By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — If you didn’t know who Jake Bauers was prior to spring training, you certainly know his name now.
Bauers made a big splash in the Tampa Bay Rays’ camp this month with his tape-measure home runs, patience at the plate and what some players refer to as big-league hair.
“It’s been awesome and a good to get my name out there,” Bauers said. “Trying to get some people excited about what I can potentially bring to the team. Not just to the fans, but to the front office and maybe some coaches around here.”
The 21-year-old had an 11-game on-base streak within his first 13 games of the spring, including three home runs of more than 425 feet in a weeks span, plus five consecutive plate appearances where he drew a walk.
Bauers’ strong spring showed the Rays a glimpse of what their future holds, but it came to an end Thursday morning, as his name was on a list of youngsters reassigned to the minor leagues.
“We’re excited about him,” manager Kevin Cash. “He obviously had a good camp. I think just his overall approach to hitting is what stood out more than anything”.
A Huntington Beach, Cali. native, Bauers was drafted by the San Diego Padres, who play about an hour and a half away from his hometown. Theoretically, being close to home would be a good thing, but for Bauers, he was actually glad to get sent to the Rays.
“It would’ve been nice to make it up down there, but I think it could have been a distraction at times being so close (to home,” Bauers said. “I’m happy being over here on the east coast. San Diego would have been a great opportunity to be near friends and family.”
Although Bauers’ time with the big club this spring was limited, it provided him with some valuable learning lessons. Mostly being how to carry yourself as a professional.
“Everyone around here has probably some of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen,” Bauers said. Anyone up here could be complacent with where they’re at, and happy with their situations, but everyone here work their tails off. That’s been eye-opening to me. Just because you get here doesn’t mean the work stops. It only gets greater. “
It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers Bauers put up this spring such as a .371 batting average, eight extra-base hits, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored, but an overlooked aspect of his game is his ability to draw walks.
Entering Thursday, he was tied for the team lead with six free passes, and it felt like every at-bat throughout the spring he saw at least four or five pitches.
Cash noticed his discipline at the plate.
“The power is something that kind of naturally comes,” Cash said. “Obviously it was cool to see the homers and everything, but just the pitch recognition. How he was able to turn an at-bat over and layoff pitches to put himself into good counts.”
It hasn’t all been positives in Bauers’ career.
In a minor-league all-star game broadcasted on MLB Network, he did something which will likely stick with him forever. Bauers found a way to turn the blunder into a learning opportunity.
“I got a base hit, was on first base,” Bauers recalled. “I don’t know why I was trying to steal a base in an all-star game. I tripped – the guys picked off, I went and I tripped. Head over heels and did a little barrel roll on national television. I was a big laughing stock for a while. I just tried to laugh it off.
“If you can’t have fun at your own expense, then you’re going to have a miserable time. I guarantee, if you play this game long enough, something is going to happen where you’re going to be the joke for a few days.”
Bauers was still up with the Rays in Thursday’s game after finding out about heading to the minors earlier that morning. The disappointment didn’t stop him from continuing his great spring, as he hit a two-run double in his first at-bat. He even threw a runner out at the plate to keep the score at 5-4 in the eighth inning.