So to say Shane McClanahan is valued as a rare commodity by MLB clubs is an understatement. McClanahan, a redshirt sophomore lefthander for South Florida, is one of the hardest-throwing southpaws in college baseball history. Multiple scouts confirmed that he hit 100 mph multiple times in a recent preseason scrimmage, and in his season debut Friday against North Carolina he touched 99 at least twice.
Big velocity is sexy, but McClanahan is trying to ensure that his story doesn't start and end with the radar gun readings. He's working hard to make himself a more complete pitcher, a process that began after he recovered from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of 2016. He had a very encouraging redshirt freshman season in the USF rotation last year, going 4-2, 3.20 with 104 strikeouts and 36 walks in 76 innings, but one of his primary objectives in 2018 is to reduce that 4.26 walks per nine rate.
In that respect, his season debut left something to be desired - he issued five walks and hit a batter in six innings of work. But he also allowed just three hits, and whenever UNC got runners on base, McClanahan knuckled down and escaped unscathed. Three times, the Tar Heels got the leadoff man aboard, twice via walk, but McClanahan kept them from capitalizing on any of those scoring chances, and he exited after six scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts.
Perhaps the highlight was the fourth inning, when he allowed a leadoff single to Zack Gahagan and then proceeded to strike out the next three batters, on a 95 mph heater, an 81 mph slider and a 96 fastball.
"I had five walks and that's unacceptable, but I just really worked on just trying to locate my pitches and not trying to overthrow," McClanahan said. "But first-game jitters, and it's one of those things, we'll come back next weekend and really tweak some things and not let that happen again, because that's unacceptable."
As part of McClanahan's attempt to lower his walk rate and save some of his big bullets for when he really needs them, he is making a concerted effort to dial back his fastball early in counts, often pitching at 89-94 mph, then reaching back for 95-98 in big spots.
"I thought he did a really good job adding and subtracting on his fastball," USF coach Billy Mohl said. "When he needed he could reach back and hit the 97, 98, but I thought he did a really good job - I think he ranged anywhere from 88 to 99 on the board. But that's what he needs to do, because we've had many talks where, you just cannot keep your foot on the gas, and he did a really job doing that tonight. Mixing in breaking ball, we were fastball-dominant early, then he started getting the offspeed going. That's huge to have a couple quick innings instead of trying to strike everybody out."
Last year, McClanahan pitched overwhelmingly off his fastball, but he has worked hard to develop his secondary stuff in the offseason. His changeup is his clear No. 2 pitch, an 84 mph offering with good arm speed that he uses to induce weak contact against righties, though he also got at least one strikeout with the pitch Friday. His slider is still his third pitch, but it is making clear progress; he threw some really good ones early in the game at 83-86, and when he throws it with conviction like that, it's a real weapon. Usually it comes in around 79-82, and he still needs to throw it firmer more consistently, but it's developing.
"Let's just say I was tired of it being terrible," McClanahan said. "Just trusting the grip and trusting the arm with it, mechanics and everything like that. That's really all it was."
Even when he throws it with less velocity, the slider is starting to become an effective offering for him, and he's learning to command it much better, as Friday illustrated.
"Just the feel of it, the ability to throw it for strikes. I mean, we threw a 3-2 slider tonight; last year I could never call a 3-2 slider with him," Mohl said. "The shape of it and everything else has gotten a lot better. It's still not a finished deal, he still needs to trust it more and throw it a little firmer, but right now I'd say the changeup is the No. 2 pitch, he throws that with good arm speed. And the slider we're still working on, it's still developing. When he trusts it and he rips it, it's good. (Last year) he wouldn't, because it would be off the backstop."
During the middle innings Friday when the Bulls were at bat, McClanahan went to throw on the side. "Ah, well UNC's like a human rain delay, so I had to stay loose," he quipped.
McClanahan has a quick wit and a blunt manner about him, as you can see. He's got a little edge about him that translates well to the mound, where he always competes hard. His off-the-field maturation, however, has been just as impressive to Mohl as his development on the mound.
"Shane's a big kid. That's really what he is. When it's time to compete, he competes. But off the field, he's a character," Mohl said. "He's kind of a smart aleck, kind of throws out one liners at you. That's just who he is, he's fun to be around. Compared to what he was three years ago when he was kind of shy, immature, now he's just one of the guys, jokes around, has a good old time.
"From the deer in headlights as a freshman, being away from home for the first time, kind of holding his hand through a few things. Now, the leaps and bounds he's made from a maturity standpoint is unbelievable."
McClanahan is a good teammate, and on Friday he just seemed happy to get a win for his team - and the first career win for Mohl as head coach.
"It's awesome," McClanahan said. "That guy has our back and we have his back no matter what. We wanted him here, we got him, and we're gonna go out there and bust our ass for him."
||D1Baseball.com is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.