Swift-climbing Orioles lefty prospect Tanner Scott opening eyes around baseball

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Could Tanner Scott be in line for another big leap in the Orioles system in 2016?

A season that began with Tanner Scott unassigned out of spring training and ended with the baseball world buzzing about his high-90s fastball from the left side in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League wasn't too big of a leap for the Orioles pitching prospect.

His coach at Howard Junior College (Texas) is sure of it, because he witnessed the first time when too much, too soon might have overwhelmed Scott.

Scott arrived in the small Texas town of Big Spring with a 90-mph fastball and a pitching motion that left him cripplingly sore after every game. He ended his one season there, thanks to the development of a cleaner delivery, throwing pain-free and hitting 98 mph in the seventh inning of a playoff game.

"I thought he handled it well," Howard coach Britt Smith said. "He was the same guy throwing 98, 99 as he was when he got here, personality-wise and off the field. I don't think he ever changed who he was. That's important."

For Scott, who could get fast-tracked to the major league bullpen and whose stock rose further than perhaps any pitcher in the Orioles' low minors last year, that big jump in 2014 at Howard mirrored his jump in 2015.

By including him on the January minicamp roster, where the major league coaches get to know young pitchers they might use during the season, Scott could be in line for another big leap. Judging by how he handled his first two, he'll know how to handle it.

Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace said last month that he noticed right away how the ball came out of the 6-foot-2 lefty's hand, just as Smith did after he watched Scott play catch for the first time.

"I came back and told my assistant, 'If we can get him cleaned up before he blows out, we're going to have something,'" Smith said.

Scott was all arm before that, part of the reason he dealt with debilitating soreness after he pitched. His arm effort threw off the rest of his timing, and his command suffered — he walked 47 in 37 1/3 innings at Notre Dame College (Ohio) in 2013. His arm action limited him to a loopy breaking ball.

"He was always trying to muscle the baseball and do things that way," Smith said. "We got his delivery a little more efficient. He got a little more on line, he got a little more consistent in his timing and the velocity really jumped."

Scott jumped into the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball, complemented it with a hard slider and developing changeup. With improved control, "by the end of the year, his last six or seven outings, he was as good as anyone in the country in my opinion," Smith said.

The Orioles signed him away from a commitment to Texas Tech with a $650,000 bonus as a sixth-round draft pick in 2014, but control issues followed him. He struck out a batter per inning in the Gulf Coast League that year, but walked 20 in 23 innings and finished the season with a 6.26 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP.

In 2015, Scott was held back in Sarasota, Fla., in extended spring training until the Short-A Aberdeen IronBirds began their season. He wasn't long for the New York-Penn League.

He held opponents to a .211 batting average in 21 1/3 innings, with 31 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP before a promotion to Low-A Delmarva. There, Scott posted a similarly high strikeout rate — 29 in 21 innings — and showed enough promise that he was a late assignee to the Arizona Fall League.

Scott threw nine innings in eight appearances for the Peoria Javelinas, striking out 10, walking five and allowing two earned runs on six hits. He was one of four pitchers named to the league's All-Prospect team.

"It's unusual [they sent me], but I'm glad they gave me the opportunity to go out there and show what I'm made of," Scott said. "The hitters were definitely better than the Aberdeen and Delmarva level, so you really have to know how to pitch to them."

He did more than show the Orioles. His electric arm gained buzz in the scouting community, and websites that follow minor league player development touted him as a future late-inning reliever.

The buzz led friends back in Ohio to constantly update Scott on what analysts and scouts were saying about him. He said it's "hard not to" notice the attention, and it at times got "bizarre."

"I just try to stay within myself and keep doing me instead of listening to the outside world telling me that and getting a big head," Scott said. "I want to keep my head small."

Often, teams will develop even sure-fire relievers as starting pitchers for as long as they can, getting them plenty of innings to develop their arsenal. Scott, who made two spot starts with Delmarva last season, doesn't mind working as a reliever who goes multiple innings for the time being.

"I'm a hard-throwing lefty," Scott said. "That's what I've got going. That's always a plus out of the bullpen."

Smith said he believes it's Scott's fastest way to Baltimore, noting the changing philosophy in baseball that took teams from drafting starters to saying, "Hey, we can get this guy in the major league bullpen in two years, and probably have him for four before we even have to think about a contract."

"You look at how the game's changed in the last five, six years," Smith said. "This year, the playoff season, there's not a single guy who comes out of the bullpen throwing less than 95."

Wallace watched closely as the young left-hander threw a side session from the bullpen mound in Sarasota at the January pitching minicamp.

He recognized what he was seeing in Scott's talents. But as a veteran major league coach who has seen his share of prospect comets burn out before they contributed to the major league team, noted just how far Scott has left to come.

"There's so much more to it," Wallace said. "Long toss, mound, spring training, lights on, real season — what happens? You've learned over the years that you can get real excited, but you've got to kind of corral that a little bit because reality will set in later on and you hope it's good. But you never know."

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