The Trevor Bauer love-fest began immediately after the 6-foot-1, 190 pound right-hander was drafted third overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2011 draft. With stunning amateur stats, a funky windup similar to Tim Lincecum and a bevy of pitches at his disposal, Bauer was seen as near MLB ready.
In the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Bauer was seen as a top 10 overall prospect with a future grade of 70 on the 20-80 scale, and medium risk to meet his potential. BA graded Bauer’s fastball as plus-plus (70), his curveball at plus-plus (70), and his changeup as plus (60), with a plus delivery (60) and above average command (55).
Scouts and fans alike were counting down the days until Bauer became a frontline ace in the Diamondbacks rotation, until abruptly the Diamondbacks sent Bauer to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade that shipped Shin-Soo Choo over to Cincinnati. For such a highly touted prospect, the trade seemed odd and with only Didi Gregorious going back to the Diamondbacks, most onlookers were left scratching their heads wondering what the Diamondbacks knew that no one else did.
In reality, the signs of Bauer’s less-than-perfect prospect status weren’t very hard to see. It just seemed that no one really wanted to point out that Bauer consistently walked around four batters per nine innings and has never shined in the home runs allowed department.
Part of the reason for putting on blinders when looking at Bauer’s stats are the gaudy strikeout numbers he is capable of. In 2012 Bauer struck out 60 batters in 48.1 innings at Double-A before striking out 97 batters in 82 innings at Triple-A later that year. The problem was that despite posting impressive ERA totals at both levels, Bauer was simply getting into too much trouble with base-runners. However, due to his pure stuff he was able to get out of jams by overpowering less advanced competition.
When he faced big league hitters for the first time, Bauer was simply not ready. Heading into 2013, Baseball America downgraded their future grade on Bauer to a 65 saying “Bauer needs to refine his plan on the mound. He gets caught up trying to strike out every hitter, which leads to control issues and high pitch counts.” It may seem simple, but Bauer needs to trust his stuff, throw strikes, and the results will follow.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened when the Indians sent him down to Triple-A. In 22 games started at Triple-A Bauer’s strikeouts hit an all-time low (7.86 K/9), while his walks (5.41 BB/9) and home runs allowed (1.04 HR/9) hit an all-time high. The severe fall from the top of prospect lists to an afterthought who is best known for his rapping skills has caused Bauer to tinker with his mechanics and rethink his entire approach to pitching. He has reportedly been working on a new delivery this offseason and is in constant communication with the Indians’ front office.
Heading into spring training Bauer’s main competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation will be Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco has talent, and displayed it on the big league stage for the Indians in 2011 but injuries have conspired against him in the past two seasons. The Indians also signed Shawn Marcum who is coming off of surgery but has always combined low walk totals with decent strikeout rates and has a good chance to win the last spot in the rotation. The most likely outcome here is that Bauer is sent down to Triple-A to refine his repertoire while Carrasco or Marcum gets the first shot in the rotation.
Trevor Bauer will have to prove this year that he can still be a dominant pitcher with a refined approach, and his transformation will be on display as Spring Training 2014 gets underway.