Durham Bulls blast way past Charlotte Knights in home opener
Jake Bauers' calling card is a sweet swing and versatility in the field.
That ability to be a jack-of-all-tradesman is one of the reasons Bauers has been on the fast track in the Tampa Bay Rays' organization, landing him in Durham for the 2017 season.
Oh, and it helped that he had a sparkling spring training.
Bauers, rated the No. 4 prospect in the Rays' organization by MLB.com, had a breakout spring training. He led all Rays players with four home runs and 13 RBIs to go along with an .857 slugging percentage.
"During spring training, I wanted to put myself on the map," Bauers said. "I wanted to make sure when I left and came here they would remember me and what I could do and leave a good impression."
Bauers, who is from Newport Beach, California, was originally drafted in the seventh round in 2013 by the San Diego Padres. He was acquired by the Rays in 2014.
He played a half season of high-A ball in Port Charlotte, Florida in 2015 and then was promoted to AA Montgomery for the second half. Bauers spent all of last season with the Biscuits, leading the Southern League with 135 games played. He was third in Southern League with 79 runs and ranked fourth in doubles (28), which factored in his selection as a mid-season and post-season all-star.
Now in Durham, Bauers said he now has to show some patience. He along with infielder Willy Adames make up a young but very talented roster.
"We have a great team with a lot of great young players," Bauers said. "I think that talent is going to keep a lot of people coming back."
He's not yet found the same groove he had in spring training, though. Through 15 games, Bauers is batting .238 (15 for 63) with a double and a home run. His round-tripper came on April 16 against Gwinnett.
In the field, Bauers can play multiple positions from first base to outfield, which is where he's spent most of him time this season. He's learning the outfield as a way to improve his chances of getting his first Major League call up.
"The outfield is new to me and I've got to really work hard out there," Bauers said. "I want to be the best outfielder I can be this year. It's not natural, yet. The thing I am trying to do, if I make a mistake, is to let that be the only time I make that mistake. The next time I will be ready for it and play it right.
"I am with an organization that values versatility. There's only two or three guys who play one position and everyone else is able to move around. I think it helps me. If they need a left fielder (in Tampa), I can go help them. If they need somebody at first, I can go help them."
Until then, Bauers said the opportunity to play for the Bulls is one of the best in baseball outside of the Majors.
"It's a crazy feeling to be here," Bauers said. "When you're down in the lower levels, you see it happening and you hear about it. But to actually to be here with all these guys who have the potential to be in the big leagues tomorrow is indescribable. It's feels like one of the best opportunities I've had.
"It's hard, too. Being one step away and knowing how close you are. The next level is the level you've worked for all your life."
The Bulls open their second homestand tonight (7:05 p.m., WDNC-AM 620) against the Syracuse Chiefs. On Wednesday, the teams will take to the field for a 10:35 a.m. start before returning to the traditional 7:05 p.m. start time on Thursday. The Buffalo Bisons will then be in town for a three-game weekend series starting on Friday.
The Bulls were 4-3 in their initial homestand but jumped to the top of the South Division thanks to a 7-3 road trip that concluded Sunday in Louisville, where they won three of four games. Durham sits in second place, a half game behind Gwinnett.