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Bauers believes defense at first benefits Tribe

February 15, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Much of the Indians' roster is in flux heading into Spring Training, and a big piece of the puzzle is Jake Bauers.Bauers brings versatility to the Tribe's lineup in a season where it may come in handy. The 23-year-old is primarily a first baseman with experience in

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Much of the Indians' roster is in flux heading into Spring Training, and a big piece of the puzzle is Jake Bauers.
Bauers brings versatility to the Tribe's lineup in a season where it may come in handy. The 23-year-old is primarily a first baseman with experience in the corner-outfield spots. As the club analyzes the roster over the next six weeks, it will look to see where Bauers will make the biggest impact.
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"It looks to us just from our scouting him, he looks like he has a chance to be an above-average first baseman," manager Terry Francona said. "I think he's athletic enough that you can move him to the outfield, as he's already proven.
"That's where we need to look at our team and break it down and say, 'Where are we strongest? Are we the strongest playing him at first base? Are we the strongest having [Carlos Santana] at first base?' Those are the combinations. 'Are we the strongest asking guys to do both?' We don't know that yet."
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It's clear that Bauers is most comfortable at first base, playing 76 of his 96 games at first after getting called up to the Majors in June 2018. However, the Indians still have plenty of decisions. If Bauers starts at first, Santana will be the designated hitter. If Santana is at first, Bauers could move to the outfield and compete with Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow and Greg Allen at the corners.
"I mean, preferably, I'd play every inning at first base," Bauers said. "I think that's where, defensively, I bring the most value. I've made no kind of secrets about my confidence in myself over there, and given the opportunity, I think I can be probably one of, if not the best, defensive first basemen in the game."

The Indians think highly of Bauers' potential at first base, but given their lack of depth in the outfield, he will get some looks in the grass. Bauers started seeing time in the outfield in 2016 with the Rays' Double-A affiliate, playing 62 games in right and four in left, which he said was not an easy transition.
"It was rough I'm not gonna lie," Bauers said. "It's something new and when you're in Double-A trying to have a good season, you're also having to worry about struggling defensively. It's a big hit to your confidence. Not being up to what you think you should be up to, if that makes sense. And I take pride in defense as well as offense, so when I'm not performing to the level that I think I should be, like I said, it takes a hit on my confidence."
Bauers may not have as much experience in the outfield at the Major League level, making 20 appearances, but he said his confidence is now high. Knowing the state of the Indians' outfield after he was traded to Cleveland on Dec. 13, he was sure to do a little extra conditioning and lost a few extra pounds to be a little more flexible to be ready to play in the outfield.
"The first time I played out there full-time in the Minors, I was sore a lot, just because I wasn't used to running that much throughout the season," Bauers said. "So, that's something I've kind of incorporated into my whole preparation in the offseason as well as the season. I realized it's important for me to get out and run and kind of do springs, and even some long distance stuff just to stay ready."

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.