The Minor League Ball look at three prospects from each farm system continues with the Cleveland Indians. Thus far, we have looked at:
The Indians have had some pretty big prospects the past few seasons, leading to a quick turn around at the big league level. Names like Francisco Lindor have made the Indians perennial contenders, while Francisco Mejia is getting his chance to see what he can do this September.
Who could be the next impact prospect? Here are three names you need to know.
Shane Bieber, RHP
Bieber Fever gained a lot of momentum midseason when people realized that he simply doesn’t walk people. Still not a household name, Bieber jumped up the Indians prospect list and showed some big league potential.
The righty stepped in for UC Santa Barbara, replacing Dillon Tate as the Friday starter in 2016. He went 12-4, striking out 109 and walking just 16 in 134.2 innings. It’s no coincidence that the Gauchos reached their first College World Series with the control-minded Bieber as their ace. The Indians liked what the saw and selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Bieber proved that his 2016 pro debut (0.38 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 21-to-2 strikeout-to-walk rate in 24 innings) was no fluke, climbing three levels and reaching Double-A in 2017. Combined, he went 10-5 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. He showed little issue with endurance, tossing 173.1 innings. Bieber struck out 162 over that span and walked 10. Ten batters. That’s a 0.5 walks-per-nine rate.
According to John Sickels’ preseason assessment, his arsenal consists of a:
…90 MPH fastball, solid slider and change-up, excellent command and control; the Indians have a good track record at getting the best out of this type of pitcher
Bieber had a Greg Maddux -esque year. Grant it, he is one of the most advanced college arms in the minors and was still in the lower levels for much of the season, but he threw some of his best innings at the make-or-break Double-A level. Bieber has a mid-rotation ceiling with a reliable, innings-eating fifth starter as his floor.
Willi Castro, SS
Poor Castro. He had a breakout season in Lynchburg, but there isn’t much room at the infield level in Cleveland right now. Even Yu-Cheng Chang seems to be in his way in Double-A.
Still, the switch-hitting 20-year-old played well across the board. He slashed .290/.337/.424 with 24 doubles and 11 home runs, all career bests.
Castro continues to impress as one of the youngest players at every level he’s played. That’s the exciting part. He is still just 20 and continually improving. Now tapping into his power, at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, it seems likely that more will come. He’s averaged 18 stolen bases over his three years in full-season ball, so it’s not out of the question Castro is a potential 20-20 player, but 15-20 seems more likely.
He’s continued to make improvements in the hitting department all while lowering his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate. He’s had little trouble at shortstop thanks to a blend of that speed and natural instincts. While Castro currently doesn’t have one standout tool, he uses all of them well.
Aaron Civale, RHP
The Indians scored themselves a pair of control specialists in consecutive rounds in the 2016 MLB Draft. Right before grabbing Bieber, they selected Civale out of Northeastern. Much like Bieber, Civale seemingly hates to walk people.
Civale dominated the New York-Penn League in 13 starts last season, posting a 1.67 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, walking less than two-per-nine. Though he did not get to make his Double-A debut in 2017, he improved greatly when he jumped from Low to High-A. The righty went 11-2 with Lynchburg, with a 2.59 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Civale struck out 88 and walked just nine in his 107.2 innings.
His slider is his best pitch, but he obviously commands his four-pitch arsenal very well. While an already above average fastball-slider combo makes him appear bound for the bullpen, this is a guy who tossed 164.2 innings in his first taste of full-season ball. Add in that August was his best month, and this is a pitcher who can throw innings.
Where Civale lands is a mystery, but if he keeps up the command, you can expect a fast rise next season to Triple-A.