Lefty pitching prospect Webb making run at Fall League K crown

November 2nd, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. – During a year in which a wave of Guardians' pitching talent arrived at the big league level, is proving the organization’s depth on the hill runs deep as he pushes for the Fall League strikeout crown.

The 24-year-old southpaw allowed just one hit – an infield dribbler that refused to roll foul – and two runs over 4 1/3 innings during Peoria's 3-0 loss to Salt River at the Peoria Sports Complex on Wednesday afternoon.

By virtue of his six strikeouts, Webb sits at 33 in just 18 2/3 frames for the campaign. While Andy Benes’ all-time Fall League single-season strikeout record (62) remains safe, Webb has a legitimate chance to accrue the most punchouts in a campaign since Tommy Hanson racked up 49 K’s in 2008. Miguel De Los Santos compiled 40 strikeouts in 2011, the most recent pitcher to reach the 40-K plateau.

“I think it's just probably being … more north/south, you give the hitter at least a chance to offer at it,” said Webb. “East/west, they can see the ball in or out. But north/south, it's hard to. I'm a pretty top-to-bottom guy with my curveball, my gyro slider and changeup, and then my heater off of it. I just think that I've been over the plate more and it's given me more opportunities to get more swings.”

Last season’s Fall League strikeout leader, Connor Thomas (Cardinals), had a similar arsenal to Webb, eschewing lighting up the radar gun for keeping hitters off balance. Webb’s next punchout will tie Thomas’ 2022 mark, which helped him nab AFL Pitcher of the Year honors.

Webb reached 81 pitches in an outing for the first time since his regular-season finale with High-A Lake County on Sept. 10. The 2021 fourth-round selection spent the vast majority of his season with the Captains, posting a 3.29 ERA across 17 starts. He ranked among the Top 10 Midwest League hurlers (min: 80 innings) in K% (23.8), average-against (.219) and FIP (3.70).

Webb's first curveball Wednesday also marked his first strikeout. He utilized his changeup to notch the next five punchouts, rolling with the offering after extensive discussions with catcher Harry Ford (SEA No. 2) and Javelinas pitching coach Joel Mangrum, and reading the swings of the opposition.

“A lot of the time when I throw, it's a lot about pitching to your strengths, and my changeup is one of my strengths,” said Webb. “So I'm gonna ride or die with it. And I've been riding or dying with it here. I just figured I'd continue to throw that and if they hit it, they hit it – good for them. But I'm gonna go down with my stuff.”

Webb’s regular season was off to a solid start through mid-June, as he didn't allow more than three earned runs in nine of his first 10 outings. But then a right oblique strain shut him down for a chunk of the summer. The 2021 fourth-round pick returned to Arizona for a pair of rehab appearances in the sweltering heat of the Rookie-level complex league, which set the stage for a return to form with Lake County over his final six appearances.

Upon arriving in the Fall League, batters from all levels have been equally flummoxed by Webb’s four-pitch mix. While 11 walks have slanted his ERA in the small sample size, Webb – who has been nearly as effective to both righties and lefties in his career – is holding opposing batters to a .206 average through his five appearances for Peoria.

The triumvirate of rookies Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams combined to make 65 starts for the Guardians during the regular season, providing a glimpse into the organization’s high-octane future on the hill. While Webb doesn’t yet boast the same prospect status, he’s the same age as Bibee and Williams, so he's kept a close eye on their progress.

“I'm really close to Tanner Bibee, good friends with Gavin, and to see the success that they're having is pretty cool, not only for myself, but just for them too,” said Webb. “Cleveland does a really good job with their pitchers and I'm really, really happy to be in this organization.”