Everyone knows about the Road to the Show baseball players travel. But what you have to remember is there is not just one road to take to get to The Show.
The Overlooked Draft Choice Road
Bibee is having an outstanding rookie season for the Guardians, and it is somewhat surprising when you realize where he was drafted. Unlike many top pitching prospects, Bibee was not a first- or second-round selection. Instead, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. And Bibee headed to Fullerton because he wasn’t even drafted out of high school.
While at Fullerton, Bibee had a decent, but not spectacular, career as he actually had a losing record and a career 3.82 ERA. That is good in the majors, but not very eye-popping if you are a college pitcher hoping to have a major league career. Even more pedestrian was his career 7.8 K/9 rate. Pitchers with those numbers are the ones who are drafted in the fifth round or lower. But pitchers with those numbers also don’t enter the season ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus only two years after being drafted.
The Look at Me Draft Choice Road
This is the road we are used to seeing top pitching prospects take. Williams was actually drafted out of high school in the 30th round by Tampa Bay in 2017, but he decided not to sign and instead attend East Carolina.
Once in Greeneville, N.C., Williams was used more as a reliever his first three seasons until making 12 starts out of 15 appearances in 2021. That season he dominated opponents to the tune of a 10-1 record with a 1.88 ERA and 0.959 WHIP. In 81.1 innings, he struck out 130 batters for a 14.4 K/9 rate.
The Guardians loved what they saw from Williams and selected him in the first round with the 23rd overall pick – four rounds ahead of Bibee. The selection was a wise one as Williams entered the season ranked as the No. 20 prospect in Baseball America, 42nd by MLB Pipeline and 26th by Baseball Prospectus.
Different Roads, Same Speed
While Bibee and Williams took separate roads to The Show, once they were on their road, they both drove as fast as they could to get to Cleveland. Both pitchers spent only one full season in the minors before making their debuts for the Guardians. Bibee, however, drove just a little faster as he made his debut on April 26 while Williams debuted on June 21.
Bibee and Williams may have started in different locations, but both are now major leaguers and both should be players you should think about adding to your dynasty team.
As I mentioned, Bibee did not throw the ball past hitters in college as he featured a fastball that was between 90 to 93 mph to go with a slider and curveball. But what Bibee does do well is throw strikes, even when in college.
Midway through his freshman season he claimed a spot in the starting rotation and was the ace of the staff by 2021. In his 54 career appearances (with 40 starts) he had a very nice 2.4 BB/9 rate. The ability to throw strikes led the Guardians to draft him, but they delayed his professional debut until 2022, allowing him to work on his pitches and strength during the time off.
Since joining the Cleveland system, Bibee has seen his fastball increase to an average of 95.2 mph that touches 99 mph. Opponents have a 20.1 Whiff% against the fastball and are hitting only .237 average with a .345 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, his slider, which is more of a sweeper, now averages 84.5 mph and is a plus pitch with a 30.6 Whiff% against it and a .211 average with a .400 slugging percentage.
Bibee throws his fastball 48.6% of the time and the slider comes in at 27.5% usage rate. But his changeup is quickly becoming a great pitch. Throwing it 15.3% of the time, opposing hitters have only a .228 average and .246 slugging percentage against it with a 41.2% Whiff%.
While Bibee has improved his velocity, he has not lost command of his pitches. His walk rate doesn’t quite match what he did in college and last year at High-A and Double-A, but he still has a decent 3.3 BB/9 while sporting a 9.0 K/9 rate. Cleveland has been outstanding at developing pitchers over the years, and Bibee is the latest example of their ability to develop them.
He won’t be an ace, and maybe even not a No. 2 pitcher, but he should be a solid No. 3 pitcher and one who will help your pitching staff for years to come. He isn’t easy to get right now as he is owned in 80% of Fantrax leads, 75 of Yahoo leagues, and 41.5% of ESPN leagues. But if he is available as a free agent or via trade, he is a player to grab.
While Bibee has slowly added velocity to his fastball, Williams has always been able to throw the ball hard as he was hitting 95 mph during his senior year in high school. When he got to East Carolina he hit 100 mph and in 15 appearances out of the bullpen he recorded a 1.15 ERA and 1.021 WHIP.
But Williams stumbled in 2019 as he went 1-4 with a 4.56 ERA and 1.277 WHIP in 21 appearances, including five starts. While he struck out 56 in 49.1 innings, he also gave up 23 walks for a 4.2 BB/9 rate. COVID hit in 2020, allowing Williams to appear in only two games and throw three innings and left him undrafted.
Williams finally broke through in 2021, leading to his amazing season and being named the American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. After being drafted by Cleveland, he was shut down just as Bibee was and didn’t make his pro debut until 2022.
He started the year at High-A and made nine starts before being promoted to Double-A, where he finished the year with 16 starts. Across the two levels he posted a 1.96 ERA and 0.948 WHIP in 115 innings of work. Starting the year at Double-A this year, Williams made three starts before moving up to Triple-A and making nine starts before getting the call to join the Guardians in June.
Showing He Belongs
Since joining the Cleveland rotation, Williams has held his own, though his numbers are a mixed bag. Through his first eight starts, he has a 3.38 ERA. However, he has a 1.336 WHIP and his BB/9 rate is 4.4 and his K/9 rate currently sits at 7.8.
But when you look at some of his other numbers, they point to a pitcher who is going to have success.
He ranks in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity and in the 92nd percentile in barrel percentage. And his hard hit percentage ranks in the 79th percentile. Additionally, against his fastball, slider, and curve – pitches he throws a combined 95 percent of the time – opponents are hitting .195.
The only pitch they are having success against is Williams’ changeup, which he throws only 5% of the time. Batters are hitting .333 against the changeup with a .411 slugging percentage.
Be Smart, Grab Him
Williams is probably pretty easy to add to your roster. He is owned in 67% of Fantrax leagues, but in only 24% of Yahoo leagues and a measly 7.8% of ESPN leagues. Williams still needs to develop his command a bit more, but there is no reason to think he won’t. Once he does that, he should be a No. 2 pitcher at worst.