Breakout Prospect: A Recall For The Indians’ Shane Bieber Appears Imminent, But Will He Continue To Thrive?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

With the Indians shifting Josh Tomlin to the bullpen they will give Adam Plutko the first opportunity to fill the fifth spot in their rotation.  That said all eyes will quickly fall to Shane Bieber, the 22-year old (soon to be 23-year old) right-handed pitcher who has been dominating at both Double-A and Triple-A this season.  Over his first 9 starts (58.1 IP) he’s posted an impressive 1.23 ERA and 0.79 WHIP, backing it up with all of the skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – 8.23 K/9
  • Control – 0.54 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 49.3%

You would think that the walk rate was either a typo or an aberration, but that’s hardly the case.  Over 255.2 IP in the minors he owns a 0.5 BB/9, including a 0.6 BB/9 over 85.1 IP at Double-A (over the past two seasons).  So the question is going to be whether or not he can maintain/improve his strikeout and groundball rates to remain productive.

The strikeout mark has dropped upon his promotion to Triple-A, with a 7.45 K/9 over 19.1 IP courtesy of a 10.8% SwStr%.  Was the more impressive strikeout numbers (including a 13.1% SwStr% in ’17) more due to his control as opposed to his pure “stuff”?  It would seem that this is more about his ability to consistently hit his spots, as MLB.com described him by saying:

“The average velocity Bieber showed as an amateur ticked up in his first full season, as he sat comfortably in the 91-94 mph range with his heater while occasionally reaching back for a few extra ticks. Bieber also has made strides in developing his curveball, now an above-average pitch, and he continues to show advanced feel for a slider and a changeup that both grade as average.”

Prospect 361 had a similar scouting report, though they added that:

“But as Zach Davies and Chase Anderson have demonstrated, a plus secondary pitch with great command and a fastball can make you a successful big league pitcher.  Bieber lacks that true plus secondary pitch but both could move up a grade as he gains more experience.”

Obviously you can’t ignore the results, and he should enjoy some success at the highest level.  That said the strikeout numbers he’s posted in a small sample size at Triple-A is likely closer to the truth and while he generates enough groundballs, a career 1.25 GO/AO is hardly going to blow you away.  He’s also benefited from an 85.1% strand rate and .266 BABIP, further supporting a regression.

The control is enough to put him on the map, and he should be able to post a strong WHIP, but don’t look at the numbers he’s posted thus far in ’18 and assume he’s going to thrive upon reaching the Majors.  He’s going to have his struggles, and while strikeouts are up across the game if he’s pitching around the strike zone too much he’s going to have some issues.

Prior to the season we awarded him a “B-“ grade, and that still seems appropriate today.  There is value, but he’s hardly a given.

Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Prospect 361

Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings?  Make sure to check it out by clicking here.  Also don’t miss all of our 2018 Preseason Positional Prospect Lists:

Catcher1-10
First Base1-10
Second Base1-10
Shortstop1-10
Third Base1-10
Outfielders:1-1011-20
Pitchers:1-1011-2021-30

4 comments

  1. Kris says:

    Great article Eric, love reading about this Biebs! Can’t wait for ESPN to add him to the player pool so he can be picked up prior to his call-up. Still curious why he isn’t available already since he’s at AAA…

  2. Sawyer says:

    Any thoughts on Jose Suarez? I don’t even see him on your Angels top 10 prospects.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      I’m going to be taking a look at him in the next few days actually. He’s starting to grab some attention and he could be a similar profile to Bieber

      • Sawyer says:

        Thanks! Yeah he looks super interesting. Leads the minors in Ks yet isn’t a flamethrower (?). High WHIP yet amazing K/BB ratio. Horrible BABIP so far. Curious to see if you think he’s improved his prospect standing. And, is there reason to believe his Ks might translate to the majors better than Bieber’s.

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