The Road to The Show™: Guardians’ Bibee
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at fifth-ranked Guardians prospect Tanner Bibee. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here. Finding a way to stand out in the Guardians’
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at fifth-ranked Guardians prospect Tanner Bibee. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.
Finding a way to stand out in the Guardians’ system could conceivably be a difficult task for a pitching prospect like Tanner Bibee.
Cleveland has shown a unique ability to identify and develop pitching talent. Bigger names and early-rounders like Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams have garnered most of the praise. But Bibee has more in common with Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, who evolved from middle-round talent to mainstays at the front of Cleveland’s rotation.
The 24-year-old put together a tremendous professional debut in 2022, advancing from High-A Lake County to Double-A Akron. He went 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 167 strikeouts over 132 ⅔ innings. Bibee finished 11th among all Minor Leaguers in punchouts and was named the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year.
Bibee, MLB Pipeline’s No. 65 overall prospect, displayed noteworthy command and control during his college career at Cal State Fullerton. The right-hander has maintained that skill in the professional ranks and was one of only six Minor Leaguers to complete at least 130 innings without walking more than 27 batters last season. His 6.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked sixth among qualified prospects in full-season ball.
“Ever since I was younger, my dad always was about command. … ‘I want you to fill up the zone. I want you to learn how to pitch before you get that strength,’ Bibee told reporters in Goodyear, Arizona, last week.
Bibee remained a control artist while his average fastball velocity spiked, and he touched 99 mph at some points during the season. There were noted improvements to his sweeping slider, fading changeup and slower curveball, all of which he’s been able to throw for strikes consistently.
Just like Bieber and Plesac, the Guardians seem to be maximizing the value of a player who wasn’t particularly high on anyone’s Draft board. Bibee was selected 156th overall in 2021 after going unselected in the pandemic-shortened Draft the previous year. He agreed to a reported $259,400 bonus but did not pitch in games after the Draft, instead spending the rest of the summer at the club’s complex in Arizona.
The native of Mission Viejo, California, was mostly used out of the bullpen during his freshman season with the Titans in 2018, but transitioned to the rotation full-time as a sophomore. Bibee sported a 4.13 ERA and fanned 80 over 95⅔ innings in 2019, earning an invitation to the Cape Cod League that summer.
Over nine appearances – all in relief – for Wareham, Bibee struck out 19 batters in 17⅓ innings and finished with a 3.63 ERA. He went into his junior season as Fullerton’s Friday night starter but appeared in only four games before the season was shut down.
After going unselected in the 2020 Draft, Bibee returned to the front of the Titans’ rotation for his senior season. He finished with a 3.61 ERA and 67 strikeouts over 89⅔ innings. He issued just 21 walks and hit 10 batters but still considered spending another year in college ball – using his extra year of eligibility to pitch as a grad transfer at Texas A&M – if the Draft didn’t break his way. But ultimately he was pleased with his landing spot in Cleveland, and he didn’t disappoint when he finally took the mound in a Minor League game.
No. 5 @CleGuardians prospect Tanner Bibee dishes on his experience at big league camp and more: pic.twitter.com/LWKKp369it— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 5, 2023
At the start of 2022, Bibee pitched 13 innings before allowing a run in the Midwest League, accumulating 20 punchouts and two walks over that span. In 12 starts for the Captains, he posted a 2.59 ERA with 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He made one difficult start that bogged down his overall numbers, but he quickly proved he was ready for the next level.
Bibee was absolutely brilliant down the stretch for Akron, finishing with a 1.83 ERA and 81 strikeouts over 83⅓ innings, holding opposing batters to a .194 average in 13 starts. He won six consecutive decisions and completed six innings in each of his final eight starts, including the RubberDucks’ playoff matchup against Bowie. Over the full season, Bibee allowed more than two earned runs in just four of his 25 starts, nine of which were scoreless.
Like most of the Guardians' pitching prospects, Bibee has not yet pitched in the Cactus League this spring. He’s likely ticketed for Triple-A Columbus, where he’ll be a major factor in one of the most exciting rotations in the Minors. It's also expected to feature Williams, Logan Allen, Xzavion Curry, Hunter Gaddis, Joey Cantillo, and eventually the club’s top prospect, Espino, who will miss the early part of the season with a right shoulder strain.
Bibee doesn’t exactly need to replicate his 2022 season to continue to stand out in a system with that kind of pitching depth. But he’s clearly figured out a way to be successful at the upper levels and put himself within striking distance of the big league rotation.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.