Right-handed pitcher Shane Bieber will make his major league debut today for the Cleveland Indians against the Minnesota Twins. Bieber is one of the most fascinating pitching prospects around; let’s take a look.
Shane Bieber was a starter for three seasons at the University of California-Santa Barbara, with a particularly excellent season in 2016 standing out: he went 12-4, 2.74 in 18 starts, pitching 135 innings with a 109/16 K/BB and helping the Gauchos reach the College World Series. Scouts admired his command but had questions about his ultimate ceiling. He ended up being drafted by the Indians in the fourth round.
He made his pro debut that summer for Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League, posting a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings with a 21/2 K/BB, obviously excellent performance. However, this was in the NY-P, a league that an experienced college pitcher should dominate, though not normally to this extent.
Moved up to the Low-A Midwest League to open 2017, Bieber posted 3.10 ERA in 29 innings with a stellar 31/1 K/BB. Promoted to the High-A Carolina League, he remained in command with a 3.10 ERA in 90 innings, 82/4 K/BB. He finished the campaign with 2.32 ERA in 54 innings in Double-A, 49/5 K/BB.
In 173 combine innings he did give up more than a hit-per-inning with 185 baseknocks, but his K/BB ratio was crazy-good at 162/10. Bieber ranked fourth on the the Cleveland Indians Top 20 Prospects for 2018 list pre-season, with this comment:
4) Shane Bieber, RHP, Grade B/B+: Age 22, fourth round pick in 2016 from UC Santa Barbara; posted combined 2.86 ERA with 162/10 K/BB in 173 innings between Low-A, High-A, and Double-A; 185 hits allowed; obviously the K/BB is ridiculously good and accurately reflects stellar command of fastball, curve, change-up, and slider; secondaries are all respected and his fastball velocity reportedly increased in ’17, from 88-92 when drafted up to 90-94 with higher spikes; projects as number three starter if all goes well. ETA 2019.
2018 has been even better. Opening with Double-A Akron he made five starts, pitching 31 innings with a 30/1 (not a typo) K/BB ratio, 26 hits and a 1.16 ERA. Promoted to Triple-A Columbus he made five more starts for 34 innings, running up a 1.05 ERA with a 31/2 K/BB and a mere 17 hits allowed.
There’s clearly nothing left for him to learn in the minors. Moving him to the Show was the logical decision.
Bieber is 6-3, 195, a right-handed hitter and thrower born May 31st, 1995 (Happy Birthday Shane). As noted in the pre-season report he has a full arsenal: fastball, curve, slider, change-up. His command and control have always been impeccable, but what’s made the difference over the last two years is better fastball velocity.
He worked around 88-92 in college but is up to 90-94 now with increasingly frequent touches at 95-96. That widens his available velocity band, giving him more options to choose from and improving the effectiveness of his off-speed stuff. He paints corners like a master and few pitchers can match Bieber’s excellent sense for his craft.
Bottom line: I think Bieber is for real and will be an above-average major league pitcher, possibly an excellent one.