The starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians is set for years to come with four of their five starters being under the age of 25.
The Cleveland Indians have struggled offensively this year, but despite that they are still hanging around the playoff conversation of the American League. There’s really one reason that for that and it’s the Indians’ pitching.
While the bullpen has been solid for most of the season as well, the starting pitching has been the lifeblood of the Tribe and the reason for most of their wins. The best part of the Indians’ rotation is that the group consists of four starters who are 25 or younger with a slew of other young prospects in waiting to fill the final spot in the rotation.
We’ll start at the top with Shane Bieber. At 25, Bieber is the favorite for the AL Cy Young and a candidate for the MVP as well. So far this year Bieber has been pacing the unit with an incredible strikeout rate that is historic in more ways than one. After reaching 102 strikeouts in just 10 starts, Bieber is averaging 14.2 strikeouts per nine.
On top of that, Bieber has an MLB-best 1.53 ERA and seven wins. This is now Bieber’s third season in the majors and he has continued to show progression each year. The Indians have been known for their top starting pitchers of late and Bieber might be the best of the bunch.
Moving through the rotation, we come to Aaron Civale who is the second of the three members of the 2016 draft class. While Civale hasn’t been as dominant as Bieber this season, he’s shown potential and in ways been the perfect compliment to Bieber in the rotation.
While Civale doesn’t register strikeout after strikeout, having just 56 strikeouts over nine starts, he is still an effective starter on the mound. Civale’s ERA has jumped up a bit of late, now at 3.88, but bumps in the road are expected in development.
Even with the jump in ERA, Civale has still managed to record his first career complete game and decrease his walks per nine while increasing his strikeouts per nine. Overall, his development is still in progress and trending the right way.
The third piece of the rotation for years to come in Cleveland is the third member of the 2016 draft class, Zach Plesac. After a small blip this season in Chicago that turned into a trip down to Lake County, Plesac has returned to form for the Tribe and has quickly emerged as one of the top pitchers on the team.
For Plesac, he has been able to keep his ERA down at 2.20 over six starts, which is a pretty solid number had it not been shadowed by Bieber’s success. Additionally, Plesac has been able to keep his WHIP at 0.78 and his walks per nine at 0.7. If he can continue his development, Plesac might end up being as good as Bieber down the road.
The final starter in the Indians’ rotation that should be a long-time mainstay is 2020 call-up Triston McKenzie. A highly touted prospect, McKenzie made his debut earlier this season and didn’t disappoint. With a larger sample size, we’ve been able to better grasp what McKenzie brings to the table.
With now five starts for the Tribe, McKenzie has proven to be as advertised coming up through the system. A first round pick by Cleveland in 2015, McKenzie came straight out of high school and is just 23 years old.
So far, McKenzie holds a 3.91 ERA while averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Over 25.1 innings pitched he’s been able to log 33 strikeouts and maintain a 0.78 WHIP, which is nearly identical to Plesac.
The framework that Plesac and McKenzie have both demonstrated is on a similar track of what Bieber showed early in his career. Throw in Civale’s ground ball mentality and the Indians have a very strong and solid core to their starting rotation with all four being 25 or younger.
The final and fifth piece could come from a variety of places. On the Cleveland Indians’ Top 30 prospect list according to MLB.com, there are 11 pitchers that have yet to hit the major leagues. Now, not all with be starters, but with guys like Joey Cantillo, Scott Moss, Daniel Espino and Ethan Hankins on the list, there is a good chance at least one of them will be ready soon to take over the fifth starting spot whenever Carlos Carrasco is ready to give it up, giving the Cleveland Indians what will be one of the best, and youngest, rotations in all of baseball.