CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jake Bauers is going to get every opportunity this spring to make an impact on the Cleveland Indians lineup, but the 23-year-old first baseman must first answer questions about last year’s promising rookie season that took a nose dive after his first month in the big leagues.
Acquired by the Tribe from Tampa Bay in a three-team trade last month that also netted Carlos Santana from Seattle, Bauers said he is excited for the opportunity to join an Indians roster that “has World Series dreams.” As far as expectations go, he just wants to come in and compete and be himself.
“As soon as you get away from trying not to do too much or trying to be someone who maybe you’re not, that’s when you’re getting in trouble,” Bauers said. “So, I’m just looking to come in and be Jake Bauers.”
The Indians hope he means the Jake Bauers who spent the first part of 2018 hitting .252 in 131 at-bats with an .864 OPS, five homers and 139 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) after his June 7 call up. For a little more than a month, Bauers was one of the hottest rookies in baseball.
But after the All-Star break, he struggled at the plate, hitting .167 down the stretch with a .589 OPS and a 30.5 strikeout percentage. Bauers’ final numbers were not overwhelming. He hit .201 with 11 homers and 48 RBI in 96 games while stealing six bases and scoring 48 runs.
The former seventh-round pick of the Padres spent this offseason working to get back to feeling comfortable at the plate again, and focusing on his swing. Bauers is confident he can fit right in with his new teammates and in a new town.
“As long as you take care of business and do what you need to do, everyone’s going to respect that and you’re not going to have any issues,” he said.
Bauers will benefit from hitting in a better lineup with the Indians than the one he played on in Tampa. With All-Stars Francisco Lindor (129 runs scored in 2018) and Jose Ramirez (.939 OPS) batting in front of him, there will be plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.
And moving from Tropicana Field to Progressive Field for home games can only improve on a .252 batting average on balls in play that was about 50 points lower than his career minor league mark. The Trop generally stifles power numbers, with a 0.880 homer factor according to Fangraphs.com, while Progressive Field should nurture the young lefty slugger’s burgeoning power with a 1.019 factor.
Lindor and Ramirez have seen their left-handed power numbers jump at home in the last two seasons, and Bauers could slot right into a complimentary role behind them with a similar swing. His 13.8 home run percentage on fly balls should put him right around 20 dingers on the year.
President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the club thinks Bauers has a lot of ingredients to be a successful major league player.
“We feel like he’s a developing young hitter that’s got a good approach at the plate with emerging power,” Antonetti said. “He’s a very good defender at first base and is pretty athletic. So he has some positional versatility to not only play first base but play the outfield if that’s where there’s an opportunity.”
Once Bauers got past the initial shock of being traded, he realized the opportunity ahead of him. “It’s a competitive team, great rotation and a lineup that there’s not a lot of weakness,” he said. “Hopefully that’s something we can carry into this year.”
On Sept. 10, Bauers blasted a two-run home run off Indians starter Corey Kluber at Tropicana Field in a game that the Rays would go on to win 6-5.
“He also struck me out plenty of times.” Bauers said. “I’m just excited that I don’t have to face any of these guys anymore and that I’m going to be playing behind them.”
It remains to be seen where Bauers will play the bulk of his innings in 2019, but his ability to play both corner outfield spots as well as first base gives him a chance to play every day, and that’s something the Newport Beach, California native welcomes with aplomb.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to play 162 games,” he said. “Whatever’s going to get me into the lineup is what I’m going to be willing to do.”