(Photo via GoUSFBulls, seen here)
Left-handed, triple digit fastball, a 0.00 ERA, a recent no-hitter and even a chance to pitch in the major leagues this season. Sounds like a pro team’s top of the draft dream? University of South Florida redshirt sophomore Shane McClanahan has done all of that and more to pitch himself into the top of the June MLB draft conversation through his first few starts of the season. But before draft talk heats up with the coming of summer, McClanahan has led the Bulls to a 13-6 record out of the gate with a personal record of 3-1 and zero runs allowed in 30 2/3 innings. Yes, that’s zero earned runs. McClanahan’s ERA sits at 0.00 and he’s struck out 56 hitters, including 15 in a combined effort to no-hit Army with USF righty Carson Ragsdale last Friday.
McClanahan’s appearance onto the collegiate baseball scene and the top of MLB teams’ draft boards has coincided with his own development on the mound. His route has been more circuitous than a college ace with similar draft hype, and he’s not coming from a power-five school that churns out high profile pitching prospects like Vanderbilt, North Carolina or Florida. Yet none of that will stop McClanahan’s rise as an elite pitcher in college baseball this season if he continues to pitch like he has in 2018.
McClanahan’s stuff and ability to throw it hasn’t always come this easy. In a conversation with Bulls first-year head coach Billy Mohl, McClanahan’s origins on the mound look very different than the triple digits he’s reportedly hit with his fastball this spring. “When I saw him during the summer of his junior year in high school, he was throwing between 81 – 84 miles per hour. He was tiny, around 5’9’’ or 5’10’’.”
McClanahan attended Cape Coral High School near Fort Myers, but originally committed to play at Charleston Southern. As Mohl tells it, McClanahan hit a growth spurt later in high school, then expressed a desire to play closer to home to be near his father, who is disabled. McClanahan was released from his national letter of intent at Charleston Southern before he graduated high school in 2015 and transferred to South Florida where Mohl was the pitching coach at the time. After all of that, McClanahan was drafted by the New York Mets in the 26th round. “[Shane] has obviously grown,” Mohl continued about McClanahan’s physical progression. “He came into the program around 155 lbs., but is at 185 now.”
Mohl highlighted McClanahan’s athleticism as a big factor in his growth as a pitcher – something he observed even as an undersized high school junior. “In the big leagues, all pitchers have great athleticism,” Mohl said. “Shane’s delivery and his work on and off the field shows that he’s that level of an athlete”.
However, in the modern game where pitchers are stronger and throwing faster than ever, even elite athleticism can’t overcome injury. As McClanahan was gaining more attention nationally after being drafted by the Mets and throwing into the low 90s, he underwent Tommy John surgery before his true freshman season and missed all of 2016. Even with the lost time, Mohl spoke of the positives of the time off for McClanahan. “It was hard for him to sit there and watch, but [the injury] gave him an extra year to mature,” Mohl said. The elbow injury shouldn’t have any impact on McClanahan’s draft position this season, just because of its frequency among young pitchers – Mohl mentioned that one out of every three pitchers will undergo Tommy John, and it’s not even a question or concern for scouts anymore.
It’s easy to tie in McClanahan’s improvements physically with his progression on the mound. Last season, Mohl mentioned McClanahan was almost exclusively a fastball pitcher, throwing that offering 85 percent of the time with an “okay” changeup and a non-existent breaking ball. Even while relying almost totally on his fastball, McClanahan posted a 3.20 ERA and a conference-best 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017.
In 2018, McClanahan’s fastball and results have only gotten better. Mohl mentioned that he’s learned how to pull back and add to his four-seamer when needed, sitting in the low to mid 90 mph range, but dialing the velocity up to a legitimate 100 mph. Jamie Quolas, who scouts the Tampa area for CBBSN, highlighted McClanahan’s fastball movement that adds to its potential. “The downhill angle of his fastball creates a good, live downward action in the zone,” Quolas said via text. “He can overpower most hitters when hitting his spots.”
McClanahan’s secondary offerings have also taken a major step forward. Shane’s changeup is his second-best pitch, and an offering that Mohl calls potentially plus-plus at the next level. Quolas mentioned the changeup has good fade and got three whiffs on the pitch in his first outing of the spring against North Carolina. McClanahan’s third pitch is a developing slider that grades out at above-average right now. “He’s made huge strides in the secondary department,” Mohl said while emphasizing the importance of good secondary pitches. “When a scouting report gets out, a good hitter can hit 95-96 miles per hour if they know it’s coming.”
There’s not a lot McClanahan needs to improve on, with his close-to-MLB-ready stuff and impressive results for the Bulls. However, Mohl mentioned that McClanahan needs to work on his pitch count during starts. “His fastball is so good that gets a lot of swings and misses from hitters, which elevates his pitch count,” Mohl said. “The biggest thing at the next level is being efficient in his outings because he just tends to throw a lot more pitches than other guys.” Quolas added that McClanahan struggled at times with command during his season-opening start against the Tar Heels, but has looked better of late in subsequent outings. He’s walked thirteen hitters in his 50 innings of work, an average of just over two walks per nine innings.
Though his future is certainly as a starter, it’s realistic to believe McClanahan could be pitching out of the bullpen for a contender picking high in the draft (San Francisco or Philadelphia, who hold the #2 and #3 picks) as early as this season due to his advanced stuff that would play up in shorter bullpen outings. Relievers don’t have to focus on pitch count, and a max effort McClanahan fastball from the left side would be tough even for MLB hitters to handle. It’s incredibly rare for a college draftee to jump that to a MLB roster that quickly, but McClanahan came back from injury better and still improved faster than most college pitchers. In the meantime, he’ll continue leading the USF staff and working on that perfect ERA, but don’t count him out.