Beyond the more obvious impact of the pandemic shutdown on our daily lives, baseball has had to rethink the way it does things. One of those is the shift in scouting from a phalanx of radar guns in high school stands and belly-to-belly meetings at the kitchen table to Zoom calls and Twitter videos with embedded velocity readings from Pocket Radar.
There had already been momentum in that direction long before the world hit the pause button, but both necessity and a little ingenuity from Rob Friedman pressed fast forward on scouting. Better known as Pitching Ninja to the Twitter-literate, Friedman’s Flatground Pitching initiative is “Harnessing the power of social media to break down barriers & prevent pitchers from falling thru the cracks.”
Uncommitted high school, juco, and professional pitchers will tag Pitching Ninja and Flatground (there’s also a Flatground Bats movement for hitters) to gain greater exposure and land a roster spot at the next level. That was the case for 26-year-old lefty Alex Katz, a 27th-round pick by the White Sox in 2015 who knocked around in the minors for parts of four seasons with the Sox and Orioles, never pitching past High-A.
Katz pitched briefly for the independent Long Island Ducks in 2019 but obviously missed last season due to the shutdown and was still looking to continue his dream up until recently. You’d think finding a job wouldn’t be all that difficult for a southpaw who sits mid-90’s with the fastball and boasts a 3.95 ERA with 9.16 K/9 in the minors, but those cracks can get pretty wide when you’re past 25 and haven’t gotten past the lower levels.
So Katz enlisted the help of Pitching Ninja and Flatground to get the word out.
Alex Katz- LHP looking to sign with an affiliated team
Career MiLB- 200.1 ip, 3.95 era, 9.16 k/9
FB: 93-96: 1700-1950 avg spin rate
SL: 82-86: 2600 avg spin rate
CU: 81-83: 1400 avg spin rate@PitchingNinja @FlatgroundApp
Rapsodo Data Available pic.twitter.com/rTqZpjCbeh
— Alex Katz (@kittyelgato12) March 4, 2021
Rather than present this as some sort of latter-day fairy tale, it’s important to note how the age-old adage that it’s about who you know still holds very true here. Katz pitched for Team Isreal in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and became a dual citizen in 2018 so that he could help Israel qualify for and play in the 2021 Summer Olympics. As it just so happens, Cubs rehab pitching coordinator Josh Zeid also pitched for Israel in the 2017 WBC and obtained dual citizenship in order to pitch in the Olympics.
Of course, the Cubs aren’t signing someone just because he threw a few sexy pitches in a bullpen or because one of their staff members pitched with him in an international competition once upon a time. Those are, however, ways to be noticed and to get your foot in the door at a time when massive reductions across Minor League Baseball have drastically reduced the number of spots for would-be prospects.
— Alex Katz (@kittyelgato12) April 30, 2021
As Bleacher Nation’s Bryan Smith surmised, Katz’s commitment to Team Israel could make him more of a 2022 option for the Cubs system. Israel has a training camp in May, followed by Olympic qualifying and the games themselves, so Katz could miss most of the ’21 season. However things end up working out, this is an interesting case study in the way baseball is going to work moving forward.
Even with further relaxation of COVID protocols across the sport and world in general, organizations are always looking for the next competitive advantage. They’re generally looking to cut unnecessary costs wherever they can, which is a much more unfortunate byproduct of these changes. But since the Cubs have already made sweeping cuts to scouting and baseball operations, you can guarantee stories like this will become far more common in time.