Gerrit Cole performs under the Friday night lights, can blow up a radar gun and will likely get drafted higher (possibly No. 1 overall), but his teammate Trevor Bauer is the best pitcher in college baseball. Actually, he's the best player.
Including last Saturday's 133-pitch complete game performance over rival Arizona State, in which Bauer struck out 14, walked one, and allowed just seven baserunners in a 7-0 victory, Bauer leads the nation in strikeouts (175), strikeouts per/9 (13.3), innings pitched (118.2), complete games (8) and has the lowest opponent's batting average (.151).
The Bruin's co-ace has struck out 39% of the batters he's faced this season while walking just 7.4%. Both elite figures.
Some may refer to Bauer as primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher and, while technically true, such a reduction of Bauer's repetoire can be misleading. Bauer throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball. While his four-seamer has reached as high as 97 MPH, Bauer works mostly off his two-seamer, which sits 91-93 MPH with above-average late life. He has improved his fastball command this season, which is now above-average for his age and should project to be at least average in the big leagues, if not better. Combing velocity, movement and command, both of Bauer's fastballs rate currently as plus pitches.
His primary off-speed pitch is a curveball. Like his fastball, Bauer throws a couple different variations of his curveball, adding and subtracting as needed. Some refer to Bauer's harder breaking ball as a slider. Maybe it is. (I find semantic arguments about breaking balls endlessly boring. Breaking balls are a continuum. Bauer is effective at multiple points along that continuum. That's what's important.)
Bauer's curveball has excellent depth. It's as good as any in this draft class. Strong command and exceptional feel give Bauer's breaking ball a solid plus grade, if not higher. Big league hitters will swing-and-miss at his curve.
Bauer also has a solid changeup. Working 82-85 MPH with arm-side tumble, the pitch has definate potential. Like many young flame-throwers, Bauer didn't need his change much in high school, dominating with two pitches, so the changeup isn't as advanced as the rest of his stuff. The speed differential between his change and two-seamer can be less than ideal. While the pitch is currently below big-league average, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to see an average offering, or better, down the road.
Now to the fun stuff!
Trevor Bauer first jumped onto my radar as a freshman, after I saw video of him making his Bruin debut. It took about two seconds for me to get excited. There's one reason for that: his motion.
Bauer draws easy, natural comparisons to Tim Lincecum. While comparing a 20-year-old to a two time Cy Young winner and ace of the reigning World Champs isn't fair, it's based on physical and mechanical similarities, not necessarily that they'll have the same growth curve, development pattern or overall future value.
Bauer, who is listed at 6-foot-2-inches tall and 185 pounds, is likely a bit shy of those numbers. He's bigger than Lincecum, as are some Oompa Loompas. Both are righthanders of below-average height with thin, wiry builds.
Bauer starts with his hands at his hip, and begins his move towards home after virtually no leg kick. He's very quick and direct to the plate, generating his power with a drop-and-drive move and an over-the-top arm angle.
Bauer's motion is actually pretty simple (he lacks the reverse rotation and exaggerated back bend found in Lincecum's delivery) yet efficient. The arm action is simple and quick. Bauer gets the ball up into the driveline early.
The one real quibble I have with Bauer's delivery is his front leg. Others have pointed to the rigid, fully locked front leg in Bauer's delivery as a problem area -- although some have incorrectly reported Bauer as landing on a stiff front leg, he doesn't. The problem occurs as Bauer is swinging his leg forward, driving towards the plate. It is at this time when his left, or front, leg is fully extended. This shifts his center of gravity forward a bit and limits his hip rotation. In essence, Bauer is leaking energy out his front side. Preferably, whether hitting or throwing, you want to stay closed as long as possible, coiled like a spring in order to fully explode into or through the ball.
The good news is that problem is relatively minor and has more performance than medical downside. More good news is that there is a really simple, easy fix. Just bend the knee, bringing the foot closer to the rest of the body and closing the hip a bit. Possibly the best news is that, if fixed, the result should be slightly better stuff. Trevor Bauer with even better stuff would be a beautiful thing, or terrifying depending on which side you're on.
Performance hasn't been a problem for Bauer. Neither has stuff or health.
But therein lies the one possible rub with Bauer: workload. Lauded by UCLA coaches for his detication to fitness and having personally sculpted his workout routines, Bauer has been entrusted with as heavy a workload as any pitcher in the country. He has gone over 125 pitches on 10 seperate occasions this season. Ten!
I'm a firm believer that throwing more allows you to throw more. Working muscles makes them stronger. Inactivity causes atrophy. But rest is an important part of the exercise process, especially when talking about elite level pitching, which stretches tendons and ligaments to the brink (and often beyond) their natural limits. Rest allows for recovery. Higher workloads take longer to recover from. Consistantly high workloads, like Bauer has had, run the risk of not allowing the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones used in the pitching motion to recover.
The UCLA coaches know his fitness and ability level far better than I do. I don't think they're ignorant, nor possessed by the ghost of Old Hoss Radbourn.
If any college pitcher can handle that heavy a workload, it's Trevor Bauer. The coaches are with him everyday, they trust his fitness.
People who question his workout regiment perplex me. Deriding Bauer as quirky or an odd-ball seems, to me, counter productive. Trevor Bauer may be wired a bit different than the average baseball player. That's not necessarily a bad thing. His dedication to the art of pitching and the science of exercise are uncommon. Yet they are uncommon advantages.
Bauer is a computer mathmatics major at UCLA. He's a techie. Some people in the game have complained about the seeming rigidty of Bauer's routines. He has told teams that the doesn't want to change is workouts after he's drafted. I think he's the kind of guy that you have to explain the logic behind your decisions to. Show him studies, show him proof and he'll lead the way.
I really like Trevor Bauer as a prospect. He has starter's stuff, multiple plus pitches, an exceptional track record of success and a demonstrated dedication to the game. He throws every pitch with a purpose. He's a student of the game.
Bauer combines a top-of-the-rotation upside with a very high floor. It's hard to envision any realistic scenario in which he develops into less than a solid No. 3 starter. Injury could always derail that, but even taking his extraordiary workload into account, I believe he's a much lower than average injury risk. All told, Trevor Bauer is exciting and rates one of the five to seven best prospects in the 2011 MLB Draft.