Coming off of a sensational 2017 campaign, will Cleveland Indians prospect Shane Bieber continue to rise up the minor league ranks in 2018?
Drafted by the Indians in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of UC Santa Barbara, Bieber took the New York-Pennsylvania League by storm with the Scrappers, allowing just one earned run and 12 base runners (0.50 WHIP) in 24 innings pitched.
Starting the season with Class-A Lake County, Bieber showcased his notorious pinpoint control by walking just one batter in five starts (29 innings). Paired with 31 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA, the right-hander was promoted to Lynchburg where he spent a majority of his 2018 season.
As a Hillcat, Bieber made 14 starts and walked four batters – yes, four batters! – in 90 innings. Bieber would go on to finish his season in Akron, where he sported an impressive 2.32 ERA in nine starts.
Overall, Bieber walked just 10 of the 698 batters he faced in 2018 across all three levels. Or, just 1.4 percent of batters faced. In comparison, Josh Tomlin, another pitcher known for a low walk rate, walked 2.4 percent of batters faced in 2017.
Unlike Tomlin, another strength in Bieber’s game is his ability to induce ground balls. According to FanGraphs, Bieber had a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.93 in Lynchburg and 1.81 in Akron last year. In Tomlin’s big-league career, for comparison’s sake once again, the veteran has an exact 1.00 GB/FB ratio.
As a result of his high ground ball percentage, Bieber also kept the ball in the park successfully, allowing just eight home runs over 173.1 total innings in 2017. While Bieber may draw comparisons to Tomlin due to low walk rates, it is not a just comparison once you dig deeper into the stat sheet.
Bieber will begin the season with the RubberDucks in 2018, but he may want to keep his suitcase packed because a promotion to Columbus may be soon to follow if his April looks anything like his 2017 Eastern League performance.
Will Bieber Impact the 2018 Tribe?
Although Bieber’s 2017 season was impressive throughout his three stops, the right-hander will need either a rash of injuries or nearly flawless performances in both Akron and Columbus to have a chance at finding a way into an impressive Cleveland starting rotation. There are simply too many talented arms in Cleveland at the moment.
Bieber’s most likely impact on the big league squad may come in the form of trade bait, as his control, high ground ball percentages and statistical success may intrigue a team in a deal that lands the Tribe an impact player at the deadline. However, the Indians may be wise to hold onto Bieber and ship a more well-known name facing arbitration, such as Danny Salazar, to better the long-term future of the team.
When Will Bieber Arrive in Cleveland?
If Bieber survives the deadline it is still unlikely he would crack the rotation at the big league level next season if player personnel remains the same, with five of the six current Tribe starting pitcher candidates (Tomlin is a free agent next summer) under contract through 2019.
Yet no matter what team’s jersey Bieber may be flaunting, the right-hander has a strong chance to someday become a regular part of a big league rotation.
Cleveland ETA: 2020