Bauer’s Role Still as Much of a Question Mark as Open Spot in Rotation
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the 15 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.
By Laurel Wilder
Although this offseason for the Indians has been filled with major changes, noteworthy signings, and an unprecedented sense of excitement for the year to come, it has also left a number of questions in the minds of Tribe fans everywhere. Perhaps most commonly is the question of what, exactly, is going to happen with the starting rotation?
With Tribe pitching very much in need of reconstruction following a shaky end of the 2012 season, the Indians have brought a number of candidates to Spring Training to compete for the open spots in the rotation. The locks for the upcoming season are Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, with Brett Myers and Zach McAllister also showing incredibly strong promise of being given starting rotation positions.
The final spot in the rotation, however, remains wide open. A number of both veteran and younger players have found themselves in competition for the fifth spot, but none have seemed as widely talked about as 22-year-old Trevor Bauer.
Bauer, a 6-foot1, 185-pound right-handed pitcher originally from California, has become almost as mysterious to Cleveland fans as the spot for which he is competing. Stories have circulated through the media of Bauer’s quirks and rumors have swirled regarding his alleged difficult personality, painting an unclear picture of who is Bauer exactly.
In his first Major League start with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012, Bauer allegedly shook off the pitch selection by catcher Miguel Montero. During an interview with Phoenix sports radio station 620 AM in February, Montero described Bauer as a player who never wanted to listen.
Indians Manager Terry Francona, however, is quick to defend Bauer to media outlets, saying that the pitcher “does everything we ask,” and does not show resistance to Tribe staff.
“He’s not on his own program,” Francona said in a Spring Training press conference on Feb. 14. “He certainly I think supplements [our training program].”
Bauer’s warm-up routine and training rituals have become another source of intrigue to fans, as he is known for his unique preparations. Bauer routinely performs a long toss before pitching to warm himself up, sometimes throwing from foul pole to foul pole, a trend he has been using since he was around 12.
“I did one of Alan Jaeger’s long toss camps when I was about 12,” Bauer said. “I learned a lot about preparation to throw so you’re warming up to throw instead of throwing to warm up.”
Francona supports Bauer’s long toss program. “I like it,” Francona said. “It’s something as an organization we are trying to incorporate more. As long as you do it correctly, it’s all about building arm strength. As an organization, we are trying to build our long toss.”
The rest of Bauer’s warm-up routine is a combination of training and techniques he has learned throughout his years as a pitcher and throughout his work with people such as Jim Wagner (Bauer’s family-friend and a former collegiate pitching coach) and his time at the Texas Baseball Ranch.
“All these different ideas I have kind of taken what I like, and left what I didn’t like, and kind of organized it all into a routine that I know that warm, cold, hot, dry, whatever, I can get to a certain feel – I can get my body to feel a certain way. It’s a way for me to be consistent going into my starts,” Bauer said.
Another seemingly bizarre aspect of Bauer’s warm-up comes in the form of the black shoulder tube he uses before games. Again, while it may seem odd to see a player twirling a long black pole like a baton, it’s part of a warm-up routine that Bauer has found to work.
Bauer also does a crow-hop on the mound before he throws his first warm-up pitch of every inning, and then proceeds to throw the ball as hard as he can to the catcher.
Is it still that weird if it seems to work for Bauer?
Although Bauer suffered from a subpar Major League debut with the Diamondbacks last season, the rest of his pitching career has been nothing short of stellar. In college, Bauer pitched for the UCLA Bruins, and was the first UCLA player to ever earn the Golden Spikes Award, which is presented every year by USA Baseball to the premier amateur baseball player in the nation. In his collegiate career, Bauer went 32-5 overall in 44 starts. He also set UCLA’s single-season strikeout record with 203 in 2011, breaking the record of 165 that he had set himself in 2010.
Bauer was the third overall pick of the 2011 draft, signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He started his 2012 season pitching for the Mobile BayBears, the Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate. With Mobile, Bauer went 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA and 60 strikeouts, and held batters to a .192 average. He was promoted to Triple-A Reno in May, where he went 5-1 and posted a 2.85 ERA with 97 strikeouts. Bauer started in 18 games with Reno, and led the team to their first Pacific-Coast League title and the Triple-A National Championship.
Bauer also led the Diamondbacks’ minor league organization in strikeouts, tied for first in wins, and placed second in ERA. He was also named to Baseball America’s 2012 Minor League All-Star team.
However, when Bauer was called up to the majors last season, he went 1-2 and posted a 6.06 ERA in four starts. He was sent back down following his final start in July, and did not earn a call-up when Arizona’s roster was expanded in September.
Bauer describes his brief time in the majors as a learning experience, saying that it taught him the importance of throwing that first strike.
“[It taught me about] attacking hitters, putting pressure on hitters to swing the bat. [Staying ahead] just makes pitching a lot easier,” Bauer said. “That’s always something I’ve kind of known, but never really saw the importance of. I would always be able to pitch from behind the count and be successful and whatnot. That’s a lot tougher to do in the big leagues, obviously.”
Bauer claims to throw eight pitches, including one that he developed on his own after watching one of his UCLA teammates. The benefit of being able to throw so many is always having something to go to on any given day, Bauer said.
With the Indians relying on their starting rotation to be the final piece of creating a successful, championship-worthy team, they do not have the luxury of wasting their final rotation spot on a pitcher who cannot consistently deliver. Bauer has shown promise and potential during his time in college and in the minors, but his lackluster Major League games leave a question mark in the possibility of him making the rotation early in the season.
“He’ll have a chance [to make the rotation],” Francona said of where Bauer will end up. “He’s coming in to camp to compete. How that plays out, we’ll see.”
“I think I’m an exciting player to watch,” Bauer said. “Things I do are a little bit different.”
Perhaps the best place for Bauer to start this season is with Triple-A Columbus. Giving him more time to adjust to the Indians organization doesn’t seem like a bad thing, and a call-up later in the season could prove more substantial for the team than thrusting him out on the mound right away and watching him potentially suffer as he did last season.
Wherever he starts, Bauer will definitely be a player to watch this season. His potential is there, quirks and all. As long as he can deliver, hopefully soon the questions will no longer center around why Bauer pitches the way he does, and instead become a nonchalant, why not?
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer