Written by: Jake Tillinghast
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Rays No. 6 Prospect LHP Shane McClanahan 23 Years Old
Bat: L – Throw: L – Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 200 – ETA: 2020
Drafted first out of Cape Coral High School in the 26th round, Shane McClanahan elected to increase his draft stock with three years of college ball at the nearby University of South Florida instead of going pro. Tommy John surgery kept him from pitching as a Freshman but he was able to rehab, get stronger, and develop his electric fastball for two years. Finishing with a 14.1 K/9 his draft-eligible Junior season in 2018.
However, his command was spotty at times and he wasn’t as big as some other pitching prospects out there. Some scouts saw big time reliever risk. Regardless, the Rays took a chance on the local talent and selected him with a 1st round compensation pick.
There were questions about his ability to effectively handle a full workload. But Sugar Shane did a fantastic job quelling those concerns in his full season debut in 2019 by throwing 120.2 innings across three levels of competition.
Heading into the 2020 season, McClanahan most likely would’ve been headed to AA once again. Though with the cancellation of the MiLB season, the Rays selected to add him to their 60-man roster and bring him. Along with many other top prospects, to their alternate training site. This gave Shane an opportunity to work with big league players, coaches, and staff, all while showcasing his ability on the mound. He was able to show enough to earn a debut performance in the postseason against the Yankees. Making history as the first pitcher in baseball history to do so.
This is Sugar Shane’s calling card. Top tier velocity from the left side. His number 1 pitch usually clocks in around 95-98 MPH when he’s starting. But when he’s kept to a shorter stint he’s really able to reach back for a little extra.
His delivery is somewhat deceptive. He is able to use his body to shield his arm from the hitter’s view before exploding down the mound. This results in a ball that appears to jump on the hitter a little extra. It looks a little funky, but it can be effective. I like it.
The velocity itself is premium, but the spin rate is only MLB average at around 2300 RPMs according to Fangraphs. This isn’t a huge problem, though it will give Shane less of a margin for error with the pitch. As you may have noticed in his playoff performances this year, he’s had a little trouble missing bats and giving up barrels compared to his minor league numbers. I wouldn’t be too concerned with that going forward. But with the fastball being his bread and butter pitch it’s something to keep an eye on.
Shane McClanahan at this point pretty much only uses one secondary pitch, and it is his slider. With solid two-plane break and mid-80s velo, it’s more or less an MLB average breaker, flashing above average at times. When it’s coupled with his power fastball, however, it can be more effective.
His main issue with the slider is commanding it down and glove side. He is able to drop it in consistently but he’s often guilty of leaving it up and in hittable areas. While the back-up slider is in my opinion one of the hardest pitches to hit, it can also be one of the easiest. If he can get a more consistent feel for the slider, that will likely be enough for him to stick as a Starter. As you can see below, when he get that low-and-away quadrant to lefties, it can be a very lethal pitch.
While Shane doesn’t throw it more than 5% of the time currently out of the bullpen, he hasn’t really needed to get the splitter going due to the length of his outings. He clearly favors the fastball-slider combo, and that’s likely enough for a bullpen role. However, the Rays have also shown they’re willing to let a starter ride with just two pitches (see: Glasnow). Though since Shane’s slider isn’t nearly as dominant as Glasnow’s curve, there is a much higher risk that he isn’t able to stick as a starter if he isn’t able to find that third pitch.
Here’s where the splitter comes in. Some scouts and evaluators have Shane as a reliever only because they think he won’t ever develop it into a good enough offering. This is a fair concern, and I think not having a minor league season in 2020 probably helped out this narrative even more.
Yet, one single pitch that Shane threw during his debut gave me some hope that at least an MLB average off-speed offering is in there. The last batter of his outing was DJ LeMahieu, the AL batting champ, who came up looking to extend the Yankee lead with the bases loaded and 2 outs. Shane got ahead 0-1 and then dropped in an absolutely beautiful 91mph split piece to get DJ out in front for an easy inning-ending tapper in front of the mound. (Video at top of link) https://www.mlb.com/rays/news/shane-mcclanahan-debut-game-1-alds-2020
If he can find and throw that pitch around 10-15% of the time, that will go a long way towards Shane developing into a solid MLB starting pitcher.
Though he had issues limiting free bases in A ball, he was able to substantially reduce his walk rates from 5.3/9 down to 1.5/9 after the promotion to A+. The 5.3/9 mark was very similar to his career college rates. Seeing that big of an improvement is very promising towards McClanahan’s development as a legit starting pitching prospect. He’s also done a solid job at limiting home runs allowed which is essential for someone who doesn’t get heavy ground ball rates.
But there is still room for caution with Sugar Shane. To me, it appears that he currently has a better feel for control over command. What that means is he is able to find the strike zone. Although he isn’t really able to command where he wants to. Many of his misses aren’t balls to the backstop. Rather ones that leak back over the plate or to the arm side. Finding that middle-ground between pitching aggressively in the zone and picking at the corners will be important going forward.
Room for Improvements:
Though his command will likely peak at MLB average, Shane McClanahan is an elite athlete. So I’m more confident that he will be able to find a rhythm with his mechanics than some other fringy pitching prospects. His motion is also equally silky smooth as it is explosive. Electric arm speed, strong core, big hip-shoulder separation, and a picture-perfect front leg brace? Sign me up, please. Since he’s more average sized, coupled with the athleticism, it shouldn’t be a problem for him to stay consistent in his delivery.
Since he is already throwing strikes at a solid rate, it is much easier to work on throwing towards the top or bottom of the zone than it is to find the zone in the first place. Once he gets working the quadrants more, I would expect Shane’s results to improve. Spotting the fastball and keeping and the slider down glove side when he wants to will go a long way towards McClanahan’s outlook.
The Rays will most likely give Shane an opportunity to continue working on his command and developing his splitter by sending him to AAA to begin the 2021 season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up and in the Rays rotation or working as a bulk relieving option after the All-Star break.
If all goes well to begin 2021, we are looking at a solid stabilizer with strikeout upside for one of the best rotations in the AL. If not, I would expect him back in a similar role with the bullpen later on in the season.
In all, there are only a handful of lefty pitching prospects with the high-octane stuff McClanahan brings to the table. The relief risk is real. But Sugar Shane is definitely an arm I would be willing to take a chance on. Even if he ends up a full-time reliever, his stuff is clearly good enough to put him at the back end of a bullpen as a high strikeout, high leverage guy. That being said, I believe the Rays will give Shane McClanahan every chance possible to stick as a starter before relegating him to the pen.
Read up more on Shane McClanahan and the rest of the 2020 Rays Top 20 Prospects HERE
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