The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in need of a bounce back season after a poor 2013.
For Trevor Bauer, the 2013 baseball season was not much fun.
Bauer spent much of the year toying with mechanics that had been thrown off kilter due to a groin injury in 2012. He had to spend the offseason after his first full big league season rehabbing, rather than working to get better and build toward a future with so much promise.
The lack of being able to fine tune his mechanics and delivery hurt the 23-year-old right-hander last season. He pitched the majority of his innings in Triple-A Columbus, trying to get into a groove. The four spot starts he did get in Cleveland were less than spectacular. He went from being Cleveland’s ace of the future and next big thing to being passed up by several young arms in the pecking order.
Now, Bauer is in camp hoping to reclaim the lofty status that came with being the third overall pick of the 2011 First Year Player Draft. More than that, he is looking to enjoy the game of baseball again this summer.
“Coming off my worst year of baseball ever, it’s going to be nice to get back out there and have fun again,” Bauer said.
Bauer posted, by far, the worst numbers of a career that had seemed so simple not so long ago. After being tabbed as a future star coming out of the University of California, Los Angeles, the Arizona Diamondbacks fast-tracked him to the majors. In 2012, Bauer began the year in Double-A. By midseason and little over a year after being drafted, the then 21-year-old was making his Major League debut. In four starts with Arizona, he struggled in going 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA. However, that was thought to be a young pitcher struggling in his first taste of the spotlight as his minor league numbers were very good.
Bauer, despite his youth and potential, was made available by the Diamondbacks last offseason. They felt his attitude was questionable and that he would not be receptive to changing pitching mechanics and workout routines that were a bit eccentric. The Indians brought him aboard in a three-team deal that saw Shin-Soo Choo go to Cincinnati.
Billed by the Tribe and Cleveland fans as the next big thing, Bauer put more focus on trying to tinker with his pitching delivery than winning games and looked lost at times last year. In his four starts with the Indians, Bauter was 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA. At Triple-A Columbus, the numbers were not strong, either. He was 6-7 and carried a 4.15 ERA.
Despite the struggles of a season ago, Bauer said he is maintaining his confidence that he can get back to the level he was thought to be at just two springs ago.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Bauer said. “I don’t look at it as (2013) being a final and if I didn’t do well then something’s wrong. I look at it as a process. I feel like the changes I’m making and that experience is going to help me down the road and hopefully have a long career.”
The changes, at least to Bauer, are the key for him going forward. Where he was not fully healthy last offseason, costing him precious time to devote to polishing his game, Bauer was healthy this winter. He said he began working on fixing what went wrong with his mechanics in 2013 in early October.
“I could name six or seven major things I was able to accomplish (in fixing the delivery) but they’re small changes,” Bauer said. “People who aren’t looking at my delivery every day wouldn’t notice them.
“I’ve been a lot more consistent (this winter) so I don’t have to worry about doing mechanical stuff,” Bauer continued. “I can just worry about hitting my spots and spinning pitches and command and stuff like that. This was probably the best offseason I’ve had.”
The extra work, according to the pitcher, has added to the velocity of his fastball.
My velocity has picked up to 93.7 miles per hour off the mound,” he said. “I’m hoping to sit in the 93-96 range.”
Bauer hopes the extra work and improvement in mechanics will lead to Major League success in the near future. It is something the Indians could certainly use, soon, as well. After losing starters Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason, there are openings in the rotation.
Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are basically locks for the starting five. The number four slot probably belongs to Danny Salazar, last year’s rookie pitcher who shot out onto the season with an impressive showing late in the season.
The fifth spot in the starting five is wide open. Journeymen pitchers hoping for bounce-back years and young arms looking for their big break are all over the place in Goodyear, Az. Bauer should have as good a shot as any of them to make the Opening Day roster.
Unlike last year, however, when Bauer seemed to have a strong chance of breaking camp with the big league squad, less will be given to him. After a season of struggling, he will have to certainly re-establish himself and beat out veterans like Shaun Marcum and Aaron Harang who are hungry to rebuild careers that faltered last season.
Bauer hopes having spent a year in the Tribe organization will give him a leg up on starting the season in Cleveland.
“In any relationship, the longer you get to know someone, the better it is,” Bauer said. “I feel more comfortable in the organization and know how things are handled here. I’m definitely ready for the coming year.”
If Bauer is as ready as he seems, he could well join Salazar in giving Indians fans a glimpse of what could be a strong one-two punch for years to come.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer