CLEVELAND -- When last season began, Shane Bieber was with Class A Lake County, four Minor League rungs below the big leagues. Now, the rookie right-hander is a trusted part of the Indians' pitching staff for the upcoming American League Division Series against the Astros.
For farmhands like pitcher Eli Morgan -- named the Indians' 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year by MLB Pipeline -- Bieber is the latest example that Cleveland will push players who not only turn in strong results, but exhibit Major League characteristics behind the scenes. Process plus performance can put any player on a swift path to the Majors.
"I think there's a group of players that sees that and says, 'Hey, that could be me,'" said Carter Hawkins, the Indians' assistant general manager. "There's another group, which hopefully is the majority, that says, 'What did he do outside of just performance?' Because, there's a lot of guys that perform really well. What Shane was able to do was to prepare like a Major Leaguer from the time he started in A ball. And so, the foundation that he built allowed us to feel very confident in pushing him."
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Besides Morgan, MLB Pipeline also honored third baseman Nolan Jones as the Indians' 2018 Hitter of the Year. Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
Jones is currently No. 2 on the Tribe's Top 30 list, while Morgan checks in at No. 15.
The 22-year-old Morgan was selected in the eighth round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Gonzaga and has gone 12-9 with a 2.83 ERA in his first two professional seasons. Over 178 1/3 innings in the Minors, the right-hander has amassed 214 strikeouts compared to 43 walks.
This past season, Morgan climbed from Lake County to Class A Advanced Lynchburg, going 9-7 with a 3.27 ERA overall with 156 strikeouts vs. 34 walks in 143 1/3 innings. Hawkins noted that Morgan generated a surplus of swing-and-miss with his changeup, which is the prospect's primary out pitch.
"He has a really, really good changeup. He has the ability to miss bats that way," Hawkins said. "That's probably been his bread and butter, as he's kind of shot through the system, getting up to Lynchburg this year. He's going to have to continue to improve the overall stuff around that command and that feel for his offspeed, and to continue to be able to miss bats the way he has.
"He has a really good feel to pitch. He's probably pitching beyond his years right now in terms of know-how. We're really excited about the foundation he's built for himself, and we're looking for him to take that next step next year to enhance the stuff."
Jones, 20, was taken by Cleveland in the second round of the 2016 Draft out of Holy Ghost Prep in Philadelphia. This past season, the 6-foot-4 lefty-swinging Jones turned in a .283/.405/.466 slash line with 19 home runs, 21 doubles, 66 RBIs and 69 runs scored. Jones drew 89 walks and struck out 131 times.
"He really improved his plate discipline and just had a better understanding of who he was as a hitter," Hawkins said. "He's got a hockey background, so he's got that edge to him as well on the field, that competitive edge. That's really great to see. And he's improved his defense significantly at third -- his range, his arm, all those those have ticked up.
"Hopefully, he continues that progress and that's a position he'll be able to stay at. He's a guy you'd only think that more experience he gets, the more power is going to come into play as well. He's a guy we're really, really excited about."