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Jake Bauers - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

Jake Bauers exploded onto the fantasy landscape last summer only to fall off late in the season. It ultimately became a disappointing freshman campaign. And yet, Bauers was back in the news this offseason with a trade to Cleveland and a chance to demonstrate again what made him a top fantasy prospect coming into 2018.

Primarily a first baseman, Bauers also has shown the ability to play a decent outfield spot and should bounce between the two in Cleveland with a line-up still in flux. If anything can be learned from the deal is that Cleveland targeted the player, as they gave up a team favorite in Yandy Diaz to get him, and therefore, have no incentive to move on from him quickly. The other nice thing for Bauers owners is that he is not relied on to produce more than others on the team, with Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor doing the heavy lifting. This means that Bauers will be given an excellent chance to slot into a complementary role before proving himself for the future.

In early drafts, Bauers has an ADP of 264. Fantasy players who are drafting early this spring should take that price and run with it. Below, this writer makes the case to target Bauers as one of the top, underrated offensive assets for the 2019 fantasy season.

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Why Target Jake Bauers?

Since his move to Cleveland from Tampa Bay this past offseason, Baurs has gotten little-to-no hype on what should be a significant improvement for fantasy production in 2018. The first reason to be excited about his fantasy outlook is that he is slotted in as a starter, either taking over directly from the departing Yonder Alonso or mixing into a platoon in the outfield based on the other moves the team makes. This means that owners can target 120 games as the floor, with the expectations to push 500 PAs. A starting spot in an excellent line-up makes this an easy target without even looking under the hood.

One of the main reasons for the relatively low ADP this offseason is perhaps that looking to the stats alone can be a bit deceiving. In 2018 with the Rays, Bauers was hot during his first 22 games but then tailed off as the book got out on him. This means that owners have to choose whether to buy the .201 season-long average, the .267 line from June, or somewhere in between. This writer is taking the third option, and expecting that the .270 numbers from his minor league career are not a fluke. The main reason to buy-in is the BABIP, which sat at .252 for his time with Tampa, a full 50 points lower than his track record in the minors. While minor league numbers do not directly translate, the large swings over half a season do need to be taken into context. Also, his walk rate was up with Tampa Bay, showing that the plate skills are still there, and while he might never win a batting title, still flashes a plus hit tool.

The other reason to jump in on Bauers is the power and speed combo that makes him unique at first. Over his 96 games with the Rays, he hit 11 homers and stole six bases. In 2018, the only team that stole more bases than the Rays was Cleveland, so this is not a move that should kill his speed, and might even give a slight uptick to the overall production. At his current rate, this is an 11-steal season, which would put him second to only Ian Desmond from last year at the position. The 13.9 BB% means that he will be on base, even if the batting average slumps again in 2019, so the speed is there for a position where any steal is a bonus. And yet, it is the power which will sell owners looking to draft a sleeper player at first. Tropicana kills power numbers, with a 0.880 homer factor, whereas the new park in Progressive was a plus at 1.019 last year. This is a 30% surge, when Bauers was already posting a 13.8 HR/FB%, the raw loft is there to play out for owners. This means that on the low-end Bauers is a 20/10 player, and if playing every day, the floor for runs sits at 80.

Bauers is not going to be an MVP candidate in 2019, but with the low ADP and the park factors to push his overall production, he is a top sleeper target at the position. Owners should bank on a starting role, with a team that fits his offensive profile well and take advantage of that sophomore bounceback. At the very least, Bauers provides stats that no other first basemen will this year, and owners will settle for lower rate stats to add a floor to the rest of the roto line. 

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