Around this time last year, left-hander Tanner Scott headed to Orioles minor league camp as a little-known reliever coming off hand surgery. A year later, he could be a pitcher on a fast track after throwing well last season and in the Arizona Fall League, with a fastball that has reached triple digits.
The 21-year-old Scott is not flying under the radar anymore. Perhaps he once was as a sixth-round draft pick in 2014, but now those days are over for a pitcher who averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings on the farm last season.
There are not many left-handers in the professional ranks that can reach 100 mph with a fastball. A southpaw did lead the majors in fastball velocity in 2015. Aroldis Chapman averaged a stunning 100 mph according to this Statcast chart of the fastest pitchers. But the next 23 names on the list all belong to right-handers before another lefty, Tampa Bay’s Enny Romero, appears on the list.
Scott reached 100 mph for the first time on a few occasions after the Orioles drafted him in June 2014. When he lit up some radar guns in the Arizona Fall League, scouts from every team were there to see it firsthand.
Last season, the Ohio native walked 22 and fanned 60 in 42 1/3 innings between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva. But his stock rose and he gained even more notice when he went to the AFL and was 0-1 with an ERA of 2.00, fanning 10 over nine innings. He was named to the AFL’s Top Prospects team.
Scott had come close, but as far as he knows, had not touched 100 mph until he became a pro pitcher after that 2014 draft.
“In junior college, I remember hitting 98 (mph) and thought that was awesome,” Scott said. “The same year (2014) I hit 98, I got drafted and then I hit a 100 a few times. In 2015, people mentioned you hit that number and I was just trying to get people out.
“You can’t worry about the radar gun. I know I need to work on just throwing strikes and being on time with my mechanics and having the right mindset. If the velocity is there, it’s there. If you try to muscle it up and throw as hard as you can, you will throw slower, I think. If I am getting people out, that is all that matters.”
Scott touched 101 mph during the O’s instructional league last September and then the scouts saw triple digits on their guns during the AFL. He often sits between 94 and 98 mph. Has the high-end velocity now made him more of a marked man heading into the 2016 season?
“It is awesome that people are noticing it,” Scott said. “This is how I want to be. It would be nice to be sitting in the higher range, maybe getting close to Chapman range. He throws very hard.”
Scott signed for a bonus of $650,000 in 2014, which was well over the slot bonus of $240,000 for the 181st selection. It was the second-largest bonus given out by the Orioles during a year where their highest pick was their third-round selection, high school pitcher Brian Gonzalez, who signed for $700,000.
Some scouts feel that if Scott can improve his slider in both quality and command, the Orioles may have a solid, late-inning, two-pitch bullpen weapon for the future. A potential Jake McGee type of pitcher.
“Slider development is going very well,” Scott said. “I was more comfortable with it this past year. I have to have that pitch to counter attack with my velocity. I need something to throw other than a fastball. Just need to have a feel for it and trust I can throw it and believe in that pitch.”
All of this is impressive when you remember that Scott didn’t pitch in a minor league game last summer until joining Aberdeen in June. Scott had surgery on his left hand on Dec. 30, 2014 and spent the early months of 2015 in Florida at extended spring training.
Without providing much detail about the non-baseball injury, it is clear Scott did something he might regret.
“I came into spring training with a broken hand, so I started in extended,” he said. “I had surgery and had three pins in my hand. I just knew I put myself in a bad spot. My first spring training and I was coming in with my left hand being broken. But I was willing to put in the work for my mistake. You live and you learn. Gotta learn the hard way.”
Now opposing hitters are learning that they need a quick bat when facing Scott. He seems to have a good chance to start this year with Single-A Frederick and maybe end it with Double-A Bowie.
In the minors relievers can sometimes move faster than starting pitchers. If he continues to progress, Scott could move rapidly. Just like his fastball.