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  1. Rays

Could Jake Bauers salvage Rays' trade of Wil Myers?

Jake Bauers, above, obtained in a trade involving Wil Myers, is earning raves for a sweet swing and mature approach.
Published Mar. 5, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — The player with the best chance to save the Rays from the imbroglio that the Wil Myers and Trea Turner trades are becoming dresses on the far wall of the clubhouse, wears No. 70 and looks even younger than his 21 years.

Meet Jake Bauers.

Actually, Bauers already introduced himself last week, when he uncoiled that sweet, natural swing to launch a grand slam off the base of the Charlotte Sports Park office building beyond the rightfield fence.

"Definitely got that one," Bauers said. "It felt pretty good."

The Rays, to this point, haven't had much to feel good about in evaluating those two deals.

They gave up on Myers just two incomplete seasons after the blockbuster trade to get him from Kansas City, then saw him go on to become a 28-homer hitting All-Star and franchise player in San Diego.

And they replaced him with Steven Souza Jr., who has struggled for two seasons with inconsistency and injury, while the prospects they flipped from San Diego to Washington for him, starter Joe Ross and Turner, have done well.

Turner's star is so bright that even Rays folks shudder about that deal someday joining the Beckham-over-Posey draft, Josh Hamilton Rule 5 decision and Pat Burrell signing on the team's pantheon of infamy.

Which is what brings us back to Bauers.

He was playing as an 18-year-old for the Padres Class A Midwest League team in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2014 when the Rays locked in on him and insisted he be part — a bigger part than you'd think — of the deal for Myers.

"Our staff had raved about him after seeing him that season," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "We're thrilled we were able to acquire him. You don't see many prettier swings."

Rays manager Kevin Cash thought of one.

"I bet he's probably had that similar swing his entire life, that nobody has ever changed it or tinkered with because it's just so natural," Cash said. "It looks like his hands and bat get into that slot and he looks — I'm not comparing him to Ken Griffey Jr. ‑— but a real smooth swing that looks effortless."

Bauers credits his dad, Stu, for the foundation of the sweet swing that has indeed remained relatively intact, and the support growing up in Southern California, giving him the confidence to succeed despite often being the youngest, as well as one of the smaller guys (listed now at 6 feet, 215 pounds) on the field.

Now that confidence — Cash joking Bauers was probably ticked about batting ninth — is paired with a maturity, and a professionalism, that Rays officials also rave about.

Among the examples cited is Bauers' willingness to embrace an occasional move from first base to the outfield, including losing weight and working to increase agility this winter, given that 2014 top draft pick Casey Gillaspie also plays first, and both will be at Triple-A Durham this season.

Another is how Bauers dealt with not getting moved up at the end of last season from Double-A Montgomery, where he hit .274 with 14 homers, 78 RBIs and a .790 OPS in 135 games and earned All-Star and team MVP honors.

"His maturation and ability to handle the game at a young age is fascinating to me," farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "Generally that's not the case."

Bauers, wisely, keeps relatively quiet in the clubhouse, smart enough not to get drawn too deeply into the Myers/Turner trade evaluation — except to make it clear he's betting on himself.

"At the end of the day, no one's expectations will be greater than your own," Bauers said. "You have to take pride in what you do. I have enough pride in myself and my work that I'm going to go out there and carry myself in a way that shows them where I'm at and that I'm going to do the best I can to help the team."

He does allow to being aware of how highly he was — and is — thought of.

"For them to want me to come over here, that definitely means a lot," Bauers said. "It's hard sometimes, but whenever you can, try to keep the outside noise to a minimum. But it definitely feels good."

Also, "In my mind, I'm ready to compete. I'm going to put my head down and get after it. Whenever they feel I'm finally ready is I guess when it will happen."

There is still hope among at least some Rays officials that Souza will turn into the two-way impact player they envisioned, though he has had more than 800 at-bats and 250 games in the big leagues and hasn't done so yet.

For what it's worth, Souza is among those who think Bauers could indeed turn out to be a savior.

"He's very impressive," Souza said. "I actually made comments to a few people and I even said something to him that he's going to be a really good player, especially for how old he is. He's got a really mature personality and approach at the plate. … To be 21 and be slated to go to Triple A, that's awesome. I'm sure the organization is very happy with that, too."

The way these trades have played out, they need something to be happy about. And Bauers might have just the sweet swing to salvage the deals.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com.

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