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Shoveling coal in the Jake Bauers hype train

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It’s never too early to get things moving on the Next Big Thing

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of bad news out of Cleveland the last few days. With Brantley, Diaz, Encarnacion, and Gomes, names of our past are departing in favor of a muddled future. This early-stage “retooling” is awfully uncomfortable. As long as they make moves to compensate and actually get better, no stress. But for now all we have to look at is some empty roster spots and a young first baseman with a familiar name. Jake Bauers was a favorite of the Tampa front office and fan base for much of his young career. I suppose it’s time we got our own hype train running, huh?

It’s a little amazing to think that in the last 20 years about one and a half Indians players turned into a slugging first baseman that could anchor the offense for them. There was Jim Thome in the 90’s and early aughts. There was Carlos Santana after stints at catcher and third, and he was very good, though something short of Thome’s heights.

And that’s about the list.

Matt LaPorta was a bust. A bunch of old guys like Mike Napoli or Casey Kotchman looked for a late career resurgence, and one almost found it. Ben Broussard never really got it going. So it falls to the new guy.

Now, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not like the Indians will have had a huge part in Bauers’ development if it does work out. He’s made his major league debut. He’s basically developed, so it’s on him (and I guess Ty Van Bukleo) to catch up to the major leagues. Still, it kind of counts if the front office targets a young guy for breakout. It’s pretty much like a call-up, right?

At his best, Bauers does do tremendous things. Like this, from last June against he Yankees:

Few things are sweeter than a walk-off dinger, fewer still than a walk-off against the Yankees, and Bauers really got a ton of that one. You can understand why the Rays were so bullish on him, for things like that, and this too:

Lord, but these are bombs. Maybe not quite Encarnacionesque, but their high, arcing majesty does remind me of the once and future Indian, Carlos Santana. Which, as a floor, would be something to truly hope for. Bauers didn’t exactly get hard-to-hit pitches here, but he made the pitcher pay when he made a mistake. Something Santana did a pretty good job of. At his best Santana was a 125-135ish wRC+ hitter, winking at 30 home runs each year. Bauers has never demonstrated the plate discipline that has made Santana Cleveland-famous and Philly-paid, but the power is unassailable so far. Plus, he’s only 23-years-old, so it’s something to project on him a little bit.

As Bauers’ own former manager Kevin Cash noted:

(Jake)’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.

You look at Bauers’ splits from this past year, it’s obvious the league figured something out about him as his wRC+ dropped from 139 in the first half to just 66 in the second half. As Cash noted, it’s on Bauers to make the switch. He’s done it before, and he’s very advanced for his age, so having this belief in him coming from his managers is exciting.

Oh, one more thing. Last year at our sister site DRay’s Bay, writer Daniel Russell discovered rather intriguing comparison in Bauers’ swing. He noted the youngster looked markedly like 1990’s hits leader Mark Grace at the plate. Grace spent twelve years with the Cubs and hit .308/.386/.447 in Chicago before moving on to Arizona in his twilight years and winning a title. As with Santana and the power, this swing alone isn’t 1-to-1 comparison, or some kind of expectation-maker. But hey, make your own conclusion:

Grace was never a power threat of course, popping a career high 16 home runs in 1995, though he also knocked 51 doubles that year. That’s not the kind of player anyone expects Bauers to be. It’d be great of course; everyone loves a 45-50 doubles kind of guy. It’s just not what you assume out of a 23-year old highly touted first base prospect. But you’ll take it any day of the week.

The Parrot has flown the coop. YandyWatch is over. The Doctor is out. Alonso is gone too, I guess.

All we have now is an absurd pitching staff and two of the best players in the game to watch each and every day. I’m not saying I’m selfish, but why can’t there be more? Why can’t 2019 feature Bauers as an emerging slugger, turning into a young superstar and making the front office once again look like some kind of brilliant? It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.