For an Indians team whose offseason goal has been to cut down payroll and infuse players with longer-term control into its organization, Jake Bauers seems like a perfect match.
The 23-year-old is an athletic first baseman with 96 Major League games under his belt, and he is under team control for the next six years. Now that the Indians have traded Yonder Alonso, Bauers will likely see a lot of time at first, but could he also be an extra piece to mix in to the outfield?
Bauers was acquired through a three-team deal with the Mariners and Rays at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings last Thursday. The Tribe also brought first baseman Carlos Santana back to Cleveland, leaving the club with two new options to take the first-base spot.
"We can take some time to work through that," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said during a recent conference call. "I think both guys are certainly capable of doing that, so we will see how things progress over the course of the winter and Spring Training, but either guy is capable of filling that role. I would imagine it would be some blend of the two."
Santana could spend a decent amount of time as the designated hitter with the current roster, putting Bauers at first base. But, when Santana gets his reps in the infield, the biggest question that remains is whether Bauers can make an impact in the outfield if need be.
After losing Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall to free agency, the Indians could absolutely use some additional depth in the outfield. If the season would begin today, the Tribe could potentially start Jordan Luplow -- who has played in just 64 big league games -- in left, a recovering Leonys Martin (bacterial infection) in center and Tyler Naquin -- who had right hip surgery in Aug. -- in right.
Bauers was ranked as the Rays' No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline entering the 2018 season. After getting promoted to the big leagues on June 7, he played 16 games in left field, four games in right, and he made his other 76 appearances at first base for Tampa Bay.
With extremely limited experience beyond the infield, it's hard to determine what Bauers could bring to the Indians' outfield. Of the 31 chances he had in right and left field to make an out last season, he was successful in 27, leaving just four uncaught. But all the 27 outs he made had a catch probability of at least 80 percent, meaning they were not too difficult to track down (although his diving grab against the A's in September appeared to be more difficult than at least an 80 percent chance).
Bauers was expected to make 90 percent of his opportunities, and he ended up converting 87 percent. Although he didn't quite get to every ball he was "expected" to make, the small sample size makes it difficult to determine how good of an outfielder Bauers really is. One known quantity is that he has decent speed. Statcast™ measured his sprint speed of 27.8 ft/sec, which is above the MLB average of 27.0 and is similar to outfielders like Giancarlo Stanton, Michael Conforto and Andrew Benintendi.
"He's a very good defender at first base and is pretty athletic, so he has some potential to not only play first base, but play the outfield if that's where there's an opportunity," Antonetti said. "We think he has a lot of ingredients to be a successful Major League player."
With his rookie season in the rearview mirror, Bauers could settle in to be a solid provider for the Indians on offense. He displayed some power last season, clubbing 11 homers and knocking in 48 runs in his 96 games. The left-handed hitter also drew 54 walks in just 388 plate appearances, and he posted a .700 OPS with a wRC+ of 95.
"He's a guy that we've liked for quite a while," Antonetti said. "He's young, a 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting first baseman that can impact the game on both sides. We feel like he's a developing, young hitter that's got a good approach at the plate with emerging power."