Yesterday, we reviewed one of the Rockies’ top prospects, third baseman Nolan Arenado. He’s been a solid, above average hitter throughout his minor league career so far, and his defense on the hot corner is improving. In an ideal world for the Rockies, he develops into a middle of the order slugger to complement Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. While that’s probably a couple years away, today’s player could reach the majors sooner than Arenado despite just being drafted five months ago. That’s former UCLA standout and Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (2011: NCAA UCLA, A+ Visalia, AA Mobile)
Bauer entered the 2011 season at UCLA as one of the nation’s top starters. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, his ERA hovered around 3.00 on a staff with another standout, Gerrit Cole. In 2010, he was a key factor in UCLA winning their first game in the College World Series ever and advancing to the final series before losing to now back-to-back champion South Carolina. Despite the accolades and statistics, he wasn’t considered to be a top pick before the 2011 season. He was seen as a mid-first rounder to sandwich round guy, but that all changed.
After 2010, Bauer’s stuff showed improvement, and in the end that reflected in his junior season numbers. His ERA dropped to a minuscule 1.25, and his WHIP was well below 1.00. He struck out an absurd 203 batters in 136.2 IP, five more innings than last year despite having two fewer starts. 10 of his 16 starts were complete games which became very controversial. Why would UCLA have him pitch a full nine innings in blowout wins against inferior opponents? College coaches have no obligation to players with great pro potential, but it would still make sense to preserve him for the entire season. However, Bauer is different.
He takes a more cerebral approach to pitching than most and really studies his craft. From his research in mechanics to extensive, unusual pregame warmup routines that have him long tossing from foul pole to foul pole, Bauer is determined to get the absolute most out of his body and stuff. This should lead to durability not often seen in pitchers now even though he’s smaller than most of his contemporaries. If anyone at the collegiate level could handle Bauer’s workload, it’s Bauer.
Many comparisons between prospects and current major leaguers are lazy or inaccurate, and it’s likely that comparing Bauer to Tim Lincecum is both. They’re both small righties from the Pac-10, and they each take unique approaches to pitching compared to their peers. One interesting parallel was their draft stock. Teams regret passing on Lincecum because of perceived red flags at the time- his max effort delivery and small stature. It would be fair to have the same concerns about Bauer, but maybe teams wouldn’t want to make that same mistake again. With his low 90′s fastball and a wide array of offspeed pitches highlighted by a plus curveball, teams couldn’t afford to make that mistake again.
Thanks to his complete dominance, Bauer was awarded the Golden Spikes Award, presented to the best amateur baseball player in the United States. The last five winners, Tim Lincecum, David Price, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper tell you all you need to know about the prestige of this award. With his improved stuff and dominating statistics, the Diamondbacks made him the third overall pick in the draft, just two picks after teammate Gerrit Cole was drafted by Pittsburgh. In an era of nearly every draft pick getting a seven figure bonus having to wait until midnight on August 15th to sign, Arizona was able to secure Bauer and get him out pitching early, perhaps selling the league on the possibility of him helping the team’s playoff hunt.
Bauer ultimately didn’t reach the majors, but he did make it to AA to help Mobile win the Southern League. His time in the Southern League didn’t go particularly well, but with both Visalia and Mobile, he posted great strikeout numbers. His command wasn’t as good as it was as an amateur, and in a small sample size of innings, it can be attributed to nerves and just starting out in pro ball. He’s a pitcher that loves striking batters out, and with 43 in 26 pro innings, that’s easy to see. However, to have success, he won’t be able to bounce as many curveballs and changeups in front of the plate to strike out every batter. As smart as Bauer is, he’ll be able to make the adjustments.
It’s not difficult to imagine Bauer highlighting Arizona’s rotation very soon, and it’s not difficult to imagine him making his big league debut in 2012. He should start out in Mobile or AAA Reno, and he could finish the year in Arizona either in the rotation or out of the bullpen to limit his innings. With fellow prospects Tyler Skaggs and Jarrod Parker on the way in addition to Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson already in the majors, the Diamondbacks should be considered a team on the rise.
Check out tomorrow’s post to read about the hottest name in baseball circles right now. His core strength cannot be questioned.