One for Your Watchlist: Shane Bieber
Shane Bieber is a fascinating 22-year-old pitcher quietly developing on Cleveland’s farm. Though he’s often overshadowed by wunderkind Triston McKenzie and dismissed by some scouts as future rotation depth, the 2016 4th-round pick appears to have the tools necessary to develop into a quality major league arm.
As a 6’3”, 195-pound right-hander, Bieber’s frame has failed to impress many scouts. So has his 90-92 MPH heater. His secondary pitches, a slider and changeup, have also been reported to be somewhat average. Bieber’s ‘physical upside,’ or lack thereof, has led some to dismiss his future potential. However, Shane Bieber is already proving himself adept at doing what many higher-ranked, more physically imposing top-100 pitching prospects never end up doing: commanding the strike-zone and dominating his competition.
Since being drafted in 2016 out of UC-Santa Barbara, Shane Bieber has pitched 197.1 innings across four levels. As a professional, he has struck out 183 batters and only walked 13. This has helped him post an ERA of 2.55 and a 1.05 WHIP. Bieber’s control has helped him quickly ascend from Low-A in 2016 all the way to Double-A in 2017. Thus far, his control has remained immaculate. In 54.1 AA innings, Bieber struck out over eight batters per nine and registered a BB/9 of only 0.83, giving him a sparkling 20.1% K-BB %.
Equally important has been Bieber’s capacity for home run management. As a hurler who pitches to contact, Bieber could thrive in the major leagues if he is able to maintain his astounding control while limiting damage from the home run ball. He has been able to limit this damage as a minor leaguer. His highest HR/9 was during a 90 inning stint at High-A ball where he gave up 0.50 HR/9. As an Double-A pitcher, his HR/9 was a minuscule 0.33.
Bieber’s profile is reminiscent of some other valuable arms. His repertoire, pitchability, and command all compare favorably to Kyle Hendricks, Aaron Nolam, and Zach Davies. Each of these pitchers is around the same size as Bieber and make their living dealing pitches with above-average control while not relying on overpowering stuff.
Perhaps most exciting when comparing Bieber to these established arms is the ground ball nature of his game. During his rise from Low-A ball to Double-A, Bieber has posted GB/FB ratios of 2.07 (A-), 1.28 (A), 1.93 (A+) and 1.81 (AA) across almost 200 innings. Likewise, Nola (1.73), Hendricks (1.67) and Davies (1.69) have, throughout their careers, demonstrated the value of regularly inducing ground balls. As a pitcher without overpowering velocity, Bieber will need to continue inducing ground balls and weak contact in order to thrive at the big league level. The good news is that he appears to have the skills necessary to do just that at an above-average rate.
The timeline on Bieber is promising for dynasty owners. As a polished arm, Bieber has been able to quickly climb the ladder. Until he reaches a level where he either fails to throw strikes, begins to walk too many batters, or starts getting crushed by home runs, it seems there’s no reason to hold him back. That could happen at Double-A, but if he cruises through his next 60 innings at Akron I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with Triple-A Columbus by July.
Depending on what the Tribe does at the major league level with their dearth of pitching, Bieber could find himself on a 40-man roster as early as this year. And not necessarily Cleveland’s. Other teams have reportedly expressed interest in Bieber, with general managers inquiring about him during the 2017 Winter Meetings.
I will be watching Shane Bieber closely this year. He may not be a prototypical frontline pitcher, but he has proven himself extremely capable of delivering effective innings, managing contact and throwing strikes. And, really, that’s all a team needs from the man on the hill.