The Rays announced this afternoon that top pitching prospect Shane Baz underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies from his pitching elbow. He’s expected to resume throwing in 2-3 weeks (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times).
Baz debuted in the majors last September, making his first three starts down the stretch. He punched out 18 hitters in 13 1/3 innings during that brief look, averaging north of 97 MPH on his heater. Tampa Bay carried Baz on their postseason roster, giving him the start in Game 2 of their Division Series against the Red Sox. That outing didn’t go as hoped, but there’s little question the righty had emerged as a key piece of the Rays’ pitching plans — both in the near and long term.
This offseason, Baseball America named Baz the league’s eighth-most promising prospect. He checked in second among pitchers in that ranking, making the former first-rounder one of the top young arms in the game. It doesn’t seem there’s any reason for long-term concern about today’s procedure, although it’ll almost certainly force him to begin the season on the injured list.
Opening Day is seventeen days from now. Given the club’s announced timetable, it’s possible Baz will begin throwing before regular season action gets underway, but he’ll need some time to build strength back up. He may require some time in the minors on a rehab assignment as well.
With Baz out of the season-opening rotation mix, Tampa Bay looks likely to rely on some combination of Shane McClanahan, Corey Kluber, Luis Patiño, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Fleming and Drew Rasmussen to start games over the first few weeks. Tampa Bay is among the league’s most flexible teams with regards to managing a pitching staff, but the loss of a high-octane arm like Baz is a disappointing development for a team competing in an AL East that again looks as if it’ll be a four-team fight.