Baseball – RBC’s Shane Panzini Set For Perfect Game All-American Classic
This is an updated version of an article published in July.
Like every baseball player in New Jersey and most players around the country, Shane Panzini did not get a chance to play for his high-school team this past spring when the scholastic season was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
That did not, however, stop Panzini - the rising senior ace at Red Ban Catholic - from making 2020 a memorable year for him on the mound.
Over the past several months, Panzini has impressed Major League scouts, climbed up various lists of 2021 MLB Draft prospects and on Friday will take part in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Oklahoma City.
Panzini is the second Shore Conference pitcher in the last six years to be named to the All-American Classic, with Barnegat alum and Boston Red Sox prospect Jay Groome pitching in the 2015 game before entering his senior season.
While unable to perform for the Caseys in the spring, Panzini took advantage of the time off by doing extra training and getting his throwing and pitching work in.
"It helped a lot," Panzini said of the work he in April, May and June. "I know a lot of kids said that they did a lot of work during the quarantine, but we were outside every day doing workouts. It really put me in a good position to keep making a good impression, so I'm just going to continue to do what I have been doing."
After missing his junior season with RBC due to the cancellation of the spring scholastic season in N.J. and around the country, Panzini got the invite to pitch in Hoover and shined in his two overpowering innings at the Perfect Game Showcase. The 6-foot-2 University of Virginia commit pitched the ninth and 10th innings of the showcase on June 17 and featured a fastball that topped out at 96 miles-per-hour – three miles-per-hour better than his maximum measured velocity before the tournament, according to RBC head coach Buddy Hausmann.
During the first inning of that outing, Panzini’s four-seam fastball ranged from 92-to-96, hitting 96 on the first pitch and once more later in the inning, 95 twice and 94 four times during the 17-pitch inning.
In the second inning, Panzini sat at 91 and 92 for another 17-pitch frame. He posted similar results in each of the two innings – 10 strikes out of 17 pitches, two strikeouts in both – and finished with 34 pitches (20 strikes), four strikeouts, one walk and no hits allowed.
While Panzini’s fastball velocity was the headline of his performance – and perhaps of the entire showcase – his breaking ball had the look of a plus offering as well. Throwing a hard curveball that ranged in the high 70’s to the low 80’s, he posted breaking ball spin-rates between 2,600 and 2,700 rotations per minute (RPM), according to the livestream of the event. An average spin-rate of 2,600 RPM on his breaking ball would rank in the top 25 among qualified starter pitchers in the Major Leagues for the 2019 season and 2,700 would rank right behind Max Scherzer (2,719) for 16th, according to MLB Statcast data.
During the second weekend of August, Panzini stood out again at a significant national showcase by striking out seven over three innings at the Area Code Games in Georgia.
"With the competition I am facing in Area Code and in the Perfect Game showcases, I can't just expect to dominate with the fastball like I can in a lot of the high-school games," Panzini said. "I've really been trying to become a true four-pitch pitcher with the fastball, curve, slider and changeup and I feel like I have made really good progress."
The showcase performance continues Panzini’s fast climb toward national notoriety for his pitching. He finished off a dominant sophomore season at Red Bank Catholic in 2019 with a one-hit shutout in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game and promptly announced his non-binding verbal commitment to play at Virginia within the next week.
“I committed the day before we left school,” Panzini said. “It was a big weight off my shoulders going into that summer. I could feel free to just pitch and not have to worry about trying to impress everybody or having coaches coming to talk to me. I went to Georgia with my travel team and pitched well and Jupiter was the best thing. We were playing a team with all guys going to ACC/SEC schools and every single scout was there. I went 4 innings, and it was just so much fun. Everything was on and it was my top velo."
This past winter, Panzini was selected to participate in the Major League Baseball Player Development Pipeline, which recognized 80 of the top players in the high school Class of 2021 and invited them to a showcase in Santa Clara, California. That event has since been canceled, but it has not prevented his stock from soaring ahead of his senior season. Following his ace’s performance in Alabama, RBC head coach Buddy Hausmann has been fielding frequent emails and calls from Major League scouts looking for information about when Panzini is pitching and how to watch him in action during a time in which competition is still sparse.
