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Trevor Bauer Ready to Make His Debut

Other than perhaps Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy, there’s maybe no pitching prospect in the minors more highly touted than Arizona’s Trevor Bauer, the third pick in last year’s draft. After being pulled from his Triple-A start following only 50 pitches on Sunday, Bauer is reportedly on his way to the bigs to start for Arizona against the Braves on Thursday, kicking off what is sure to be years of me confusing him with Diamondback rotation mate Trevor Cahill.

Bauer comes up to replace the recently disabled Joe Saunders in an Arizona rotation which is suddenly in need of help. Cahill’s been fine, and Wade Miley has been a shocking success story, but Daniel Hudson has been injured & ineffective while Ian Kennedy has been unable to recreate his magical 2011. That’s after Josh Collmenter flamed out early in the season, and with Saunders on the shelf, there’s great opportunity here for Bauer to take advantage of.

If he performs anything like he has in the minors, he’s going to take that chance and run with it. Bauer reached Triple-A in his first full season this year, getting moved up from Double-A Mobile after just eight starts in which he whiffed 60 in 48.1 innings. In eight more starts for Triple-A Reno, he struck out 56 more in 44.2 innings; the combined total of 116 not only leads the minors, it makes him the only minor leaguer to even reach triple digits (through Monday). Despite all the strikeouts, Bauer’s combined K/BB rate on the season is only a good-but-not-great 2.42, thanks to a mediocre 4.6 BB/9 rate across the two levels.

The combination of working deep into counts to get strikeouts and a high walk rate has one very obvious downside, and that’s that Bauer may have difficulty working deep into games. As a young starter, the Diamondbacks are likely to have him on a pitch count early in his career, and so it’s not hard to see scenarios where he’s leaving after 5 1/3 innings and 104 pitches. (And, one would hope, seven or eight strikeouts.) That’s not necessarily a problem for the Diamondbacks, who have a decent enough bullpen, but leaving games that early is likely to cost him a few wins in games which get decided in the later innings, a potential source of frustration for fantasy owners.

Back in early May, Mike Newman provided a scouting report of Bauer, noting that he had four pitches which could all be “plus”, but also pointing out that there’s still some inconsistency to work through:

In game action, Bauer played catch to the tune of a 92-95 MPH fastball. Late in the outing, a possible moment of frustration after being touched up a bit saw his velocity spike to 97-98 MPH. Having read Ben Duronio’s piece discussing Bauer’s recent Twitter conversation about the stigma of working up in the zone, seeing Bauer practice what he preached did not make me more likely to take his side in the argument. In fact, a contact in attendance went as far as to say, “Bauer will have outings where he looks like a young Kerry Wood and strikes out 15, but he’ll also be chased in the second on occasion as well. He just kind of throws the fastball up there. It also makes me wonder how he’ll fare a second time through the league”.

For fantasy purposes, he’s an obvious and immediate must-add in keeper leagues, if he’s even still available. In redraft leagues, he’s worth the spot as well; despite the control issues and potential pitch count limitations, his pure strikeout stuff makes him a valuable commodity. Don’t expect a Strasburg-like debut, because that kind of polished pitcher comes along once in along in a generation. But as long as he can keep his control issues within a reasonable level, the hit you may take to your WHIP is worth the bump in strikeouts. The still-undetermined return of Saunders won’t be enough to bump him from the rotation as long as he’s performing, so bid with confidence.