Ask any Indians fan you know who the Tribe ace is if Corey Kluber goes down. Go ahead and try it now, and I am willing to bet that you get a great deal of Carlos Carrasco and maybe some Danny Salazar. However, based on his draft stock out of college, the work he puts into his game, and his performance last year, the answer for 2018 may very well be Trevor Bauer.
If recency is the measure, then Tribe fans would have to look no further back than Bauer’s stellar 2017 postseason. Bauer pitched incredibly well, allowing no earned runs over 8.1 innings while walking just three and striking out 11. In fact, over 22 career postseason innings, he has an ERA of 3.27 with 28 strikeouts.
Last year, at the age of just 26, Bauer improved in the most important statistical categories, including ERA, walks, and strikeouts. His career high 10.0 K/9 put him 13th among qualified starters. This continues the trend of improvement since 2015, when he became a relative mainstay in the rotation for the Tribe, as well as from breaking in with the league with the Diamondbacks in 2012, the team that drafted him third overall in 2011 from UCLA.
Finally, while many may characterize Bauer as eccentric, there is an equal number who see the way he approaches the game as cerebral and quite positive. He created a bit of a stir on Twitter this offseason when he tossed a 3 oz ball 117 MPH, and his pregame long toss has always been a point of discussion. However, it is clear he is willing to make adjustments. His second half adjustments last year were crucial, and his increased usage of the curve, almost 30% of the pitches he threw in the later half of the season, produced tremendous results. He looks to continue upon those changes in 2018, as Bauer discussed during an interview for MLB.com earlier this year.
With all that in mind, Bauer should continue to slot third in the rotation behind Kluber and Carrasco. However, with his work ethic showing no signs of stopping, and his strong numbers from the second half and playoff stretch, Bauer is poised to make the jump to top-of-the-rotation status as well as possibly even position himself as a fringe ace.