After losing seven of their last ten games, it’s clear that the Cleveland Guardians were stuck in a rut. In this recent skid, the Guardians had only been averaging 2.7 runs per game, were shut out twice and failed to score more than two runs on five different occasions. Sure, it’s hard to gauge the quality of play this early into the season. But it doesn’t take much to realize that Cleveland’s bats have gone cold and needed a serious spark. Queue up the Super-Man theme since that’s where Tanner Bibee, one of the top prospects in baseball, comes in to rescue the Guardians.
Bibee is in the top seven of Guardians prospects for every primary, public prospect evaluator. FanGraphs had him fourth on the team and 69th overall in MLB and MLB Pipeline had him fifth and 99th overall. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, meanwhile, had him seventh and 93rd overall, while Keith Law of The Athletic had him fourth and 36th overall. Bibee, a right-hander, was Cleveland’s fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft and pitched at two levels in the minors last season. He was 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Columbus this season. Bibee has made 28 minor league starts, going 10-2 with a 2.13 ERA with 186 strikeouts over 148 innings.
There are a ton of expectations for Bibee down the line. But, to ask a 24-year-old rookie to hop in and help turn things around in his first start seemed improbable. Unfortunately, Cleveland and Bibee have no choice in the matter, considering the injury bug infecting the roster. Injuries to Triston McKenzie (strained right teres major muscle) and Aaron Civale (strained left oblique) have forced the Guardians to turn to their top minor league prospects, like Bibee, sooner than anticipated. McKenzie was injured in his final start of spring training and Civale went on the 15-day injured list after making two starts.
Sure, both could return in late May, with McKenzie throwing in the bullpen as early as this weekend. But, until then, Cleveland has to turn to rookies like Bibee to carry them and provide a much-needed spark. Instead of being overwhelmed by the size of the moment, Bibee looked like a seasoned veteran in his Guardians debut. Bibee allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out eight with no walks in the 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies. He hit leadoff man Charlie Blackmon with a 2-2 pitch in the first but retired the next three before striking out five straight and six of the next seven.
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“It’s hard not to get excited and I always tell you guys, and I believe it, that the first game’s not going to define who they are, but it’s still exciting to see,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona on Bibee’s debut. “To see him show the poise and the competitiveness and three pitches, four pitches, it does get exciting, and I don’t think there’s any reason to hide it.”
There is nothing more you can ask from a rookie making his first career start. Bibee is a pitcher made for highlight reels with high-90s velocity, big breaking balls and a changeup that vanishes away from lefties. He finished today with a game-high 11 swings and misses and 98.5 mph peak velocity. Thirteen of his 40 sliders also were called strikes which meant the Rockies batters had no idea what was coming. Bibee had to be great for Cleveland today, and he responded. And, more importantly, he has lived up to the hype.
Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said before the game that a decision on whether Biebee will get another start will be made in the next few days. But, with how well Bibee performed against Colorado, Cleveland would need help to send their rookie phenom back down to Columbus to play with the Clippers. This moment was written in the stars for both the Guardians and Bibee. The rookie phenom has arrived and is another critical component in Cleveland’s youthful resurgence.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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