Interview with Michel Baez: Cuban Fireballer Assesses His Performance

Credit: Ryan Cox

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Credit: Ryan Cox FWA Sports Photo

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Michel Baez (ME-shell Bye-ez) has been lighting up radar guns and regularly sending batters back to the dugout since arriving in the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Baez, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound Cuban right-hander, hit 98 mph in his first outing July 4 with the Fort Wayne TinCaps. A Parkview Field crowd of 9,266 saw the 21-year-old fan nine Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians) while walking none in five innings.

After going 1-0 with seven strikeouts and two walks in his only 2017 outing with the Arizona League Padres, Baez has 61 K’s and five walks in 41 2/3 innings in seven starts with Fort Wayne. His earned run average with the TinCaps is 1.73. His WHIP is 0.74.

Baez, who went to the Dominican Republic from Cuba and signed last winter as as international free agent, was dominant in his first six MWL starts.

In his last outing Aug. 13 against Bowling Green, he gave up seven hits and five earned runs with five strikeouts and one walk in a home loss against the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays). East Village Times caught up with Baez (through interpreter and bilingual teammate Jose Galindo) and also got impressions of the tall fireballer from Fort Wayne pitching coach Burt Hooton. Through Galindo, Baez said the he knows his fastball is special and it’s going to help get hitters out in Low-A ball. Most can’t consistently catch up to it — something he learned in regular and extended spring training in Arizona.

Baez, who said he had a minor back injury in the spring, estimates that 80 percent of his pitches are his two-seam heater.

“Right now, I’m just letting him pitch,” Hooton said. “I’m not doing a whole lot with him. I don’t see the need to do a whole lot with him yet. He’s going to eventually need a curveball, change-up, and a slider. It’ll be my mission to show him how to throw them. I want him to know why it’s good when it’s good with each one of those pitches.”

Credit: Journal Gazette

Working with trainers, Baez said he has gotten stronger.

Baez told Galindo that he needs to be more in-sync with his body, which will translate to his mound delivery. Being so tall and throwing from a high arm angle, Baez tends to get many pitches going on a downward plane. “He knows that arm angle is dominating,” Galindo said. “It’s so tough for the hitter to pick that up.”

What about his other pitches?

Baez said he feels comfortable with his changeup, and calls it his second-best pitch behind his fastball. He is working to improve his curveball and slider along with location.

“It’s like anybody, you need to pitch down first,” Hooton said. “He can pitch there as long as he has good life on the fastball. But not 100 percent of the fastballs are going to have life (getting on the hitters quicker). You can throw 90 mph and have life on it and they will have a hard time squaring it up. You can throw 100 mph and it be dead as a door nail and they won’t have any trouble at all barreling it.”

Of the 26 hits Baez has allowed, five of those have gone for home runs. Two of those were in the last rotation turn against Bowling Green.

While being away from his family and friends in his hometown of Mayabeque, Cuba, for about two years has been hard, the blow has been softened by having three other Cubans on the Fort Wayne roster — pitchers Ronald Bolanos and Adrian Morejon and outfielder Jorge Ona.

“It’s great having them around,” Galindo said. “It’s very home-like.”

Telephone calls are the main means of communication with his family in Cuba, who he hopes to someday bring to the U.S.

Since coming here, Baez has grasped that he needs to work his way up the ladder to get to the big leagues.

“All the tools and talent is there,” Hooton said. “He’s a good competitor. He competes on every pitch, which is something you don’t teach.

“He’s young, he’s smart, and he wants to be good.”

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