Cleveland Guardians' organizational starters that could replace Shane Bieber

Cleveland Guardians v Oakland Athletics
Cleveland Guardians v Oakland Athletics / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

Obviously, no pitcher in the Cleveland Guardians organization is going to replace Shane Bieber, with the possible exception of a healthy Gavin Williams. The team is likely going to have to piecemeal a tag team of former starters and long relievers to make up the innings every fifth day. And I don’t see the team making a snap decision to pull the trigger on a trade for a starter, given the price that that type of player tends to carry. 

So what’s the plan? I think Away Back Gone has already dished out the realistic internal and external options that the Guardians can seek out in order to fill that spot in the rotation, but why not dig a bit deeper into the organization to see who else could fill the void? After all, there’s a great chance that that fifth spot is going to be a rotating cast of whoever’s rested and doing well. Even after last year’s cascade of starting pitcher injuries, Bieber’s season-long absence might be the most important test of the state of the Cleveland Pitching Factory that’s been so highly touted over the last few years. 

Let’s start with the guys on the 40-man to make things easy, so Cleveland doesn’t have to DFA, release, or trade anyone. Lefty starter Joey Cantillo has steadily crept through the Guardians system after being acquired in the Mike Clevinger trade from the Padres. Currently ranked as the club’s No. 11 prospect, Cantillo has had issues finding the strike zone throughout his professional career. While he has a career 1.17 WHIP in six minor league seasons, he’s coming off a 20-game stint with Columbus last year, where his WHIP ballooned to 1.516.

Cantillo has added velocity to his fastball and has become known for his changeup, graded by as 60/80. He struck out a Guardians minor league-best 146 batters in 119.1 innings between Akron and Columbus in 2023 and certainly has enough time at the Triple-A level to be considered. The club might want him to work through a few starts with the Clippers before seeing where his walk rate is and making the call to the big leagues. 

Though he’s allowed eight earned runs and 10 hits in just 8.1 innings through two starts with Columbus, Will Dion might be another guy that gets a look, though he’s not on the 40-man. He’s already struck out 13 batters this season and was dominant with Lake County and Akron last year. If the club wants to opt for a lefty starter to replace Bieber, Dion is the most ready option. In 58 minor league appearances, he’s fanned 320 batters while walking just 80, holding opposing hitters to a .205 average. 

This is throwing a young kid into the fire type of a scenario, and he likely needs this season to develop against high-end batters with Columbus, but I could see Dion getting a call later in the season once his hit numbers subside. The case for him is obviously his statistics throughout the last three seasons, as he’s rocketed through the system with punishing stuff on the mound. 

If the club wants to opt for a more veteran option, they have Anthony Banda, who’s played in the majors for parts of the last seven seasons with seven different clubs. He, Connor Gillispie, and Hunter Stanley, both essentially organizational pieces, would be last-ditch options that could pick up spot starts depending on timing or could work a second game of a doubleheader. Neither Gillispie nor Stanley have seen time in the big leagues, but Gillispie was a lower-end prospect with Baltimore before the club decided not to keep him.

Calling up a guy from Akron has been done before, but with their season starting on Friday, I’d be surprised to see someone like Ethan Hankins or Jack Leftwich fly up to Cleveland. I will say though, Doug Nikhazy looks incredible so far, so keep an eye on him for later this year.