As a dynasty leaguer, I’m on a never-ending quest to find prospects that have the tools to skyrocket up rankings lists and become universal Top 100 material. In early June, I hung my hat on Mitch White, Estevan Florial and Ryan Mountcastle among others. All three have continued trending up and I advocate a pick up in dynasty leagues.
Recently I came across another prospect, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Cuba in the San Diego Padres organization. His name is Michel Baez — not Michael, Michel — and he’s a 6-foot-8, 220-pound imposing piece of mass on a pitcher’s mound. Despite his size, his signing came with little fanfare, which is interesting given his signing bonus.
The Padres signed Baez to a $3 million deal in December. Padres fans immediately had a hard time figuring out who he was given that he didn’t place on any rankings of international signees in Baseball America, Fangraphs or MLB.com. But it’s not unusual for a big bonus to be handed out to someone that unknown. Teams are looking under every rock and often find gems that simply haven’t received much, if any, media exposure.
Fast forward a few months of game action and now word is quickly spreading. Baez began 2017 pitching in extended spring training, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks in real game action that people are taking notice. In three starts this year (one in rookie ball, the last two in Low-A), he has allowed only 2 ER (1.13 ERA) and 5 hits in 16 IP with an impressive 23 Ks. His two ER came in the rookie ball start, as he’s still spotless in Low-A.
Baez dominates hitters with a 70-grade fastball that sits 94-97 mph with late run, but can ramp it to 98 mph when he needs it. He has a mid-80s slider that currently rates as above average but still needs work and an average changeup that scouts think he’ll develop as he continues pitching. Check out this extended spring training footage by Baseball Prospectus prospect team member John Eshleman last month. Once you pick up your jaw over his size, notice how he uses the fastball and downhill plane to dominate hitters.
Just last week, MLB.com added him to the Padres’ top 30 prospects, where they slotted him 20th overall, so he’s begun to get noticed.
OK, so what’s the catch? Right now he’s still considered a two-pitch pitcher until his changeup develops some more. But of more importance is his size. Tall pitchers have deliveries that require more effort to consistently repeat because of their long limbs. Baez is still working on that and lacks some command at times because his big body gets in the way. Because of that, it might take a while before he shakes off the ‘Relief Pitcher’ label.
If Baez can show that he can repeat his delivery and make strides with his pitches over the next few months, we’re looking at a potential monster in the making. I think as is, he has the upside of a Top 50 prospect, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he can go even higher if he proves he can stick as a starter.