"I don't think it's all fully sunk in yet," Bauers said prior to his debut. "The first time I think it really hit me was when I was on the plane to Tampa from Charlotte. Flew in today. Heart started pounding a little bit. When the pilot said get ready for landing, I kind of said, 'I'm really here.' Hopefully it all becomes a little more real as the day goes on."
Bauers, 22, batted sixth and played first on his first day in The Show, going 0-for-4, but he hit the ball hard three times. He also made a dazzling catch at the railing of the Rays' dugout for the final out of the fifth. Bauers, who is ranked the Rays' No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, stands 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, and he opened eyes with his bat during stints with the Major League club the past two springs.
"He's made quite the impression the past couple of Spring Trainings," manager Kevin Cash said. "When you hear about young players who are performing well in the upper levels, I think the Major League club gets excited. That goes for staff, front office, and then obviously his new teammates here. They've gotten to know him the past two springs. He's a special player.
"We're excited to get him here. Get him acclimated. Don't want to put too much pressure on him, like any young player. But we think it's his time to come up and play first base a lot. ... Overall, it's a good day for the Rays. Any time you're able to bring up good young players and get that transition started, brings a lot of excitement."
Bauers hit .279/.357/.426 with five homers and 24 RBIs through 52 games with Durham. He was acquired from the Padres as part of the Wil Myers trade in 2014. Unlike fellow prospect Willy Adames, who was told upon his callup earlier this season that he would be sent back down, Bauers' arrival sounds like it will be more than a cup of coffee.
"Ideally, from this point forward for him, it's merit based," Rays general manager Erik Neander said. "As long as he's doing his job. Our hope is he's able to run with it and play it out. It's going to be on him. But this is a situation, especially with the decision we made with Brad, to open up an opportunity for him to come here and play. And to learn, to grow, and to try and continue his development at the Major League level."
Bauers, who hits left-handed, has extraordinary plate discipline along with a knack for barreling the ball with a compact swing. He deflected questions about him representing the future of the franchise.
"Whatever I can do to help the team right now, that's what I'm here to do," Bauers said. "Drive in runs, score runs, move runners. Whatever the case may be. Just anything to help the team win."
The Rays have a core of talented young players who have joined the team this season, or are currently at Durham, including Bauers, Adames, Jaime Schultz, Christian Arroyo, and Diego Castillo. Does Bauers' arrival signal that the time has come to let the kids take a prolonged spin at the Major League level?
"You look at what some of the other teams have done over the past couple of years, they've transitioned to where they had some of that quote, unquote, youth movement," Cash said. "And I think you have to be prepared to let them take their lumps.
"Kind of a roller coaster. The highs and lows. Those are going to be mixed in. In a perfect world, we stay much higher than we get lower. But in all fairness to these guys, everybody who has been here for a certain amount of time has been awarded that opportunity. We shouldn't change it for these guys. Especially when we're talking about 21-, 22-, 23-year-old guys."