Rays first baseman Jake Bauers began his major league career with a surge. He became a key component of the Rays everyday lineup and provided stellar defense at first base. He immediately rewarded the Rays for promoting him at the ripe age of 22 years old by hitting .239/.350/.477 with 9 HR, resulting in a 128 wRC+ over his first 234 plate appearances as a big leaguer.
Tha is until August, when he hit a brick wall, and then fell off a cliff, and then careened into a canyon. The second half of the season just was not good.
Over his final 154 plate appearances, Bauers was among the worst hitters in the game as he was hampered by a .198 BABIP resulting in a slash of .143/.263/.238 with just 2 HR.
Although there was a positive trend just before the end of the season, the slump after the All-Star Break has likely left a bad taste in the mouth of Rays fans — but not for Rays staff. As Kevin Cash said during his Winter Meetings press conference, nothing was really different with Bauers, his swing and his approach were the same.
Digging into those comments verify Cash’s claims. It was pitchers who changed, not Bauers, as they started attacking him differently as the year progressed, staying out of the zone more often. Bauers struggled to layoff those pitches, thus resulting in more weak contact and less probability of his hits sneaking through.
Bauers was never quite able to dig himself out of the hole during the regular season, but nonetheless, if there was any question as to who the Rays see as their starting first baseman, you can put those concerns to bed.
It appears the Tampa Bay Rays are comfortable rolling with Jake Bauers as their starting first baseman again in 2019 with Erik Neader stating he’s “our guy.”
#Rays GM Erik Neander says the team will look at all options but he says that Jake Bauers “is our guy” at first base— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) December 13, 2018
This makes a lot of sense. Bauers is a valuable asset to the team, and a young one at that who had an abbreviated opportunity to adjust to major league pitching after they adjusted to his hot start. Cash said as much in his press conference: leaping to a new level comes with challenges, and Bauers has demonstrated an ability to adjust at every level before.
Heck, we might have seen his adjustment begin in the graph above, the season simply ended too soon. And maybe for these reasons there was never a question in your mind as to whether Bauers would be back in 2019. But if there was, rest assured.
First base is for Bauers.
You can read Kevin Cash’s full comments on Bauers from Monday’s press conference below, courtesy of the Times transcription:
What does Jake Bauers need to do to take the next step?
”You know, I think Jake, of all of our young players that came up, Jake was as talked about as anybody, rightfully so. I think just experience and maturity, he was the youngest guy in the league. He’s been the youngest at every level he’s performed at. And he figured it out. He’s always struggled and started to stabilize himself a little bit and then he gets hot and he puts together some pretty good numbers offensively.
”I think that’s what we saw this year at the big league level. He struggled, he probably didn’t have the right time to figure it. It was the right time for Jake to go home and gather his thoughts. But he was a little bit of an anomaly, when you watch his at-bats, his swing looked the same, everything looked the same. He wasn’t getting his hits.
”And I’m confident, Jake has hit everywhere, he’s going to hit. Defensively, our defense got a heck of a lot better when he was out there. And the confidence that he gave our infielders and the things that he can do around the bag were really impressive. I hope Jake is enjoying himself, letting his mind take a break and come in fresh this Spring training and ready to compete.”
Danny Russell contributed to this article.