A Postponed Opening Day Gives Jake Bauers a Second Chance to Impress the Indians
We all want baseball back as soon as possible. Fans and players alike see the postponement of opening day as a downer, an unfortunate turn of events for which we badly need a light at the end of the tunnel.
In a sense, you could argue Jake Bauers sees the pausing as an opportunity. One he wouldn’t have received had the season gone on as scheduled.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s unlikely any player welcomed the news of a suspended start to the season. Still, after a shaky spring showing, Bauers suddenly has time to make some necessary adjustments and prep for a second chance to land on the Cleveland Indians’ roster.
Much was made about the offseason efforts Bauers put in with his plate approach. A rocky debut year in Cleveland sent him back to square one, with the Indians giving him a winter to-do list featuring changes needed with both his swing and his day-to-day routines.
Bauers held up his end of the bargain, diligently working to ensure he was able to bounce back from an underwhelming 2019 campaign. He felt confident in his new approach, arriving in Arizona mentally refreshed and fully believing the effort he put in over the winter would pay off in spring training.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Bauers notched just four hits in 28 plate appearances, logging a strikeout rate of 39.3%. In nine games, he slashed .143/.143/.179, at one point getting K’d in seven straight at-bats.
Obviously the sample size isn’t large enough to call Bauers’ new plate approach a bust. Likewise, it feels safe to assume frustration played a part in his struggles. To spend the entire offseason improving his hitting, only to see said work not pay off had to weigh on him mentally.
Still, odds seemed to favor Bauers opening the year in Triple-A, as he just wasn’t doing enough to convince the Indians he deserved a big league roster spot.
Then, everything stopped.
Just a few weeks before the season was set to start, opening day was postponed. Players, like the rest of us, have been stuck waiting ever since, hoping to return to the field in the near future.
It may not have seemed like it at the time it was announced, but this hiatus can be a big opportunity for Bauers. He’s essentially been given a chance to re-evaluate his new plate approach before the Indians eventually regroup.
Sure, Bauers had plenty of time to make adjustments over the offseason. However, you can only gain so much insight from batting cage sessions. While said sessions had him feeling confident, there’s a difference between evaluating these and live game at-bats.
Bauers now has 28 of those to analyze. It’s not a ton, but it’s enough. Enough to get a good sense of what worked and what didn’t, what had him missing so many pitches and what had him feeling so over-aggressive at the plate.
Not only does Bauers have the opportunity to assess his spring, he can also do so without the pressure of fighting for a roster spot, or the damaged pride which would come from being sent down.
How much time he has to work with is yet to be determined.
MLB is still hoping to get the ball rolling again in May. The expectation is up to four weeks of ramp-up time will be required before the season officially starts. Teams will basically be given a second spring.
Knowing that, Bauers has at least two months between when spring training was halted and when the league is optimistically hoping it can restart.
Likewise, a decision has yet to be made when it comes to his place with the Indians. Cleveland has already optioned Bradley Zimmer down to the minors, while Greg Allen is one of the few outfielders who had a rougher spring than Bauers.
That said, Tyler Naquin should be back to full strength soon, ensuring there will still be competition for an outfield roster spot.
As a result, Bauers needs to take advantage of his newfound time to give himself a fighting chance and improve his odds of landing in Cleveland on opening day. Odds which looked incredibly shaky weeks ago.
Bauers arrived at spring training feeling, as he told Zack Meisel of The Athletic, “refreshed in ways I don’t often feel.” What followed was a performance which likely had familiar doubts creeping back in.
However, instead of receiving word he was getting sent down to Columbus, he was given a mulligan, an unexpected opportunity to regroup before returning to vie for a roster spot.
It’s an opportunity which wouldn’t have been available before. It’s also one which, if he takes advantage of it, gives him a chance to change the way things were trending for him in Arizona.