What’s Next for Indians Outfielder Jake Bauers?
Now there’s a name Cleveland Indians fans haven’t heard in a while.
Despite logging 423 plate appearances in 2019 -- his first year with the Tribe -- outfielder Jake Bauers has been a ghost this season. Though he made the initial 40-man roster, he was sent down to Cleveland’s satellite field in Lake County before the 2020 campaign began, residing there ever since.
That this is the case, especially considering how the Indians have handled their outfield throughout the season, appears to say something about Bauers.
While Cleveland finally seems to have established some semblance of an everyday outfield lineup, the team spent the first month of the season taking a constant mix-and-match approach. Yet, Bauers never received an opportunity.
It certainly makes you wonder what lies ahead when it comes to his future in Cleveland.
In fairness, Bauers’ 2019 numbers left a lot to be desired. The Indians gave him every opportunity to catch on, more often than not near the middle of the lineup, but he never quite found a rhythm. Bauers wrapped up the campaign with a wRC+ 22% below league average (78) and was worth -0.4 wins above replacement.
Much was made about his attempts to improve over the winter, working with coaches to develop a new plate approach as he sought success during his second season with the team.
Unfortunately, with underwhelming showings in both spring training and summer camp, Bauers found himself optioned to Lake County.
And there he remained, despite the fact Cleveland could never settle on an everyday outfield.
Ten different players logged outfield innings for the Indians during the first month of the season. The combinations were endless, production was absent (.253 combined wOBA through August) and it seemed like Cleveland was willing to try anyone when it came to seeking solutions.
Players like Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer were sent down after opening the year in Cleveland. Greg Allen began the season with the Tribe, got optioned, then recalled and eventually traded. Daniel Johnson entered 2020 without a single big league inning to his name and still made five appearances this season.
Yet, we haven’t even heard Bauers’ name mentioned in potential call-up whispers.
Would auditioning an eleventh player for an outfield role have made sense? Maybe not.
Then again, neither did giving utility infielder Mike Freeman the fifth, sixth and seventh outfield starts of his five-year stint in the bigs.
We don’t have much insight on how Bauers is performing at the satellite camp. All we know is almost a dozen different players got a shot to stick in Cleveland’s outfield, and he wasn’t one of them.
At this point, it’s unlikely that’ll change.
Tyler Naquin and deadline acquisition Josh Naylor have the outfield corners locked down for the rest of the year, seemingly shutting the door on any opportunities for Bauers. Barring injuries, it feels safe to assume he’s officially not in Cleveland’s plans for 2020.
Will he be in them next year?
Provided he’s still with Cleveland, Bauers will get another look come spring. That said, he’ll once again have to stand out among a giant pile of outfielders.
While it’s impossible to predict offseason plans this far out, the same group -- Mercado, Naylor, Zimmer, Naquin, Johnson, Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields Jr. and Franmil Reyes -- is under team control in 2021. As of now, it sounds like another year of trying to impress among the hoard is on Bauers’ horizon.
He could vie for playing time at first base, a position at which he’s logged 839.2 big league innings. After all, the likelihood of Cleveland picking up Carlos Santana’s $17.5 million option for next season seems low. This could open the door for Bauers to compete for that spot with prospect Bobby Bradley, or Naylor if a return to first is something the Indians would consider with him.
Of course, the Indians' willingness to give him a shot will depend on how highly they view his potential. That he didn’t gain any consideration this summer indicates there’s still room for improvement there. Additionally, it’s fair to wonder just how he’ll develop after an entire year away from live games.
Obviously that’s further on up the road. Who knows, perhaps a summer away from big league pressure may do wonders for Bauers. At just 24 years of age, it’s still far too early to give up on him.
All that said, it’s certainly noteworthy how infrequently we’ve heard mention of his name during the 2020 campaign. The Indians’ outfield was a revolving door through the first month of the season, yet Bauers never came through.
Essentially, if Bauers is still viewed as a key piece to Cleveland’s future, the team has done little to indicate as much this summer.
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