Once upon a time, Jake Bauers was a top-100 prospect that was supposed to tear it up with the Tampa Bay Rays. Following a trade to the Cleveland Guardians that included star-hitter Yandy Diaz, Bauers struggled to find his footing at the Major League level. He’s spent time with the Mariners and Reds as well following his stint with Cleveland, but in 2023 he’s unlocked a new level to his game with the Yankees. A career .401 SLG% and .754 OPS in Triple-A prior to 2023, he had issues with translating his raw power into game power as he’s struggled to elevate the ball at every level he’s played at.
His OBP skills and walk rates have always been impressive, but without in-game power, he would be a liability at 1B despite his defensive prowess. Following a hot start at the Triple-A level, the 27-year-old is looking to rewrite his career thus far, and the Yankees could offer him a chance to reach the heights he was slated to reach when he was #64 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect list.
Unlocking Newfound Power
Jake Bauers has traditionally been a below-average power hitter in his professional career. While he has displayed the ability to reach high exit velocities in the past, the inability to translate his raw power into game power has severely limited his ceiling offensively. In 269 games at Triple-A prior to 2023, Bauers hit just 29 HRs with a .248 BA, making him both a poor HR hitter and just a league-average in terms of batting average. The average 1B in 2022 had a 107 wRC+, so his 111 wRC+ at Triple-A was simply not going to cut it for the high-demand for offense from the position.
Furthermore, 1B was the position with the highest Isolated Power (ISO) out of every non-DH position in baseball last season, so Bauers just doesn’t fit the traditional build for someone at that position. They tried to move him into a corner outfield spot, thinking that if he was a 105-110 wRC+ hitter at those positions instead, he’d provide more value than the league-average corner outfielder offensively. The results of that positional switch are something we’ll discuss later, but in 2023 he’s completely flipped the switch on his power.
This season Bauers has already clubbed nine HRs, surpassing his 2022 total in ~30% of the games he played that season. 70% of all hits he’s recorded this year have been extra-base hits, and with the Yankees lacking any offense from the bottom of the lineup, Bauers could be a boost for the lineup. The initial response to any hot streak at Triple-A would be that well, it’s Triple-A. I would normally agree with that sentiment, as while a 227 wRC+ and .883 SLG% are unreal, Bauers has nearly 300 games of Triple-A experience and is already 27 years old.
There’s a real shot he’s just a Quardiple-A player, a term often used to describe someone who’s able to crush it in Triple-A but never make it as an MLB regular. That being said, Bauers has made legitimate adjustments with the Scranton Railriders that are intriguing to say the very least, and I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to say these could translate to the Bronx. As mentioned earlier, Bauers has great plate discipline, but he’s taken that to a different level this season. He doesn’t just get on base, he gets on base at an elite level:
- 10.1% O-Swing%
- 9.4% Swinging Strike%
- 21.9% BB%
- 16.4% K%
Bauers has maintained a low strikeout rate while also walking at an unreal clip, and that’s due to his patience at the plate and solid contact skills. That’s a skill that allows batters to remain playable in spite of poor stretches with the bat, and that’s something a lot of the Yankees’ depth cannot provide. If Bauers is able to walk at his MLB clip (11.5% BB%), his strides in power should allow him to be at least a league-average contributor for the Yankees.
This rings even more true when you look at the raw power for Bauers, who’s finally figured out how to consistently tap into his raw power. Bauers has a career 87.7 MPH Exit Velocity, but in 2023 he’s averaging 94.1 MPH, with a new career-best in exit velocity at 113.5 MPH. He’s also consistently reaching those high exit velocities, with a 90th Percentile Exit Velocity of 110.2 MPH. These encouraging batted ball data signs would signal that he’s a different hitter than he was in the past.
With improvements made to his offensive profile, how does he fit on this roster defensively?
