Shane Bieber, a 6’3” right-hander, was a fourth round selection of the Cleveland Indians in 2016. Moving quickly up the organizational ladder, he is now an anchor for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats rotation. This season marks his fourth full year as a pitcher, making his accomplishments more impressive.
“I didn’t really become a pitcher until my freshman year in college,” said Bieber. “I wasn’t always great at it, I was something of a late bloomer.”
He had not pitched before his junior and senior year of high school because he did not have velocity on his pitches. Now his pitch velocity is in the mid-eighties, and he can get up to 90 or 91 when he needs to, usually on his fastball.
Growing up in southern California, he played baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. After breaking his wrist playing football in high school, he concentrated fully on baseball.
“The weather is good all the time so you can play 365 [days a year]. My dad loves the sport, my whole family does. It was just kind of natural.”
From high school, he moved on to the University of California at Santa Barbara, the same school where he was teammates with fellow Hillcats outfielder Andrew Calica.
“I wouldn’t trade my path for any other,” says Bieber about getting to play baseball for the Gauchos. “I asked myself in high school when application time came around if I wasn’t able to play baseball, then UCSB was my number one school.”
In three seasons, he started 44 games, with his junior year being his most outstanding performance. He pitched to a 12-4 record, striking out 109 batters with only eleven walks allowed in 134 2/3 innings pitched. Bieber helped lead the Gauchos to their first ever College World Series appearance.
The team played in three games in Omaha, with Bieber starting the opening contest against Thomas Hatch and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both pitchers threw complete games, but Bieber and the Gauchos came up just short in a 1-0 defeat.
“It was the most people I’ve ever pitched in front of, probably over 20,000,” Bieber said about his trip to Omaha last year. “We had the opening game, so that was incredible. It scared the heck out of me when I was warming up.”
After losing to Oklahoma State, they would defeat Miami, knocking the number three nationally ranked team out of the tournament, before falling to Arizona.
“We were going to go out kickin’ for sure. It was fun to send someone home before we had to leave,” said Bieber. “We were playing with house money. Nobody expected us to get that far.”
Four of Bieber’s teammates were drafted and are currently playing Minor League ball, all looking to become the next UCSB player to reach the Majors.
After signing with the Indians, Bieber reported to rookie-level Mahoning Valley of the New York-Penn League. He would go on to pitch nine games for the Scrappers before his season ended. His dominant performance, 21 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched and a 0.38 ERA, led to his position as the 21st ranked prospect in the Cleveland organization, according to Baseball America.
Bieber started the 2017 season with Low-A Lake County. In his fifth outing for the Captains, he took a 1-0 loss against the West Michigan Whitecaps. Following a promotion to the Hillcats, he made nine starts for the first half Northern Division championship team.
In his first six starts, he chalked up a 4.58 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. His record stood at 0-1, yet he had struck out 27 opposing batters and allowed only three walks. The next three starts illustrated Bieber’s potential to be a masterful starting pitcher.
All three games were against division rival Frederick. In a two-week span, surrounding the midseason All-Star break, Bieber would pitch 19 2/3 innings, earning a 3-0 record. He would send 22 Keys back to the bench via the strikeout, and would lower his ERA to 3.32.
He throws three pitches with confidence and pinpoint control. A two-seam fastball, a change-up, and a slider compose his standard arsenal. He is also working on introducing a curveball as a fourth pitch.
“I’m not going to try and force it in there until I’m ready,” said Bieber about his new curve. “It’s just something I’ll move slowly along in my pitch repertoire.”
In his third Carolina victory, he mixed up his pitches and kept Frederick off balance. In eight innings, only four Keys batters reached base, one as a hit batsman. He scattered the three hits across the box score. All-Star Randolph Gassaway doubled in the first inning after Bieber plunked Ademar Rifaela. That put runners on second and third with two outs. Working his off-speed pitches to the five-hole hitter Yermin Mercedes, he got him to hit a line drive to left field to get out of the only scoring threat Frederick would mount that evening.
As the game progressed, he began to rely more and more on his finely tuned fastball. Coming in at 90 MPH, he was hitting the corners as the Keys hitters tried to adjust. His off-speed pitches had been crossing the plate at low to mid-eighties speeds, and now they had trouble catching up. Five of his eleven strikeouts on the night came in his last three innings on the mound.
“I’m really working on my fastball. That’s what sets up all my pitches,” shared Bieber. “A lot of guys in the big leagues have success working off their fastball.”
On this night, Bieber set up his pitches masterfully. Working with catcher Daniel Salters, the two stuck to the plan and formed an effective battery as the Keys hitters kept coming up empty.
”You’ve got to keep adjusting with each level along the way,” said Bieber. “There are always going to be growing pains at each level, but you just have to deal with it, and learn how to quickly adjust.”
His three-hit, eight-inning performance earned him a third straight win. It also brought him home an impressive honor as he was named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week on Monday for his outing. He followed that up with six strong innings against Salem on Tuesday, allowing three runs (just one earned) on five hits with seven more strikeouts over six innings to win his fourth straight decision.
Based upon his recent success, Bieber has adjusted to the High-A level of professional baseball. When he is not on the mound, he will continue to work at his craft and improve the four pitches that now make up his repertoire. When he gets some down time, after games or on that rare off day, he will just sit back and relax with his teammates.
“You’re here [at the ballpark] so much during the day, it’s nice to decompress and just hang out with your teammates outside of baseball, and really just relax.”
Focused yet relaxed might be the best way to describe his recent pitching success. However you choose to describe it, he shows maturity and composure on the pitching mound, and it will not be long before he gets a chance to learn to adjust to the next level of baseball. If the pattern continues, he may one day soon be the next UCSB Gaucho to don a Major League uniform.
Photo: Tim Phillis/TCP Photography/Lake County Captains
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