Welcome to the WFNY 2019 Cleveland Indians preview series. Since we are an unconventional group, we are here to give you an unconventional preview. Some might be breakdowns of positions. Some might be position group battles. Some might be in depth character studies of the intricacies of the art of bunting…just kidding we hate bunts and you should too. We will be here every day for the next two weeks leading up to Opening Day, looking at some of the players and positions of this world-class Indians team.
Letting go of true love is difficult. The day it happens you can go through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance—and hopefully, you’re able to come out the other side. When #IndiansTwitter found out the news that Yandy Diaz was being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Jake Bauers in a weird unofficial three-team deal that saw Edwin Encarnacion go to Seattle for the return of Carlos Santana, the stages were there. There was the “no we couldn’t have traded him” to “wait we only got Bauers back?” to “Yandy’s going to do so well there, this sucks” to “maybe this means we are going to see Yu Chang more?” to “you know, Bauers is actually really good” in the span of about 24 hours. Luckily, because I owned Mr. Bauers in my AL-only fantasy league last year and used his late-season surge to get into the playoffs, I was already firmly stationed in the “oh hey Bauers is legit” camp.
Bauers figures to see the lions share of starts in left field and could possibly spell Santana at first late in games when the defense calls for it. This, of course, flies in the face of the rumors that Carlos Santana was measuring out an outfielders glove and was going to be asked to play some right or left field for the Tribe as the search for offensive production from the corners was lax. Smash cut to a week before spring training and Santana has yet to log an outfield inning and Bauers has started six of the 15 spring games he has played in left. While it’s not third base, the spot Diaz was supposed to push Jose Ramirez off of so he can play second and Jason Kipnis can finally end the midseason moves to center, Bauers will provide a plus on defense, promising better range than his predecessor in left, Michael Brantley.
Jake Bauers has produced at every level he has landed and done so despite being “underage” for most of those levels. Now he’s no Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in terms of production per year spent rotating the sun, but being only 23 and being able to handle a walk rate as well as he has earned Bauers the high marks we see of him. Does he need to cut down on the strikeouts? Sure but who doesn’t? Did he pull the ball to right field too much last year? Oh yes, as his 51.1 pull percentage will indicate. As much as people love to point out those instances where the level might have gotten to him, or how pitchers may have adjusted to him and he was unable or ran out of time to adjust back, I’d like to point out his HR/FB rate of 13.8 was better than known sluggers like Anthony Rizzo, Eddie Rosario, Nick Castellanos and…Carlos Santana. The kid can hit and he’s got some speed, as his 20 stolen bases in AAA in 2017 and 16 combined in 2018 between AAA and the bigs in 2018 will indicate.
If you are looking for a comparison to Bauers possible production in the bigs, look no further than sometimes-Indians-trade-rumor favorite Wil Myers. Taking a look at Myers’ batted ball profile shows that he and Bauers have incredibly similar production, and Myers can run as well, stealing 28, 20 and 13 bases in 2016, 2017, and 2018 respectively.1 Charts courtesy of FanGraphs
Myers was the top line and Bauers the lower, and you can see the similarities. Myers was able to get a few more line drives, which led to a higher BABIP and lower HR/FB ratio and slashed .253/.318/.446 compared to Bauers .201/.316/.384, no doubt buoyed by the .252 BABIP in 2018. In these looking at twos’ seasons, Myers was able to produce a wRC+ of 107 whereas Bauers came in at a wRC+ of 95. If Bauers is able to laser a few more hits and get his infield flies under control we could see his production skyrocket. Will it be enough to erase the memory of our lord and savior Yandy? Maybe, maybe not. They are going to produce for their teams in different ways and at different positions. But given some adjustments, he should be able to produce enough to make you forget those early moments of grief where you thought he wasn’t good enough to be here.