(Photo via GOUSFBulls, seen here)
Shane McClanahan is the consensus top college left-handed pitcher in the upcoming MLB Draft, and it’s not hard to see why. It is not often that a 21-year-old southpaw touches 100 mph with his fastball along with an obscene 14.81 K/9. Along with an electric heater, McClanahan has a solid combination of offspeed pitches. Right now, his changeup is more advanced than his slider, having pronounced arm-side fade against right-handed hitters, while the breaking ball is less consistent. Both offspeed pitches have velocities in the mid-to-high 80s.
McClanahan was on fire to start his redshirt sophomore season at South Florida, going 30 2/3 scoreless innings in his first five outings while striking out an average of 11.2 hitters per start. However, in American Athletic Conference play, McClanahan hit a rough patch. In his eight conference starts, including USF’s recent AAC Tournament opener against Wichita State, he has an unsightly 6.04 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. But McClanahan leads the AAC in both strikeouts and opponent batting average. Due to his rare fastball velocity from the left side and high upside, it is clear that McClanahan will go in the top half of the first round, as evidenced by the mock drafts of MLB Pipeline (#12 overall), Perfect Game (#10 overall), and Fangraphs (#9 overall).
I personally saw McClanahan pitch at Wichita State on Friday, May 11. I was excited to see how he’d match up against WSU’s first-round talents of Alec Bohm and Greyson Jenista. Obviously, with so much talent in one location, many scouts and evaluators were present for this AAC matchup. Gunnar Troutwine, WSU’s senior catcher, hit a booming home run in the first inning, setting the tone for a poor start from South Florida’s ace. McClanahan never looked in control while on the mound, lasting only three innings, allowing five walks and six runs, while only throwing a strike 52 percent of the time.
Even though the outing against WSU was a disappointment, one still sees the immense potential within McClanahan’s body. McClanahan has room for additional muscle, as he is currently a wiry, yet athletic 180 pounds. McClanahan touched both 97 mph and 98 mph once during his outing. His fastball velocity varied from 90-98 mph, depending on the game situation. Having the ability to back off and rev up the fastball in certain situations is a unique skill to possess, especially when it’s in the mid-to-high 90s. His offspeed pitches were not as sharp as they were earlier this season, and McClanahan fought his command with all his pitches throughout his start, especially that live fastball. This is one of McClanahan’s biggest overall issues, as he has allowed 5.6 BB/9 on the season. This inability to control the strike zone led me to the conclusion that at this stage in his baseball career, McClanahan is more of a thrower than a pitcher. He can definitely evolve into a pitcher with further growth and development.
In this side view of McClanahan’s delivery, his long stride immediately jumps out. This is part of the reason that McClanahan throws so hard even with a smaller body than pitchers such as Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard. The extension he creates through his long stride helps his pitches to “get” on the hitter quicker than most pitchers. This could be why McClanahan has a sparkling .174 OBA in the regular season, as hitters have a hard time dealing with his additional perceived velocity. His delivery is both high-intensity and consistent. A mechanical weak spot for McClanahan is that he stands straight up after delivering the pitch, instead of following through and ending up with a flatter back than he currently does.
From behind home plate, a recoil after each pitch is clearly visible in McClanahan’s delivery. His violent delivery helps create his high velocity, but it could lead to possible arm trouble and durability questions down the road. McClanahan has already had Tommy John Surgery, which caused him to redshirt during his freshman season. Any pitcher is at risk for an arm injury, but McClanahan’s special combination of high-velocity and high-intensity mechanics could cause organizations to act more carefully when drafting and developing McClanahan.
Using more leg strength to drive through each pitch could help to alleviate some pressure off of his arm and elbow. The team that drafts McClanahan will look to be careful with his usage in the minor leagues as their player development staff and pitching coordinators hope to refine his command and control. Another option for MLB organizations would be for him to start out in the bullpen. This would theoretically help to preserve McClanahan’s arm, while also providing a quicker path to the big leagues, one recently taken by left-handed pitchers like David Price and Brandon Finnegan.
Finding MLB comps for prospects helps evaluators to get a sense of what the prospect could become in the future, and for this exercise, I chose Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays. Both are lefties with live arms and outstanding stuff. Snell, while a little larger than the South Florida ace, also throws with high intensity and his velocities are similar to McClanahan’s. Consistency, control, and command of all three pitches are key areas of improvement for McClanahan. His fastball velocity is truly special, and it’s possible for him to have three above-average pitches in a few years. He is a high-risk, high-reward pick that an MLB organization will hope to mold into an ace.