Riding his pinpoint control, right-handed starter Shane Bieber is the first of only two pitchers in our Cleveland Indians 2018 top prospect list, coming in at number 8.
Shane Bieber joined the Cleveland Indians as a fourth-round pick in 2016 out of UC Santa Barbara, where he helped lead the school to its first-ever College World Series appearance. The 22-year-old right-hander stands 6’3″ and weighs 195 pounds. He had a busy 2017 season, beginning the year at Class-A Lake County before a promotion to Advanced-A Lynchburg and even finishing the year all the way at Double-A Akron. He was the biggest rising pitcher on my list, climbing all the way from 19th last spring.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The biggest strength of Shane Bieber is without a double his control. He walked just ten batters in 2017 in 173 1/3 innings…TEN!! And hell, of those ten, two were intentional walks! And Bieber wasn’t one of those control guys that is simply around the plate and gets hit a lot, he also racked up quite a few strikeouts in 2017 with 162, or just under one per inning. That, combined with the walk rate, gave him an eye-popping 16.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year across his three levels. He proving to be more than simply a Josh Tomlin clone.
Beiber was able to accomplish this thanks to a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s and a deep mix of secondary pitches. His curveball is the best secondary pitch while he also throws a good slider and change-up. None of the three secondary pitches are to be confused as plus pitches but he’s able to throw and command all three well enough that it keeps hitters off balance. The fastball has been his best pitch and it’s gained some zip since coming out of college and is the biggest reason for his jump.
At this point, there really isn’t a lot to say negatively about Bieber after a 2.86 ERA season over 28 starts. His last name is definitely a 20-grade name but can’t truly fault him for that. There is maybe some concern over how better hitters will handle him being around the plate so much. His batting average on balls in play was higher in 2017 and batters can hit him at times. He may need to learn that a few extra walks at times aren’t always a bad thing…
Where does he go from here?
There’s really not much more Shane Bieber can do to improve in 2018. Would be hard pressed to see that walk rate get even lower but I’m sure Beiber will try. He will turn 23 in May and when the offseason started I figured he’d be spending that back at Double-A Akron in the RubberDucks’ rotation. However, a few injuries to rotation guys ahead of him in Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson, and Julian Merryweather have potentially opened the door for him to see Triple-A Columbus sooner than expected.
The Indians could play it conservative and let him get his work in at Akron still, as he does only have nine starts at the level. He’s already shown the ability to carry a heavy workload as his 173 1/3 innings last year was tops among all minor leaguers. Even if he starts back at Akron (my personal preference for him), Bieber has put himself squarely in a position to potentially help the big league club as soon as this season. We saw Ryan Merritt come out of nowhere in 2016 to help in the playoffs and Bieber has even better control than him.
Ideally, the Cleveland Indians would leave Bieber in the minors all year, but he’s gone from good prospect to very good prospect that is all but certain to help a big league club. He easily could have been in the top five this year but he’s a tad older than all the others and I’d like to see how his stuff plays at the upper levels. He’s clearly positioned himself as the second-best pitcher in the system though and looks like he’s at least a Tomlin-like pitcher, with the potential for more.