WASHINGTON — Jake Bauers wasn't in Wednesday's lineup for Triple-A Durham and wanted to know why. Bulls manager Jared Sandberg told him it was just a day off and he'd be back Thursday playing leftfield, where he spends some time away from his usual post at first base.
Less than 20 minutes later, Sandberg got the call from his Rays bosses that Bauers was getting the call. Sandberg summoned Bauers to his office and, joined by his coaches, told him, straight-faced, that he actually was not going to be playing leftfield for the Bulls on Thursday after all …
And that they didn't know where he would be playing …
But that it would be in St. Petersburg, for the Rays. That he was going to the big leagues.
Bauers, according to Sandberg, was caught off guard and "very shocked" at the promotion.
If so, that tunnel vision is another skill, in addition to the smooth glove, oh-so-sweet swing, patient approach and determination that makes him so good.
Because others have been wondering what was taking so long.
"More or less, it's his time,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday. "He's got to that point where maybe the rest of his development is to be had at the big-league level.''
Bauers is 22, another leading man in the group of young, talented, personable advanced prospects the Rays have been bragging about and counting on to lead them to success in the not-so-distant future.
Acquired from San Diego in the 11-player, three-team December 2014 trade headlined by Wil Myers going to the Padres and Steven Souza Jr. to the Rays (for Trea Turner!), Bauers has progressed steadily and impressed regularly.
He had a team MVP season for Double-A Montgomery in 2016, then dazzled as an invitee to major-league league camp the next spring. His 2017 season at Durham was solid, though not spectacular. And though he showed well again this spring, seeing the Rays bring back Brad Miller and trade for C.J. Cron to play first pretty much guaranteed a return to Durham.
Bauers wasn't particularly happy, but like fellow prospect Willy Adames, he knew how it worked and that he couldn't do much about it but keep playing well.
"The two things that impressed me most about Jake's time in Triple A are, No. 1, for a young player, with all the high expectations, he handled a down year last year and came in this year more hungry, and was productive,'' Sandberg said. "And, No. 2, his ability to make adjustments on a nightly basis.''
What Bauers could control, he did. His .279 average, five homers, 24 RBIs, and .784 OPS in 52 games for the Bulls this season showed that.
What he couldn't control was the Rays feeling this week they were comfortably past the unofficial deadline to avoid eventual eligibility for Super 2 arbitration status, which can get a player an early and extra year of increased pay and, at the high end, cost a team $10 million plus.
Also, the Rays committing to make room for him on the roster and in the lineup, where he should be tonight, playing first base for the next half-dozen years or so.
The corresponding move, to be announced Thursday, seems obvious, with Miller either being traded, released or optioned to the minors.
Miller has become a liability — and an expensive one at $4.5 million — anytime he puts on a glove. He's still chasing the ghost of his 30-homer season in 2016 with, at best, inconsistent production at the plate. And he makes too many mistakes, right up until the end, breaking for second Wednesday in the ninth inning of an 11-2 game and getting doubled off.
Bauers will now be the left-handed-hitting first baseman on this team, and the Rays are willing to let him grow. Why not? Most of his tools are in place, and there are a few balls still rolling around the Port Charlotte complex evidencing the power that is still to come.
"We look at him as a defender with the chance to be an elite player for us at first base, adding to what we feel is already a strong infield,'' Cash said.
"And at the plate, he's a guy who repeatedly has shown discipline and natural bat-to-ball skills.''
Daniel Robertson arrived last year. Christian Arroyo showed up last month.
Diego Castillo debuted with an impressive inning on Wednesday. Bauers will Tampa be there Thursday. Adames will be back soon. Others will come, too.
More or less, it's their time.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.