels: (1) control issues, and (2) improving the changeup. It is possible that he does not do either of these things — even in the Rays system — and can still be valuable as a high-leverage reliever. That role might actually be better suited for him in the long run anyway, being just 6-feet-1-inches tall and relying on velocity as much as does.
In all, there is no need to rush to grab McClanahan because of the number of possible outcomes that are in his future. Still, some of those outcomes are elite, so check back on him at the end of this season.