(This story is also published at Royals Farm Report.)
A quick overview on how this story came to be. I actually live in New Jersey about 15 minutes from where Panzini went to high school, and went to see him pitch twice this year knowing he was a draft prospect just for the heck of it.
Never did I envision the Royals would be the team to pick him, but that’s why I love the draft. You just never know how it’s going to play out. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic to have a local (for me) kid in the system and can’t wait to watch him progress through the minors.
— John Sorce (@John_Sorce) May 8, 2021
Shane Panzini started playing t-ball at age four or five and had dreams of playing professional baseball from an early age. His older brother Blaise, who would go onto pitch collegiately at Seton Hall, took him under his wing. The brothers found a love for the game that drives Shane to this day.
Blaise was a senior at Red Bank Catholic High School when Shane entered as a freshman. Having attended the school’s baseball camps, knowing the coach and watching his brother play, Shane knew it was the right fit for him.
Panzini was relatively new to pitching as he entered high school, he grew up wanting to hit homers in the big leagues, he says, but he pitched on the varsity team as a freshman and there was a fateful day that year. Against Middletown North (my alma mater, funnily enough) and Tyler Ras, who would go onto pitch at The University of Alabama and be drafted by the Rockies this year, he out-dueled the senior, 1-0, in front of a large group of scouts.
“That was kind of my first taste and I did pretty good that game,” Panzini said. “It was cool being a freshman and getting to throw in front of a bunch of scouts, you obviously want it to happen again so I just put the work in and sure enough, they were back for my senior year. It was pretty cool how it came full circle like that.”
Buddy Hausmann, Panzini’s high school coach, knew that day he had something special.
“I remember going up to his mom after the game and told her then he’s not going to college,” Hausmann said. “She didn’t believe it and was adamant about her son getting a college education. We joke about that to this day and I even mentioned it to her at his draft party.
“I told some scouts he was a kid they should keep an eye on. When I said he was only a freshman, they didn’t believe me. But as the game progressed, they were asking me what his name was and they knew they would be back to see him again in the coming years.”
Shane Panzini was officially on the map as a high school freshman.
“He’s very competitive, in a good way,” Hausmann said. “He has that edge to him where he just refuses to lose. That’s hard to teach and I saw it in him when he was a young kid. I knew he had that special something in him that’s just different.”
Panzini led Red Bank Catholic to its second ever Shore Conference title as a sophomore, where, as Hausmann says, he topped 90 on the radar gun for the first time during the final game. But going into his junior season that got canceled because of COVID, Hausmann said he saw Panzini really take a big step forward.
“We had one bullpen and intersquad going into his junior year and I could tell he got better,” Hausmann said. “Then we got the call that everything was put on hold, and that was the end of the season. But I could see it those few days and I saw the outing in Alabama (at Perfect Game National) where he was 95 and he was never below 95 in another outing. It was hard to lose a year of a kid like that because you just never know if you’re ever going to have a kid like that again.”
Panzini agrees and was grateful he had the opportunity to compete on the summer showcase circuit, where he performed in front of a lot of scouts. He competed at the East Coast Pro Showcase, the Area Code Games, and the Perfect Game All-American Game in addition to Perfect Game National.
“If we had a junior year I think (my hard work) would’ve shown for itself but luckily, I still had the chance to show it in the showcases,” Panzini said. “I went into every event last summer trying to put myself in the best spot for the draft the following year. I think I did a pretty good job of doing that and everything worked out pretty well.”
Panzini entered high school as a fastball-curve/slurve pitcher and started to develop his changeup in between his sophomore and would-be junior year. His slider started to come along right after he attended Perfect Game National in June.
“I came into high school fastball, curve/slurve and not really a changeup,” Panzini said. “I took my slurve and was able to distinguish two different breaking balls in the curve and my slider, which had a lot more movement. I also developed a changeup, which you need at the next level, going into my junior year which I was able to use that summer a decent amount.”
After performing on the summer showcase circuit, Hausmann figured there would be a lot of attention on his games this spring. He was proven correct on the morning of their first scrimmage.
“Our first intersquad game was during Easter Break at 9 am,” Hausmann said. “We pulled in at about 8:15 and there were already 15 scouts there and I knew this was real. He threw three innings that day and we had every MLB team there.”
What did Panzini make of all the attention from scouts?
“The best part for me was watching the reactions of my teammates,” Panzini said.
Hausmann agreed, saying “The kids loved it so much because he made it about them and not about him, which says a lot about the type of kid he is.”
Three things that stand out with Panzini on the mound are velocity, fastball command and a repeatable delivery.
“It’s effortless velocity,” Hausmann said. “He’s nice and smooth with a hard and heavy fastball. He really drives hard with his legs and lets his arm go for the ride. We actually had a conversation during the year that guys were getting too good of swings on 93-96 because he’s always over the plate. But that was a good problem to have because it’s hard to teach guys how to throw strikes.”
When it came to Draft Day, Panzini knew the Royals were interested but felt there were a few teams ahead of them. (He was supposed to fly to Kansas City for a pre-draft workout, but they mutually agreed to meet at the Draft Combine instead.) At the end of the day, it was Kansas City to meet his asking price of $1 million in the fourth round. The selection put an end to what was a unique draft experience because of COVID.
“The thing that made it so awkward this year with the draft process was everyone was wearing masks and no one was really interacting with each other at games,” Hausmann said. “While I had been texting with Casey (Fahy, Royals area scout) a decent amount, I joke with him that we still haven’t met in person and he’s the one that physically signed him. We’re hoping to meet up at some point to introduce each other. We had so many guys come and see Shane pitch this year that it was hard to recognize who was who from the dugout.”
Panzini officially signed with the Royals on July 19th and left for Arizona the next day. He said that things have been pretty smooth sailing since then, noting that the team does a really good job in making sure everything is taken care of. The Royals are taking things slow with their young arms, as he and fellow high school pitchers Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna have only been throwing bullpen sessions so far.
Royals fans are familiar with “waves” of talent coming through the system together. They will be happy to know that the four high school players taken early in this year’s draft hit it off right away.
“Me, Frank, Ben, and Carter (Jensen) are getting along really well,” Panzini said. “We pretty much do everything together. We get breakfast together and hang out all day at the complex. We get along really well and it’s a great atmosphere.”
Panzini and Jensen are rooming together in Arizona and when Jensen hit a walk-off homer in his first game, he made sure Panzini and the others knew about it. It’s that kind of camaraderie that you like to see from a group of friends that will hopefully be part of another winning wave in Kansas City.