The Cleveland Indians will see Jake Bauers start at first base to begin the 2021 regular season. He was in a hard-fought contest with Bobby Bradley that many felt Bradley won. It’s hard to argue that Bradley didn’t earn the spot on offensive output alone. If you look at their spring training numbers, Bradley clearly outperformed Bauers.
Just looking at the numbers, you can clearly see Bauers didn’t have the better Spring Training (courtesy baseball-reference). Bauers is currently hitting .200 with five hits, and only two doubles. He had an OPB of .429 and anOPS of just .709.
Bradley on the other hand outperformed Bauers in every way. He hit .303, with an OPS of .951, with 10 hits, two home runs, and 11 RBI’s.
The thing that Bauers had over Bradley was his ability to work counts into his favor, racking up nine base-on-balls (walks) through the 26th of March. If Terry Francona is looking to get baserunners over all else, that would help explain why Bauers beat out Bradley.
So why did Bauers win the spot? Well, it seemingly comes down to potential and possibility. The Indians are not against either player. They like both Bauers and Bradley and want to find a way to navigate their situations to keep both around as long as possible. This is the only situation where the Indians got to keep both players.
Bauers is 25 and has no more minor league options. Bradley is 24 and has another option (at least). So it really looks like the Indians are hoping that Bauers performs as expected. If Bauers is able to play well, and keep his spot as the season rolls on, the Indians will likely do what they can to bring Bradley up in another spot. The problem will come if Bauers struggles.
There’s very little chance that if the Indians designate Bauers for assignment, that someone doesn’t claim him before he returns to Triple-A. That’s part of where the thought process is coming from. Bauers has performed well enough in a small sample size to warrant an opportunity, an opportunity that he couldn’t get if the Indians went with Bradley.
It’s very likely, unless Bauers completely struggles, that both players will be on the main roster at some point.