He has the best fastball velocity of any pitcher in the Orioles organization. On Sept. 20, lefty Tanner Scott made his major league debut versus Boston. He began his career throwing two 99 mph fastballs. The second was hit into right on a checked swing for a single.
Welcome to the show, kid.
Scott allowed two runs in one inning in his debut, but his fastball, as advertised, touched 100 mph. He averaged 98 mph on his fastball and 88.7 mph on his slider, which got swings and misses on four of 11 pitches that night. Three days later, Scott made his second major league appearance, throwing a scoreless 2/3 of an inning against Tampa Bay. He threw nine pitches, all fastballs and averaged 97.7 mph, topping at 99 mph.
Now, for the third year in a row, Scott is pitching in the Arizona Fall League. As he did for Double-A Bowie this season, he is being used as a pitcher that starts the game and goes two or three innings. In his most recent outing on Friday for Salt River, he allowed three runs in the first inning and none in his second inning when he got both of his strikeouts on sliders.
According to a scout at that game, his fastball was between 96 and 98 mph in that outing and his slider ranged from 85 to 89 mph. He got both of his strikeouts off sliders.
For Bowie this season, Scott was 0-2 with a 2.22 ERA. Over 69 innings, he allowed 45 hits with 46 walks and 87 strikeouts. He had ended 2015 at Bowie and his walks per nine innings with the Baysox dropped from 8.44 that season to 6.00 this past year, while his strikeout rate increased from 10.13 to 11.35.
He was very tough for any Eastern League batter to get many hits off. Lefty batters hit just .171 with a .237 slugging percentage versus Scott and righty batters hit .195 with a .232 slugging percentage. So, yeah, that is pretty solid.
There has always been one main question about Scott and his future: Will his control/command improve enough for him to be a top major league reliever?
Now a second question has emerged: Can he be a starter?
After watching Scott have effective three-inning outings with the Baysox, some in the organization wonder if he could be stretched out to start for a major league club desperate for good starting pitching.
But these are two very separate issues for me. Yes, the Orioles are desperate for starters, but is that what is best for Scott and his future? Can he even be an effective starter? Are the Orioles asking too much out of the lefty?
In baseball, relievers are now probably valued more than ever. Having a lefty that can throw 100 mph with an at times swing-and-miss slider and that can give you two-inning outings is huge. With premium velocity, he doesn’t need plus control. Average control or maybe even control a tick below average could be sufficient for Scott to be effective.
But control issues would be more problematic for a starter. Can he navigate five or six innings without having those moments and/or innings when he loses the control for several batters? Would that derail too many potentially good starts?
Plus, Scott is a two-pitch pitcher for now. Can he develop a changeup good enough to be a useful third pitch? Manager Buck Showalter has said you have to first eliminate someone as a starter before you put them in the bullpen for good.
There is nothing wrong with pondering Scott as a starter. But for the moment, it looks like a real challenge for a two-pitch pitcher with shaky control and command.
On the other hand, Scott’s slider made dramatic gains this year. In that very small sample size with the Orioles, big league hitters whiffed on it. So did batters in the AFL on Friday. It has become a huge weapon. Hitters gear up for 100 mph and then get 88 mph with late break.
The guess here is Scott’s future will be in the bullpen. He might become an elite reliever, maybe even a closer. Having someone that throws that hard for two innings and can get out left and righty batters is a real plus. He could become All-Star caliber. His ceiling as a reliever is high - if he can reach it.
Yet, the Orioles are desperate for starting pitching. That we know. Should the club dream on Scott as a starter? Sure they can. It doesn’t hurt to dream.