1st pick Baz celebrates 18th b-day by signing

Assigned to Rookie-level Pirates, Texas prep righty says playing pro ball 'means everything'

1st pick Baz celebrates 18th b-day by signing

PITTSBURGH -- A day before turning 18, Shane Baz officially began the professional career he's dreamed of since he was 3 years old.

"I might have the best 18th birthday of all time," Baz said. "I don't know what more anyone could ask for than something like this."

Less than a week after calling his name with the 12th overall pick in the MLB Draft, the Pirates officially signed Baz on Friday afternoon. Baz and his family made their first trip to Pittsburgh and toured the city, with plans to celebrate Baz's signing -- and his 18th birthday -- before the right-hander heads south to start pitching for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

The Pirates introduced Baz during a news conference at PNC Park. His family was in attendance: father Raj, mother Tammy and sister Mariah. For Tammy, the moment brought to mind images of a much younger boy than the one who dominated high school hitters and shot up Draft boards.

"Before he could walk, he could throw a baseball straight to me," Tammy said. "He had a little toy baseball. He's always been that way."

Baz was drafted in the first round out of Concordia Lutheran (Texas) High School. He agreed to a $4.1 million signing bonus, according to an industry source, more than the $4,032,000 assigned to the 12th overall pick and enough to convince Baz to begin his pro career and break his commitment to Texas Christian University.

Huntington on signing Shane Baz

"Education is very important, but the bottom line is it's his life and he's got to make his own decisions," Raj said. "We're going to pick him up if he stumbles, no matter what happens. He kind of took it down to the wire. He wanted to kind of weigh all his options. This was just an amazing opportunity with a great organization."

The entire Baz family spoke glowingly about their initial dealings with the Pirates, from area scouting supervisor Wayne Mathis to general manager Neal Huntington. Baz was particularly impressed by Pittsburgh's development system. His parents live a short drive away from The Woodlands, Texas, hometown of Jameson Taillon, the last high school pitcher the Pirates took with their first Draft pick and now a key piece of their rotation.

"They have really proved their development to be as good as anybody's," Baz said.

Soon, Baz will start the climb back to PNC Park. The 6-foot-3 right-hander will begin on the back fields of the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., and work through the Minor League system against the best hitters he's ever faced.

"From a baseball traits standpoint, he checked a lot of boxes for us. But as importantly, we want to understand the young man," Huntington said. "There's going to be some long, hard days, and it's not going to be easy. But we believe we can help him through that, and we believe he's got a great foundation that's been put in place by a wonderful family and by the hard work that he's put in."

Before the work begins, however, Baz has a birthday to celebrate. He'll be back Saturday night to watch the Pirates and Cubs, and he plans to spend the rest of the day with his family, looking for good restaurants and exploring the city he one day hopes to call home.

"It's already got my heart. I love it," Baz said. "Obviously this is a dream come true. I've wanted to play professional baseball since I was 3 or 4 years old. To have this dream come true, it means everything."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.