Detroit — Try as it might, baseball has not defeated Logan Shore or killed his dream. Not even close. You could rightly argue that all the potholes, hurdles and trap doors the game has put in his path have emboldened and strengthened him.
“I feel like the last couple of years have been just crappy situation after crappy situation with the timing of everything,” Shore said Wednesday from his home outside of Phoenix.
There was the pandemic, of course, which effectively shut down his 2020 season and delayed the start of the minor league calendar last season. Then, as he was making strides at Triple-A Toledo last season and the Tigers’ starting rotation was reeling from a series of injures, a forearm strain cost him essentially six weeks and his best chance to date of making his big-league debut.
“It seems like right when things are getting going and I’m making adjustments and I’m on the right track, something happens that’s completely out of my control,” he said. “That’s just part of baseball. It’s part of life.”
Shore, a right-handed starting pitcher acquired by the Tigers before the 2019 season from Oakland for Mike Fiers, is 27 years old. Beyond his prospect years. And though he has been knocking hard on the big-league door the last two years and coming off arguably the best season of his professional career, he is not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster.
While he was posting a 7-3 record with a 3.95 ERA, going 5-1 after Aug. 1 holding hitters to a .219 average in his last 10 starts, the Tigers called up older pitchers like Drew Hutchison and Erasmo Ramirez. They called up prospect Matt Manning, whom Shore was outperforming at Triple A.
Back in November, the Tigers placed right-handed pitching prospects Elvin Rodriguez and Angel De Jesus on the 40-man roster. Not Shore, who will thus head to Lakeland in two weeks to participate in the Tigers’ minor-league mini-camp hoping to earn a ticket to big-league camp, which likely will be delayed by the current lockout.
“You can sit here all day and look at depth charts and you’re going to drive yourself wild,” Shore said. “I know what I need to do. I did it last year. I know I can go to the big leagues, pitch well and help the team win. I know I can. At this point it’s just about being in the right place at the right time.
“I am off the roster, but look at Drew Hutchison last year (a non-roster player who got called up). There is a need for guys not on the 40-man roster. There’s always going to be turnover. There’s going to be opportunity. For me, it’s being ready when that opportunity arises.”
A lesser man could not persevere through these setbacks with the grace Shore has shown these last couple of years. A lesser man would not be as quick to see them not as setbacks but as challenges and opportunities for growth — to see them merely as part of his path.
“It’s just using crummy situations to your advantage,” Shore said. “That’s really the name of the game when it comes to baseball because so much of baseball is just unknowns. You have to be able to adjust and change on the fly and accept things that are outside your comfort zone.”
Fish out of water
Accepting things outside his comfort zone? That’s been a way of life for Logan Shore.
He showed up on the campus of the University of Florida in 2014 trekking southeast from Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Fish out of water, much? The Gators back then didn’t recruit many players from the Midwest, especially kids who spent their winters playing hockey and dabbling in Nordic skiing. He and current Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) were the only outsiders with scholarships; they roomed together for three years.
Before every season, the Gators coaching staff asked the players to anonymously rank every player on the team from best to worst. Shore, before his freshman season, wasn’t even ranked among the top 10 pitchers on the team.
They had no clue. But by the end of the season, he was the Gators’ starter in the opening game of the NCAA regional and was the team’s Friday night starter his sophomore and junior seasons.
He was drafted in the second round by the Athletics in 2016 and paid a $1.5 million signing bonus. But after climbing to Double A in two years, pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2017, he was traded to the Tigers in the fall of 2018.
Which was, initially, another pothole for him, another trip outside his comfort zone.
That pitching staff he joined at Double-A Erie in 2019 featured the Tigers’ top prospects — Manning, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and, at the end of the year, Joey Wentz.
No room at the inn for Shore, who was relegated to the bullpen and spot starts.
“I’d been a starter my whole career,” he said. “I’d made one relief appearance, my freshman year at Florida. But looking back, as much as I hated it and wanted to be in the rotation and was just not happy with where I was at, that was one of the best things that could’ve ever happened to me.
“Because now I understand what it’s like to be in the bullpen.”
Lemons to lemonade. Who knows what will happen in 2022? Did Michael Fulmer ever expect he’d end up a late-inning reliever? Did Alex Lange? Who can day Shore’s opportunity won’t come as a bullpen arm?
“I don’t know what they’re going to need, but I just want to be an option for whatever they do need,” he said.