Panzini said he pitched a game in July with his 9ers Baseball Club travel team just to get work in and watched as 15-to-20 scouts gathered behind home plate at a Hunterdon County field to watch him. According to Panzini, he hit a personal best 97 miles-per-hour with his fastball, which he found out in talking with some of the scouts after his outing.
During the second week of July, Panzini was tentatively scheduled to pitch for RBC’s entrant in the Last Dance World Series High School Tournament, but Hausmann erred on the side of caution knowing that Panzini’s selection to the Perfect Game All-American game was imminent.
“If he went out there and pulled something of came up with a sore arm, I would have a hard time looking the kid in the eye,” Hausmann said. “We’re not talking about $10,000 here. I have had scouts tell me he has a shot to be a first-rounder if he keeps doing what he’s doing at these showcases. You’re talking big-time money.”
Since the end of his All-Shore sophomore season, Panzini has begun to follow a serious weight-training regimen for the first time and was up to 93 miles-per-hour in the summer fall of 2019 and in bullpen sessions leading up to the start of high-school practice. He spent the leadup to Wednesday’s showcase training at home with his brothers and throwing with older brother Blaise and RBC senior catcher Chris Sparber. Blaise Panzini just completed his sophomore year at Seton Hall University, where he pitches for the Pirates.
“It’s been great to have Blaise and Sparber to throw to,” Shane Panzini said. “Blaise and I push each other and help each other out a lot and Sparber is like the hardest worker around. He’s always hitting or catching a bullpen. I was super-bummed when they stopped the season because I know how pumped he was to have a big year. I was almost looking more forward to watching him hit this year than I was to pitch.”
Panzini has also put an emphasis on repeating his mechanics to better locate his pitches while also looking to refine his curveball and changeup – the latter of which he flashed on occasion during Wednesday’s outing. While Panzini’s numbers – a 0.66 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 53 innings – reflected a dominant pitcher, his 29 walks and corresponding walk rate of 3.83 per seven innings represent some room for improvement.
“His breaking ball is much, much better this year and his changeup has really come along and his ability to locate everything is definitely improved,” Hausmann said. “There were times last year when he would lose his command or maybe start overthrowing but from what I’ve seen so far, he has been spotting everything.”
At the same time, Panzini was also incredibly difficult to hit, posting the best hits-per-seven-innings mark in the Shore Conference last season (2.64 or 20 in 53 innings). Former RBC catcher Doug Facendo, who spent the past two seasons playing at Texas Tech, has been helping out Hausmann as a coach and has been a particularly useful source of feedback for Panzini.
“The most important thing Doug said was in college, at Division I, everyone hitter can hit 95,” Panzini said. “There are guys who threw harder than I do who get hit around. They were throwers instead of pitchers. Control separates the good from greats. Going into the summer, I had to lean on my changeup more and get my breaking ball over because the hitters I’m facing – they can hit 92 every time.”
“Doug caught him and he said, ‘Buddy, he is a top-three-round pick,” Hausmann said. “I’ve seen the best of the best in the college game and he is just as good as what I saw.”
It remains to be seen how Panzini’s amped-up arsenal would have played in a high-school season or even against N.J. high-school competition in the Last Dance. It is also possible that a potential 2021 high-school season in N.J. could be in jeopardy given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its impact on schools.
It is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Panzini has already thrown his last pitch for RBC, and yet, he has found a way to continue to improve and make the right people take notice.
"There's definitely an advantage to this schedule," Panzini said. "I know exactly when I'm going to pitch so I can plan my workouts around that. I still miss high-school ball and I'm really looking forward to getting back out there next spring with my friends for RBC. There's definitely a different feel to it with the scouts, but I have been pretty good about blocking it out. They are just people, like anybody else."