Jake Bauers has been a top prospect through most of his Minor League Career. Some adjustments to his approach will help him take that next step.
The Cleveland Indians dominated the Central Division last season in route to their third straight division title. Even after a polarizing offseason, their bid for a fourth seems like a near lock.
The fans, however, are not content with another division flag. The World Series is the goal and it felt like a few pieces were needed to get over that hump. New pieces came indeed, but not in the way most fans hoped.
This new roster is filled with young men and budding stars, many of whom come with big question marks. One of those guys is the left handed hitting Jake Bauers.
Acquired from the Rays in a three team deal that also brought a reunion with Carlos Santana, Bauers came with some hype. Three years previous he was ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, culminating with his MLB debut in 2018.
He’s versatile in that he can play first base and both corner outfield positions. The later may be where he spends most of his time if Hanley Ramirez pans out to be a solid contributor.
His bat has always been the most coveted aspect of his game and he delivered plenty in the farm systems, but when he reached the Majors, his performance was a little bitter sweet.
Bauers sprayed the ball all over the field throughout his Minor League career, and that’s something he got away from in 2018. He began pulling the ball much more than usual resulting in an increased number of home runs but a decrease in his batting average and a spike in strikeouts.
From 2013 to 2017 he averaged a 41.45% pull rate while going to the opposite field 34.17% of the time. In 2018 with the Rays his pull rate was a very high 51.1% with a miniscule 18.9% oppo.
His propensity to elevate the ball and pull it caused him to roll over on a lot of offspeed pitches away, grounding out to the right side of the infield. He pulled ground balls 66.0% of the time while batting .134 on those types of balls in play.
The positive from this is that when he does elevate the ball he finds a great deal of success. On fly balls, he’s hitting .297 and slugging .919. Those are great number especially given that he hit a fly ball 35.9% of the time in 2018.
The cause of the sudden change in Bauers was his shift from his natural swing to one that gave him a better launch angle. He was attempting to elevate the ball more and hit more home runs. He succeeded in increasing his home runs, hitting a career high of 16 combined between AAA and MLB in 2018, but it came at a cost.
He reached a career high in strikeouts with a 21.2% rate in 222 AAA plate appearances, then increased that to 26.8% with the Rays. He also hit a career low .201 in his 388 PA with the big league club in 2018. He had never before hit below .263 at any professional level.
Bauers knows all of this and is making the adjustments to get back to his more natural swing that uses all fields. In an interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs, Bauers talks about what happens when he’s trying too hard to hit home runs.
“When I’m trying to hit the ball in the air — trying to hit for launch angle — my swing tends to get long and loopy and I end up not getting the result I want. Everything will get out of sync. My hips will go early. My hands will drag behind and then try to catch up. I’ll end up pulling off to where I can’t reach the outside pitch and I’m getting jammed on the inside pitch.”
Currently slated as the Indians starting first baseman, Bauers’ spent time at both corner outfield positions. This March he’ll get plenty of playing time in the infield and outfield to prepare him for whatever the Indians may need. Adding his bat to left certainly strengthens the outfield situation, but without the emergence of Ramirez, it would be a lateral move.
The Indians need Bauers to hit well in 2019. The Cleveland offense, on paper, doesn’t look nearly as strong as other American League playoff contenders. If they are going to compete for a pennant they need breakout performances from their young guys.
Bauers was a little shaky last year, showing better power but a decrease in his contact and quality of outcomes. He got into a “pull happy” mode and that hurt him. He recognizes his shortcomings and is working to eliminate those weaknesses to build a strong 2019 campaign.