Potential Corner Outfield Option for the Yankees
In his career, Jake Bauers has a -8 OAA and +1 DRS in the outfield, but those numbers are trending upwards for the former 7th Round Pick. With +4 DRS and -1 OAA in the outfield in 2021, he showed that while his range in the outfield is subpar, his arm and throwing decisions are undoubtedly excellent. OAA is a range-based metric that doesn’t take into account runs saved through strong throws. He won’t provide much defensive value in the outfield, but he’ll provide enough value to warrant throwing him in both LF and RF, coupled with occasional starts at 1B if need be.
He also saw improvements at 1B defensively as well, posting +2 DRS and +3 OAA after posting a -4 DRS and -6 OAA in his prior two seasons. Not that the Yankees are a poor defensive team, but Franchy Cordero and Willie Calhoun are net negatives defensively, and Bauers would provide league-average defense at the position. Bauers is sneakily athletic, with 60th Percentile Sprint Speeds in 2021 that has allowed him to collect three stolen bases in just 18 games. Furthermore, the Yankees have gotten no real production from their outfielders, who have been some of the worst in baseball:
- 79 wRC+
- 27.0% K%
The Yankees had opportunities to upgrade in the outfield, but none of those opportunities came to fruition or fit the Yankees’ offseason plans monetarily. That being said, if you can catch lightning in a bottle with Bauers, the Yankees could focus resources on different positions that are struggling or even bolster their pitching. It’s hard to expect that someone with minimal MLB success will have their Triple-A success translate to the Major League level, but would it hurt the Yankees to try?
Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Franchy Cordero, and Willie Calhoun are not the solutions in the outfield that the Yankees hoped they could be. To expect that they turn it around after long stretches of poor offense is unreasonable, and while, as mentioned earlier, Bauers doesn’t have much MLB success, he does provide some upside for a group that just isn’t hitting right now. To be completely honest, if the Yankees want to convince fans that either of those four hitters are capable of being what the Yankees need, they’ll fail miserably.
This isn’t an angry Yankee fan slamming his keyboard, it’s one who’s remained optimistic about the team and how they can play this year regardless of this week-long slump. That being said, optimism and delusion are two separate things, and it’s clear as day that the Yankees are a deeply flawed offense that lacks the requisite depth needed to get through stretches of the season where Aaron Judge isn’t historically great, and Giancarlo Stanton isn’t healthy. DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, and Gleyber Torres have all hit well to start the year, it’s been the bottom of the lineup that’s presented an issue.
While it seems crazy to write an entire article about a prospect who’s lost their stock, this isn’t the first time the Yankees would be buying low on a former top prospect.
The Yankees Have a History with Castaways
From 2019-2021, two of their most reliable players offensively were Luke Voit and Gio Urshela, former prospects with the Cardinals and Guardians, respectively, who didn’t stick with the Major League club and found their swings in the Bronx. Both debuted for the Yankees in their age 27 seasons, just like Jake Bauers, and both of them spent time in Triple-A prior to breaking out. Some players are late bloomers, and while Jake Bauers could just be on a hot streak, the previously mentioned batted ball data and swing decisions would suggest there are tangible improvements made to his skillset.
Add on the fact that Bauers is left-handed and could take advantage of the short porch in RF, and suddenly this has the makings of a potential breakout candidate. From the perspective of Brian Cashman, if the Yankees were able to convert Jake Bauers into a 110-115 wRC+ hitter this season from the left-handed side, the media members screaming about the lack of offensive pieces added to this roster suddenly quiet down. The worst-case scenario is that Jake Bauers is incapable of hitting, and as mentioned earlier, it would be pretty easy to DFA him. It’s the definition of a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Yankees, who are desperate for any sort of offense.
If you ask me, I’ll take a flyer on someone who’s reached north of 112 MPH in exit velocity, makes great swing decisions, and is just 27 years old after being a top prospect. Talent evaluators and scouts across the league rated him highly for a reason, and maybe the Yankees unlocked the skills needed for him to live up to the prospect hype he once had. It’s a long shot, but does a team starting multiple DFA candidates really have much else they can do instead?