Photo credit: TCP Photography/Courtesy Lake County Captains

It might not be easy to get keep track of Cleveland’s 2021 draft class, or get lost in the shuffle or a group that consisted of 20 players that included 19 pitches. When they selected RHP Tanner Bibee in the fifth round of the draft, he wasn’t a headline pick. They had already made picks of decorated college names from 2021 like RHP Gavin Williams, LHP Doug Nikhazy, and even RHP Tommy Mace and LHP Ryan Webb pitched in the SEC, which always gets players plenty of exposure and competition.

But Cleveland has shown in the past six or so plus drafts that it can pluck arms in any area of the upper rounds of the draft and get them to the majors to play a role on their pitching staff. Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill (drafted by San Diego) were first rounders, but as it has been well noted, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac were not.  Bibee may be on his way to joining that list.

In fact, his scouting report in college sounded a lot like all three of them.

This was part of Baseball America’s scouting report on him before the draft:

“Bibee is the latest Cal State Fullerton righthander with solid but unspectacular stuff and a track record of throwing strikes.”

Our own draft expert Willie Hood wrote this about Bibee after Cleveland drafted him:

“Bibee is another right-hander with a short arm circle (see: Bieber, Plesac, and Civale’s motion) that the organization seems to admire. The right-hander displays a quality four-pitch mix, with the addition of an average-looking curveball. A California native, Bibee typically sits in the low 90’s and touching 95 on occasion with his heater. His above-average slider records average spin rates and generates outs. His changeup is an average pitch, with all of his pitches playing up because of his plus control and ability to locate where he wants to. It’s a typical back of the rotation type profile of a command/control.”

It almost sounds like a carbon copy of the trio of Bieber, Plesac and Civale.

The three of them flew threw the minors quickly, and while Bibee is still at High-A Lake County, he shouldn’t be for much longer. With the way he’s dominated Midwest League hitters, he’s put himself right next to Williams as the best of the pitchers Cleveland drafted in 2021.

Through July 1, Bibee has made 12 starts, finishing 59 innings with 86 strikeouts (37.2 K%), compared to 13 walks (5.6 BB%), with a 2.59 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP.

The most noticeable change for Bibee that has taken him from a “solid but unspectaular stuff” kind of arm that throws strikes to striking out eight or more batters in six of his 12 starts is the gains in strength and explosiveness he’s made since college that took him from sitting 90-95 to now throwing 95-97 and hitting 99 regularly this year. It’s also made the rest of his arsenal improve across the board.

“I think just like cleaning up some stuff like kind of body-wise, mechanics and routines wise. For me, pro ball isn’t scary, but it’s intimidating and you don’t know what to expect. You just kind of balance those things but I think it’s getting those things down kind of trusting what things work. I think having a true off-season too. I think kind of helped me. Doing the right stuff and it’s helped with being explosive. Strength is part of it, but training to be explosive, to move fast, and throw fast. That’s what I trained for. 

“My slider and my changeup got a lot better. My slider, I think it’s a way different pitch, It’s different from my curveball. It’s a different velo now. Now, my changeup’s really coming along. I didn’t really throw a change up much college. It was kind of like my third kind of forgotten pitch and now it’s kind of blossomed into a real pitch. I’ve got a good feel for it.”

Bibee also has a slightly different windup, going for more of a step to first base before his load that looks like it has helped build momentum and take advantage of gains in strength and using his lower half. 

Another thing that has become a Cleveland tradition that seems like it has carried over and downwards from the days of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer from 2016-2019 is how the pitchers compete with and learn from each other every day. Bibee said the staff at Lake County this year that has included much of the 2021 pitching group that was drafted has had the same exchange this year.

“Most of our draft class is here and even guys bouncing up, like (Aaron) Davenport, Gavin Tommy, you bounce stuff off each other. I’d ask about Williams’ slider, he’d ask about my curveball. I ask Doug (Nikhazy) about his fastball because it rises up out of the zone. Me and Tommy (Mace), always try to play with different changeups and stuff. So it’s really fun. Lot of talent. I’ve enjoyed it.

“I think it’s pretty natural. I think healthy competition is probably one of the best things in baseball You want everyone to do well. I’m always rooting for Doug and Tommy, or Hickman. I’m always rooting for those guys to do. well. But when you see them pitch well, and like, okay, like I’m gonna go out there and be that much better. I think that’s a pretty healthy thing to do and no one’s gonna be upset because you want to pitch better than me. Everyone wants to be the best and everyone understands that. I think that’s a good thing to have.

“We’re all from different parts of the country. All different conferences, pitch different, different philosophies, and they all kind of blend, so you get the best of both worlds.”

Cleveland showed interest in Bibee in 2020 and gave him a call and he went back to Cal State Fullerton for his COVID-Junior year and this time Cleveland called his name at the draft.

Photo credit: Cal State Fullerton Athletics

“My agent talked to me a lot about how the Guardians are respected for their pitching staff. I didn’t know too much about them, except I knew that they were looking at me in high school, but obviously that didn’t pan out. Then 2020 they gave me a call, but I decided to go back to (Cal State Fullerton). I just knew that the development was really good and that was the right place for me.”

His arsenal includes a fastball that now sits 94-97 and touches 99 as mentioned, with a distinct slider that is now his second best pitch, a big downer type curveball, and the changeup that he has come along quickly. He may end up with two above average pitches (fastball/slider) and two average pitches at the least (curveball/changeup) to go along with average to above average command. 

Bibee might not have been the biggest name Cleveland’s 2021 draft class. He didn’t initially appear on any top prospect lists, including our own at Guardians Baseball Insider. But his training and performance in 2022 is changing that quickly and should be a name you’re going to hear about going forward now.

Tanner Bibee File

Age: 23 (3/5/1999)
Height: 6’2
Weight: 205
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 5
College: Cal State Fullterton
Hometown: Mission Viejo, CA
Stats as of 7/1/22: 12 GS, 59IP, 86K/13BB, 2.59 ERA/3.12 FIP, 1.07 WHIP, 2-1 WL

About Bibee

Warm up song: “I don’t have one right now. In college, I walked out to a song called ‘The Hum. It’s like an EDM song. I really enjoyed it. I tried to put it in, but they didn’t accept it. I just like, all right, I don’t need one that bad. I probably need to get one.”

Models game after: (It was Zack Greinke in college). “I really like watching Walker Buehler just because of the west coast, was a Dodgers fan. And Tyler Glasnow. I think I think those two guys and what they do is well is what I’m trying to be.”

Pre-game routines/superstitions: “The day before a start (I have to eat Chiptole). It’s great. And this just started happening this year.  I didn’t mean for it to happen but I think my first couple starts, so it’s really cold. And I wore this jacket. It was this lululemon jacket. It was hot pink. I wore it when I pitched here against Dayton and Great Lakes, and it was Lansing the Daytona again. I did an accident every single time then I was pitching well, so I was just like this is going to be a thing now.” 

Hobbies: “I like hanging out with the guys and playing video games, Doug (Nikhazy) likes slacklining. It’s just like a tightrope thing. I’m not too much of a slackliner but I like that.

Hidden talents: Juggling 

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