DURHAM, N.C.—After a slow start in his first taste of Triple-A, Jake Bauers is beginning to find his way.
Bauers went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored to lead Durham (Rays) to an 8-5 win over Gwinnett (Braves) on Thursday evening. The No. 64 prospect in baseball is now hitting .281/.414/.509 in May after hitting .229 with an .619 OPS in April.
"I think he's just been a little more aggressive with balls in the strike zone," Durham manager Jared Sandberg said. "He's got tremendous strike-zone awareness and judgment. He looks over the baseball really, really well. He's getting his pitch to hit and not missing them."
Bauers, 21, had a monster spring training in big league camp with the Rays, hitting .371 with three doubles, four homers and a 1.322 OPS in 17 games. But when he reported to Durham, he found that success had hampered him a bit in terms of his approach.
"I got here after spring training and kept trying to hit home runs every other at-bat," Bauers said. "Obviously it wasn't working. It took me awhile but I took a step back, kind of relaxed on my swing and little bit and let the game come to me.
Slowly, but surely, Bauers has found his way and solidified his role as the No. 3 hitter in Durham's lineup. On Thursday he helped lead the charge against touted Braves pitching prospect Patrick Weigel. Bauers singled and scored in the first inning to help pace a three-run frame, capped a five-run second inning with an RBI groundout and blooped an opposite-field single to left in the fourth.
"I think before it was just young player, Triple-A, coming off an incredible major league training and he comes up here maybe trying to do too much to start," Sandberg said. "He's been a little more aggressive and he's not missing his pitch right now."
The Rays hoped Bauers would become a key piece of their future when they acquired as a low Class A prospect from the Padres in the Wil Myers trade in the fall of 2014. After strong showings at every level since then, Bauers is beginning to blossom at the minors' highest level.
"Once I was able to relax up there and not try to do too much things started happening," Bauers said. "You start hitting home runs and extra-base hits. I think that's it, just a little bit of relaxation."
NEWS AND NOTES
Weigel, the Braves’ No. 8 prospect, got hit hard in his second start for Gwinnett. He allowed eight of 11 batters to reach base, including two homers and two doubles off the wall, before he was pulled. The 22-year-old righthander sat 92-94 mph and touched 96 with his fastball, 81-82 mph with his slider and 75-78 mph with his curveball. But he struggled to command any of them, missing badly at times and leaving them over the big part of the plate at others, and the result was seven hits and eight runs allowed in one-plus inning of work.
"He got me 3-2 and left a pitch over the middle, I think that's probably his story of the night," Bauers said. "Wasn't hitting his spots the way he wanted to, left a curveball up a couple times. He had good stuff, few breaks here and there it might be a different ballgame."
Rays No. 5 prospect Chih-Wei Hu pitched one inning of relief and allowed three hits but also struck out the side. His fastball sat 93-94 mph and his used a 86-89 split changeup almost exclusively as a secondary pitch. Hu started his entire career when the Rays called him up to the majors in April, but he pitched out of Tampa Bay's bullpen and since his return to Triple-A on May 5 has pitched only in relief.
"Those are the instructions we were given," Sandberg said. "He's going to pitch out the bullpen and get used to the routine and preparation and getting ready and all that. It's still a work in progress."
Braves No. 2 prospect Ozzie Albies went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts to snap a six-game hit streak.