The Tampa Bay Rays sent left-handed pitcher Shane McClanahan to the mound to face the Oakland Athletics in matinee action Thursday. McClanahan qualifies as a rookie and his MLB stat page is technically empty, because he debuted during the playoffs last year. His outing Thursday was his regular-season debut and his first career MLB start.
McClanahan was the 31st overall pick out of South Florida in 2018 and has quickly made his way up the Rays' organization. He debuted with 4 1/3 innings in four appearances last October. His line (8.31 ERA, 2.31 WHIP) wasn't very good, but it was the playoffs and he'd never faced MLB hitters in real game action before. In no way should that have taken away any excitement about his prospects of sticking long term.
Perhaps the start of his long-term MLB journey began on Thursday. Overall, it was a decent outing, but we saw flashes of promise that was very high-upside. Here's McClanahan's line:
The main rate stats emerging from that line are a small-sample 4.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Those are perfectly acceptable in a short outing against a team with the A's firepower. McClanahan gave up a solo homer to Matt Chapman, for example, and Chapman hit 36 homers in 2019.
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Watching the outing was much more impressive than looking at the stat line. The stuff just jumped off the screen. Here's his first career strikeout (remember, we're talking regular-season now, since postseason stats are separate):
That's 101 miles per hour, tailing away from a righty there and to get that kind of movement on a four-seam fastball is ridiculous. He topped 100 twice and all 24 of his heaters had decent side-to-side movement.
He also throws a power slider that sits high-80s but actually hit 93 once. He mixed in three low-80s curves. And then there's a changeup that also sits high-80s but hit 93. Here's a nice mix of that stuff on display:
It's worth taking a second to soak all this in. Here's where we are with major-league pitching these days. A pitcher who just debuted hits 101 (with movement) with a four-seamer, 93 with a slider, 93 with a change and also has a curve. He's considered a top-100 prospect, but nothing much further beyond that. That's how numb we've grown to this kind of nasty stuff.
This isn't to diminish McClanahan himself. It was quite a show with that raw stuff. He was impressive enough that I'm spending time breaking his start down. Out of his 59 pitches, he got 15 swings-and-misses with the slider (17 swings and 10 misses with four called strikes on 24 pitches) playing as a very-effective out pitch. He struck out the first two hitters he faced -- notably getting Ramón Laureano swinging on two straight 92-plus sliders in the second and third pitches shown in that video above -- to set the tone.
There were some mistakes for sure, but overall McClanahan showed the stuff of a frontline starter in his (regular-season) MLB debut.