GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- After getting a taste of the Majors last year, plenty of eyes will be watching to see what Shane Bieber can do on the mound in his first full big league season in 2019. But no one seems more excited than Indians’ manager Terry Francona.
As Francona fielded his daily questions from the media on Wednesday, it was nearly impossible for him to hold back an enormous grin any time Bieber’s name was mentioned. The 23-year-old made his debut on May 31 last season and showed promising signs of what he can bring to the Tribe’s rotation in the future. Now, with some experience under Bieber’s belt, Francona is looking forward to watching his young pitcher settle in on the mound.
"I know guys, especially the younger guys, they get stronger as they get older, but they appear bigger when they come back after their first year,” Francona said. “It’s like the sense of belonging. You watch them the first year, they kind of go from one field to another quietly. He’s on that mound the other day and I’m like, ‘[Dang], he got bigger.’ He didn’t really get bigger, he just belongs. It’s really a cool progression to watch.”
Bieber jumped from Double-A to Triple-A to the Majors in a short span in 2018. He recorded a 4.55 ERA in 114 2/3 innings with the Indians, but he demonstrated more potential beyond that one statistic. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.1 was something that turned heads, as he fanned 118 batters while walking only 23. That ratio ranked 10th among pitchers who threw at least 100 frames last year, trailing some of the top hurlers in the game.
When Bieber sat down with Francona for their one-on-one meeting at the beginning of camp, the right-hander was told to keeping doing what he’s doing, but to make sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself.
"Kind of the main talking point of that meeting was, ‘Hey, every year there’s always young guys that come in maybe a little too aggressive, trying to hit the ground running too hard,’ and to just kind of slow myself down and not get too excited or too ahead of myself,” Bieber said. “Kind of just to remove myself a little bit and slow myself down and realize there is time to build up, but at the same time, realizing that it is go time. So, just creating that balance and not going too hard, but still having the right work ethic and mindset.”
Of the multiple things he wanted to work on in the offseason, Bieber said his changeup was at the top of the list and he’s pleased with how it’s developing.
"They’re working on that,” Francona said. “But he’s got to find something he feels he can live with where he can soften it up enough where it can be that third pitch where maybe he falls behind in the count or something for a left-hander when they’re seeing him on the third time through.”
Bieber may have already pitched in the Majors and is already locked in at the fifth spot of the rotation, yet he’s currently experiencing his first big league Spring Training, which he said was an interesting dynamic when he first arrived.
"The reason he wasn’t with us last year was because [Indians president of baseball operations] Chris [Antonetti] was afraid if we brought him, I’d politic so much to take him with us and they wanted to finish off his development because of the type of kid he is,” Francona said. “Everybody’s trying to get better and it’s not like he’s a finished product, but he’s not going to short-change you in any area. I mean, he’s kind of what you’re looking for. I know I say that about a number of our guys because it’s how I feel, but I mean this kid, he’s the model example.”