GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jake Bauers made the transition from first base to full-time outfielder last year in his first season with the Indians. While he made that move from dirt to grass, he also struggled to find his bat. And the more his offensive numbers began to plummet, the more the pressure grew and the lower his confidence fell.
“Last year was really tough on me mentally in terms of coming over to a new team,” Bauers said. “I didn’t really know when I fit in. You had a bunch of guys who had played together forever. It’s not easy, and if you feel like you have to prove yourself to others, you’re doing it for the wrong motivation. … I think I was more focused on everything external last year as opposed to what’s going on in this clubhouse and within myself. It was eye-opening, for sure.”
End of the year meeting
Bauers batted .226 with a .683 OPS, 12 homers, 43 RBIs and 115 strikeouts in 117 games. He hit for the cycle against the Tigers last June but failed to ever find a consistent groove. He tried to make changes and find an answer, but noted how difficult it is to do during the season.
“It can [be difficult], especially when you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to feel or what you’re trying to accomplish,” Bauers said. “You’re just trying to feel good. That’s not good enough. At this level, just trying to feel good isn’t good enough. You have to know that what you’re doing is going to work, otherwise the confidence just isn’t there. You can kind of fool everybody on the outside, but on the inside if you don’t know 100 percent that it’s going to work, it’s probably not going to work.”
Manager Terry Francona spoke with Bauers on numerous occasions in an effort to try and help him take some pressure off himself, but the 24-year-old never seemed to be able to do so. He was optioned to Triple-A for the entire month of August, but it didn’t help him get back on the right track. So before Bauers left for the offseason, the staff made sure to communicate to him exactly what changes the team wanted to see over the winter, especially in his routines.
“I give the kid credit,” Francona said. “He took it to heart, what we said. … Sometimes when guys struggle a little bit, I think people forget that this guy actually might be a pretty good player. We don’t forget that. Just because he had a couple tough months, this kid’s still really young and he might be a really good player.”
The motivation to change began in October, just weeks after the season ended. Bauers traveled back to Cleveland to take part in the Tribe’s swing camp, where he learned a tremendous amount about his swing mechanics.
“Basically, I knew nothing about hitting before this offseason is basically what I’m trying to say,” Bauer said.
Along with the technicalities, the camp also helped build Bauers’ mental state by learning how to fall into the proper daily routines, despite what his performance was in his last game.
“Staying grounded. Not coming up and out with my hips,” Bauers said when asked what he was working on. “Basically putting myself in the right position so that I can be efficient, be on plane and early, be on time, have adjustability in my swing instead of having one swing, hoping you hit the ball, pulling off inside pitches, reaching for outside pitches, not being ready to hit anyway.”
Bauers has now been working on his swing for over four months, instead of beginning this process in January like he had done in the past.
“It’s always easy to go through an offseason when everything’s going well,” Bauers said. “But when you have to kind of break everything down and kind of really be honest with yourself about what you’re doing -- Did you work hard? Did you do everything that you could’ve done? -- it’s not a good feeling.
“Obviously taking criticism is a huge part of doing anything. To be able to take that criticism and not kind of fold under it and kind of look at it as almost a challenge was really where my head was at.”
Confidence is high
After the countless hours Bauers spent in the cage, he said he’s ready to put his swing to the test in an actual game setting. And although Francona mentioned that he’s been staying on him already this spring about keeping his confidence up, he also noted that he sees a big leap in Bauers’ maturity from last season.
With a highly competitive outfield situation -- 10 outfielders on the 40-man roster -- Bauers will need to rely on his new-and-improved swing to solidify his spot on the 26-man roster.
“I’ve never felt as good hitting as I do now,” Bauers said. “It’s not just BP, either. We’re in the cage hitting off the velo machine. I could never hit that thing and I’m squaring balls up. I’m just excited to get into games, because obviously that’s where it matters. You can be the best 5 o’clock hitter in the world. It doesn’t matter. I’m just excited to get into games and see how it plays.”