August 24, 2016 at 10:00 AM
LOWELL, Mass. – The second half of the minor league season is marked by an infusion of new talent via the draft, and seeing which players will be the first to impress and break out is an exciting part of following prospects. The Red Sox fifth-round pick this year, right-hander Mike Shawaryn, is starting to look like he could be one such player after performing impressively in three of his four starts for the Lowell Spinners.
In those three starts, working the typical two-to-three-inning outings that the Red Sox have college draftees begin their careers with in Lowell, he allowed just four hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings. Viewed as a potential first rounder heading into this year’s college season, Shawaryn provided a glimpse of why many analysts regarded him so highly in his two most recent starts.
On August 17, in his third outing as a pro, not only did the right-hander not allow a hit, but the ball did not get out of the infield while he was on the mound, with a liner caught by the first baseman in the second inning the only ball hit in the air. Batters had a tough time squaring up any of his pitches, although he did allow three walks in the game.
“[He was] nibbling the corners a little bit,” Lowell manager Iggy Suarez said. “He's just got to attack the zone a little bit better, but still, the way it was coming out of his hand, that's what we like.”
“There were some [close] calls, but it’s part of the course of a baseball game, so it’s not that big of a deal,” Shawaryn said. “I'm pretty confident with the team that I have behind me to make plays, so I just have to go out there and attack the zone a little bit better.”
In his next outing, on Monday, he did just that, pounding the zone early with mixed results. He gave up three hits—all on fastballs—and a run in the first inning. However, this time, he allowed no walks and finished the second and third innings in strong 1-2-3 fashion.
“He had more feel for the zone today, and he's got the stuff to [pound the zone],” Suarez said following the most recent outing. “When he's on like that and hitting his locations, his stuff can be electric.”
Shawaryn’s delivery is unique, coming from a low three-quarters arm slot and creating deception for batters. “The Unicorn,” as Shawaryn was nicknamed in college, explained that it is a natural arm angle for him, and that while he experimented with some mechanical changes in college, the low arm slot is nothing new.
“It's coming at you from all angles,” Suarez said. “The ball's moving all over the place, it's never straight and he's got some velocity to it too. It's never an easy thing when you're in the box trying to hit something like that.”
Shawaryn’s fastball was sitting 92-93 mph in both outings, topping out at 95. It was the loss of that velocity for a time this spring at the University of Maryland that likely led to his falling to the Red Sox in the fifth round come June. After putting up a 1.71 ERA his sophomore season and setting the single-season record in strikeouts for the Terps with 138, he was viewed as likely to go in the top couple rounds of the draft the following year. With the drop in velocity, he also saw his results fall off, posting a still-solid, if unspectacular, 3.18 ERA. Baseball America still ranked Shawaryn 77th-overall on its draft prospects list, but he slid to the Red Sox at pick 148.
Fast-forward to August, and the velocity has returned. Shawaryn is unsure what led to the drop in velocity, as there was never any injury identified.
“Physically, I was fine. I honestly don’t know, just one of those things,” he said. “It was just kind of a little funk that I got into. I guess I took a couple weeks off after the draft until we got things figured out. But coming back, my arm has felt really good. My velocity’s been up, so I just have to keep working.”
In addition to good velocity coming from a tough arm slot, he showed the ability at times to command the fastball to both sides of the plate in both outings.
On Monday, he featured his slider and changeup more frequently, with the slider being his best out-pitch. The slider showed ability to miss bats and get hitters off balance, with some ugly check swings and swing-and-misses against it.
As for his nickname, “The Unicorn,” one might think it had to do with his mythical pitches, or perhaps his atypical arm slot, but in fact, it has a more obscure origin.
“Basically, it was recruiting thing,” the 21-year-old said. “I didn't commit until March of my senior year [of high school], so there was a lot of going back and forth. They had meetings every month, and at one point their coaching staff was like, ‘Is this guy even real? We keep hearing about him, but he’s not committing.’ So they said I was like a mythical creature, and it just kind of stuck over my college career.”
The Red Sox did not have the same problem, as they were able to lure him away from another year in college with a sizable bonus. In fact, he received the most money above his slot allotment of any draftee this year other than first-rounder Jason Groome, signing for a $637,500 bonus, $262,000 above slot.
Clearly, the Red Sox saw an opportunity to steal a talent in the middle of the draft’s second day when they selected Shawaryn. If the early results—and looks—are any indication, they may have done just that.
Photo credit: Mike Shawaryn by Maryland Athletics
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.