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The future is now for Jake Bauers

The Indians may have found their first baseman for next season and beyond

MLB: Washington Nationals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I realize we’re all mourning the trade of Yandy Diaz, who will no doubt follow the path of Jesus Aguilar and find success somewhere other than Cleveland after failing to muscle his way into a regular spot in the Indians’ lineup over the last two seasons. But as the saying goes, when the Indians’ front office closes one door, another one opens.

And today it is Jake Bauers standing on the other side of that door.

Just this morning, the Tampa Bay Rays SB Nation site, DRays Bay, anointed Bauers the Rays’ starting first baseman for next season. Something tells me that won’t be happening now that Bauers has been traded to the Indians in exchange for Diaz and a Player To Be Named Later.

Bauers was a seventh round pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres. He was shipped to Tampa Bay the following year in a three-team trade between the Padres, the Rays, and the Washington Nationals.

The 23-year-old first baseman, who opened the 2018 season as a Top 5 prospect in the Rays’ farm system, was slashing .279/.357/.426 as a left-handed hitter for the Durham Bulls when he was called up to Tampa Bay on June 7, 2018, to make his MLB debut.

His calling card as a minor league prospect was his raw power, plate discipline, and a compact swing with a knack for putting the barrel to the ball. And for two months Bauers lived up to the billing, with eight home runs, a .243/.340/.491 slash line, and a 128 wRC+.

Unfortunately, August and September were a different story. His strikeout percentage increased from 24 to 29.8 percent and his isolated power dropped from .249 to .107, with three home runs. His slash line over that span amounted to an ugly .153/.290/.260.

So what happened? Opposing pitchers changed their plan of attack. In the month of August alone, Bauers was seeing more pitches out of the zone (56.3 percent) than at any point in the season, and unfortunately he was chasing more pitches out of the zone (22.3 percent) than at any other point in the season. Which explains why his percentage of barreled balls cratered from 12.7 percent in July to 4.3 percent in August. That kind of weak contact likely contributed to a .208 BABIP over the final two months of the season.

As recently as Monday, Rays manager Kevin Cash expressed confidence that Bauers would be able to recover from his slump to end the season:

What does Jake Bauers need to do to take the next step?

”You know, I think Jake, of all of our young players that came up, Jake was as talked about as anybody, rightfully so. I think just experience and maturity, he was the youngest guy in the league. He’s been the youngest at every level he’s performed at. And he figured it out. He’s always struggled and started to stabilize himself a little bit and then he gets hot and he puts together some pretty good numbers offensively.

”I think that’s what we saw this year at the big league level. He struggled, he probably didn’t have the right time to figure it. It was the right time for Jake to go home and gather his thoughts. But he was a little bit of an anomaly, when you watch his at-bats, his swing looked the same, everything looked the same. He wasn’t getting his hits.

”And I’m confident, Jake has hit everywhere, he’s going to hit. Defensively, our defense got a heck of a lot better when he was out there. And the confidence that he gave our infielders and the things that he can do around the bag were really impressive. I hope Jake is enjoying himself, letting his mind take a break and come in fresh this Spring training and ready to compete.”

So clearly Bauers has some work to do after four months at the big league level, but he is young, has a lot of upside, and will be under team control for the foreseeable future (and at a more affordable price than either of the players who manned first base for the Indians last season).

It is also possible Bauers could be a corner outfielder for the Indians next season, if not an everyday first baseman. In the minor leagues, he spent about 25 percent of his innings in the outfield, and the Rays were comfortable putting him in right or left field for 20 games last season. If the Indians are unable to trade Yonder Alonso this offseason, and with Carlos Santana returning to the fold, Bauers could lay claim to one of the vacant outfield spots.

One thing is for certain: You’ll be seeing plenty of Jake Bauers, next season and beyond.