Crafting a new identity
That experience at Erie changed the course of Shore’s career. It forced him to change his identity as a pitcher.
“I figured out what I needed to do,” he said. “I realized I needed to completely change who I was as a pitcher if I wanted to make it to the big leagues.”
First off, he scrapped his two-seam sinker, which with his change-up had been effective weapons for him. He realized he has above average spin on his four-seam fastball and saw how effective it could be at the top of the strike zone.
Second, he changed the grip on his money pitch — the change-up. He went from a four-seam grip to a two-seam grip. Just like that, what had been a pitch that floated horizontally away from left-handed hitters was now staying in the zone with plummeting sinking action.
Lastly, he modified his slider, throwing it harder (from low-80s to mid-80s) and getting more of a cutter-action on it.
“That offseason I got involved with Driveline (renowned baseball facility near Seattle) trying to develop a better routine,” he said. “If I started throwing harder, that would be a great by-product of what I was doing. But that wasn’t really the focus.
“It was more of what I was doing with the baseball that needed to change.”
The velocity on the four-seam did, in fact, tick up. In his first live batting practice in spring training of 2020, he was pumping 94-mph heaters.
But of course, just as he was opening some eyes at the big-league level, the pandemic hit. Another trap door, another test of Shore’s unshakeable faith.
“I was pitching on the major-league side, throwing well, feeling good and then everything got shut down,” he said. “But I was like, this is great from the standpoint of, how many times in your career do you get to feel good, be throwing well, your arm built up to full capacity, and then you get to go home and just train?
“That never happens.”
Why was that a good thing? Shore explained:
“You usually make your adjustments in the offseason, but that isn’t always easy because your arm isn’t fully built up to game capacity,” he said. “I spent the entire summer working out, throwing off the mound every five days, just like my routine in the season.”
Every five days in 100-degree temperatures in the desert, Shore would throw five-inning, 90-pitch bullpens, simulating a game. He’d visualize hitters, track balls and strikes, even sit down between innings. Again, in 100-degree temperatures.
He was rewarded with an invite to the Tigers’ alternate site in Toledo later in the summer.
“I really believe that propelled me to having such a great year last year,” he said. “I was able to fully lock in and get used to all the adjustments I had made.”
Silver lining playbook
There was another silver lining to the pandemic for Shore. He’d married Katie in October and the two got to break in their marriage without the serious inconvenience of a minor-league baseball season to work around.
“It was great,” he said. “We got to honeymoon in Greece before the pandemic hit and then I got to come home. It was a crappy situation from a baseball standpoint, but it was an amazing situation from a marriage standpoint. I feel super lucky to spend the first year of our marriage at home with her and figuring out life together.”
Katie Shore is a speech pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale who, along with his deep faith in God, Logan credits for his ability to roll with all of baseball’s punches.
“I’m extremely blessed to have her,” he said. “Making no money and playing minor-league baseball can be tough and stressful at times. She’s been pulling the weight for us financially. She’s been a huge blessing.”
Shore believes last season was his breakthrough year. The transformation he undertook in the winter of 2020 was mostly complete. His four-seamer by the end of the year was consistently ringing 92-94 mph and sitting at 93. He’s always been a strike-thrower and with his two secondary pitches approaching big-league status — well, he’s as confident and ready as he’s ever been to test himself at the highest level of the sport.
He can only hope the test is administered.
The first four spots in the Tigers’ rotation are set, at least heading into spring training — Eduardo Rodriguez, Mize, Skubal and Manning. Tyler Alexander slots in as the fifth starter right now, but the Tigers likely will pursue at least one more veteran free agent.
Shore is in a pack of pitchers vying to start at Triple-A Toledo and be Nos. 6-11 on the depth chart that includes roster players Rony Garcia, Wentz, Faedo and Elvin Rodriquez, plus non-roster players Reese Olson, Paul Richan, Garrett Hill and Ricardo Pinto.
“When you are a Christian and have faith in Jesus, that’s really the key for me no matter what happens in life,” Shore said. “Whether I’m playing baseball or doing something else, it’s all about glorifying Him and that’s what really puts me at ease. … All I can control is being a good influence on others, being a good teammate and preparing myself to the best of my ability.
“If I get up to the big leagues next year, if I get that opportunity, obviously that’s what I’ve been working my whole life for. It would be a dream come true. But it’s out of my control at that point.”