It has been four weeks since Jake Bauers was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, yet it feels like forever ago. A month of a pennant race can feel that way.
Because of his involvement in the trade of beloved Adonis Yandy Diaz, and being a promising young bat in a dismal off-season, Bauers figured to play a large part in the Indians success in 2019. The 23-year-old showed holes in his hitting at the back end of his first year in the big leagues last year, and similar issues showed themselves again in his first year in Cleveland.
In July, this writer hoped for the lefty to simply swing less, and draw more walks, but instead of regressing to his minor league walk-rates, Bauers regressed to the minor leagues.
Since being demoted on August 1, Bauers has shown flashes of his batting eye that contributed to a wRC+ of 120 or higher in every full minor-league season dating back to his debut in 2013.
Over 94 plate appearances with the Clippers, his 13.9% walk-rate would be the highest of any minor-league season to date. That comes on the heels of a career-low .308 on-base percentage and a 9.1% walk-rate in 100 games with the Indians.
As noted in July, Bauers had been swinging more and whiffing less at the major league level, but the significant increase on contact in the zone was not enough to change his quality of contact in much of a positive manner. With his contact rate and league-average swinging strike rate of 11% in tow, Bauers actually carried the largest difference between his K% (26.6) and xK% (20.1) among qualified hitters in 2019.
Minor league swing rates are not currently available to the public, so Bauers’ may just be seeing more balls, or simply less deception from lesser pitching. It makes more sense to think that the outfielder was instructed to re-calibrate his patience at the plate during his time down I-71.
It also remains possible that he had already done the work and was not reaping any benefits from it, as his 12.2 xBB% was also much closer to his normal levels.
As xK/xBB% pioneer Alex Chamberlain points out, Bauers may actually have decent plate discipline, but this iteration of the youngster is deficient in batted-ball quality.
“As a Minor Leaguer, Bauers never hit better than .279 in a full season above Single-A, routinely turning in BABIPs around the Major League average — a feat significantly less impressive on the farm. His above-average plate discipline would help any deficiencies play up, but a .150 ISO and .300 BABIP is paltry from a prospect, especially a corner infielder.”
That is where this follow-up gets a little less promising. Bauers’ .315 BABIP in the small sample size that is his banishment to the minors has been equally unimpressive as his previous years. A minor-league career-high .173 ISO, on the other hand shows a little more promise, but does not match his .183 mark from his rookie year with Tampa Bay in 2018.
The good news is that Bauers is still young, and has plenty of time to develop into the Major league masher that he projected to be all along. The better news is that producing better quality of contact is easier in the Information Era, where swing overhauls are changing careers quickly.
The bad news is that the Indians needed Bauers in 2019, and traded major league pieces to secure, and ultimately re-stash him while he grows.