The Wil Myers three-team trade still gets debated on twitter near daily, so raise your hand if you’ve been involved in, or sucked into, a debate involving the relative merits of Myers, Trea Turner, and Joe Ross. (*shyly raises hand*) There were like 52 other players involved in that deal (okay, seven, to be exact) who don’t get as much pub, and two of the most interesting ones went to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Steven Souza, who went from Washington to Tampa Bay, was a projection system darling at the time of the trade, with PECOTA being most bullish on him. Souza initially failed to live up to that hype, providing exactly league average offense from a corner outfield spot over his first two years in Florida. This year, however, Souza’s unearthed what the projections system liked, hitting .266/.374/.484 with 10 homers in 228 plate appearances. A third of a season doesn’t make a career, but it looks like Souza might still become a valuable everyday piece for the Rays.
The other interesting guy—and the subject of this article—is Jake Bauers, who went from the Padres to the Rays. Here are 24 reasons to like Bauers.
Reason No. 1: The scouts like him. This is super obvious and everything, but it’s not like Bauers is ignored in scouting circles. All of the prospects sites—be it Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, etc.—like Bauers, which is a good proxy for how scouts evaluate him. All of them talk about Bauers as a good, polished left-handed hitter with plus defense at first and good speed for a first baseman. The 2017 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, specifically, notes that Bauers has “loose wrists, a knack for making hard contact, and he consistently takes competitive at-bats.” It’s not like Bauers is a Souza-like stathead favorite; the scouting community generally digs him, and both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline had him squarely inside the top 100 coming into the season.
Reason No. 2: He’s performed well. Bauers has been ultra consistent at every level. Here are his stats from FanGraphs:
Bauers hasn’t dominated a single stop, but he’s been solid everywhere. You can see the good approach playing out in the numbers, with good-to-great walk and strikeout numbers, and a well above average wRC+ at most levels. This year, at Triple-A Durham, he’s hitting .275/.373/.420, with 30 walks and 45 strikeouts in 225 plate appearances. Remember, the International League isn’t a hitter’s haven like the PCL.
The main downside is the power, or lack of it. It’s never been impressive for a first baseman—shoot, hasn’t even been great for an up-the-middle player. That’s the knock here. He’s a first baseman (or possibly a corner outfielder) without power production.
Reason No. 3: He’s been young for his leagues. Bauers was drafted in the seventh round in 2013 as a 17-year-old, and he spent that summer with the AZL Padres. He’s gone up about a level a year from there: Single-A (at 18), High-A and Double-A (at 19), Double-A (at 20), and Triple-A (at 21). Bauers has been playing against players older than him at every stop. Per Baseball Reference, he’s been at least 2.7 years younger than the average player in his league everywhere he’s played.
It’s hard to put a number on it, but being young for your league is an important part of prospect evaluation. For one, it generally means the organization is confident in the player, letting him sink or swim against advanced competition despite youth or a lack of experience. It’s also simply more impressive for a young player to hold his own against older competition. Who are you taking, a 19-year-old who held his head above water at Double-A or a 25-year-old tearing up the league? All else equal, you’re probably taking the younger guy.
Reason No. 4: He might have hidden power. I know, I know, this is a pet theory of mine. I’ve talked about it regarding Manuel Margot a couple of times, but, with the way big-league baseballs fly these days, it feels like there’s a chance for every prospect with bat-to-ball skills to add power once they reach the majors. While Bauers ISOs have never been eye-catching, he’s not exactly a punch-and-judy guy either; he consistently makes hard contact and already has good pull-side power. FanGraph’s Eric Longenhagen has noted that Bauers actually has above-average raw power, and other outlets have said the same.
There’s also a chance for a change in approach once he reaches the majors. Not every player can adjust smoothly to hitting more fly balls, and some average is probably to be lost in the process (as we discussed on twitter yesterday), but Bauers feels like a player who could add power simply by selling out for it more often.
Reason No. 5: The projections systems like him. PECOTA doesn’t love Bauers, projecting him as like an average hitter long term. But it does spit out plenty of good comps for him. Just on the first two pages there’s Myers, Nomar Mazara, Joc Pederson, Freddie Freeman, Margot, Mookie Betts, and Austin Meadows.
I made the Freeman comp yesterday, but bear with me for a second. Freeman hit “just” .302/.364/.474 in the minors, but he’s been a better hitter in the majors, slashing .290/.376/.495, losing a little average for walks and 30 points of ISO. Bauers isn’t going to be Freeman, but if he can turn the same trick, trading some contact for power and improving on his minor-league line, he’s something like peak Eric Hosmer.
KATOH, the stats-based projection system from Chris Mitchell, tabbed Bauers as the 16th-best prospect in the game coming into the season, with a projected 9.9 WAR through his first six seasons. That’s better than much more highly regarded prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Rafael Devers, and Lewis Brinson. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be better than those guys, of course, but it shows that from a pure numbers- and age-based perspective, Bauers has been really good.
Reason No. 6: He’s apparently a big Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks fan. Alright, we were never going to get to 24 reasons.
I don’t want to oversell Bauers; there are obvious question marks, mostly about the lack of power and the first base/corner profile, which is never desired in a prospect. He’s going to have to really hit to be a difference maker. Still, there’s a lot to like here. Even though the Padres have a pretty good carbon copy on the farm in Josh Naylor, if they can’t have Trea Turner back, it’d be nice to get at least get a re-do on dealing Bauers.