Only a mere four years ago Cleveland starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was highly billed enough to be the No. 3 overall pick of the amateur draft. The Arizona Diamondbacks tabbed the 20-year-old out of the University of California, Los Angeles as a top arm for the future.
That statement, alone, should make it no surprise that the now 24-year-old Bauer is pitching at an exceedingly high level to start this season off. What makes him a bit of a surprise, bust-out players is the long, winding, often frustrating road the talented hurler has taken to getting to a point at which expectations are finally starting to be fulfilled.
Bauer was fast-tracked to the Majors by Arizona, making his debut in 2012. He started four games that year and was not very good in going 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA. While those are certainly less-than-desirable numbers, it really is not much to be alarmed about when talking about 21-year-old making his first few big league appearances. Few players that young, no matter how highly drafted, are ready to make it big at the game’s highest level.
What was alarming for the Diambondbacks organization was what was between Bauer’s ears. He did not seem to be listening to coaching or to veteran leadership. Management was not fond of his long-toss, pregame routine now his fondness for tinkering with new pitches and new deliveries mid-game. Players were not appreciative a rookie who would often shake off signs from his catcher.
It let to Arizona shipping him off to Cleveland following the 2012 campaign in a three-way trade that saw the Indians send Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. At the time, a young Indians club was willing to take a chance on Bauer eventually coming into his own.
Things started off in Cleveland only slightly better than they did in Arizona. Bauer started four contests for the Indians in 2013 and had another 1-2 go of it, with a somewhat better, but still mediocre ERA of 5.29. He seemed a lot more mature with the Tribe – perhaps the product of being traded away and told he was unwanted by one team. Also, Tribe management was a lot more willing to live with the pregame routine of a young, talented player in the hopes that it would help him grow.
Before the 2014 season, Bauer admitted he was hurt before the 2013 season and did not get a chance to really get into a good offseason training program ahead of his initial year with the Cleveland organization. He had more of an offseason before 2014 and the results started to show. He was only 5-8. However, his ERA jumped to a much more respectable 4.18. While, not the numbers of a number one pitcher, it was an indication that Bauer might finally be figuring things out in the Majors and cause him to be tabbed by many as a prime break-out candidate this season.
Fans around Cleveland struggled with the thought that a guy who had been a bust through parts of three big league summers, however it seems to be holding true. Through four games, Bauer has been tremendous. His worst start of the year came Tuesday against Kansas City, in which he gave up three runs in six innings of a no decision. A quality start is not too bad four your worst start in four outings.
Bauer has pitched two games in which he has given up zero runs, including one in which he left with a no-hitter. He gave up two runs in his other outing of the young season. All told, he has surrendered a grand total of five earned runs in four games, covering 25 innings. He has pitched six frames or more in ever start. That is is four starts, all of which on the quality side.
Bauer’s April is a bit shocking only in that he did not seem anywhere close to this level in his previous big league stints. Even as he took the leap last year, he took his share of beatings and still seemed very much the rookie at times.
So far in 2015, Bauer has seemed very much like the ace many thought he could be. He is even showing a toughness and leadership previously unseen. His start Tuesday came just three days after missing a start due to food poisoning. He may have been pitching less than 100 percent and still turned in an effort that deserved a victory. Instead, he remained 2-0.
With his team in a 7-13 funk to start the year, Bauer told reporters Wednesday that things need to change sooner or else. It is nice to see someone in the Tribe clubhouse showing some spunk. Bauer would have been far from that guy in years past – now he may be taking more of a leadership role.
At 24, Bauer is still young. He seems like a veteran only because of how quickly he rocketed to the big show. Perhaps he was brought up too fast for his own good. Few guys can be like Mike Trout and perform at an All-Star, MVP level at 21. Few guys at 21 can hold their own, at all.
Bauer is now at a more normal age for a quality player to break out. Usually a player will hit his stride some where between his 24th and 28th birthday. Corey Kluber was 28 in his break-out, Cy Young, 2014 season.
While fans have been impatient with the Tribe phenom at times, the Indians have stayed very loyal to him. Cleveland management now looks all the wiser as Bauer has followed up a very good end to last season with a dominant start to this one.
What is scary, is Bauer can still get better. While he has had three games of seven or more strikeouts – including one with a whopping 11 – he has been prone to allowing the free pass. He was his own undoing in chasing a no hitter in the season’s third game in Houston. He had to leave with a high pitch count largely because of five walks. He has issued two or more bases on balls in every game. If he can cut down on those, Bauer can really take off.
That Bauer could still pitch better has to be a scary thought for everyone outside of Cleveland. If he can become a second top-notch pitcher to pair with Kluber and the promising Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe’s rotation can be as good as any.
Bauer’s journey has been a long one. However, all signs point to him finally pitching like the guy who was once the third pick of an entire draft. That the Indians have him is now something we in Cleveland can all now finally be thankful for as that trade is starting to look better and better by the year and now by the start.
Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press