Sophomore Report: Bauer, Bradley Jr., Odorizzi, Vargas

Today at the Sophomore Report we look at two pitchers and two hitters experiencing varying degrees of success — and failure — in 2015.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians: The third overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer has shown immense promise since his amateur days. He joined the Indians’ promising, young staff on a full-time basis in 2014 and he’s produced very similar numbers again in ’15 — which is actually a bit of a disappointment. Truth be told, he hasn’t improved much on his areas of weakness. His walk rate, which has been an issue in the past, has gone up a bit this year and while his hit rate has gone down, it’s mostly due to a below-average BABIP. In other words, if the rate moves back towards average then it could mean a lot of base runners for Bauer in 2016. And that’s bad news because he’s also struggled with the home run ball and continues to be an extreme fly-ball pitcher. Combine baserunners and home runs on a regular basis and it can make for some ugly outings.

Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox: Expected to be a solid contributors to the Sox in 2014, Bradley had a nightmare offensive season that saw him hit below .200 in 127 games. That resulted in a return engagement with Triple-A as the club loaded up with other outfielders — including a permanent switch to the outfield for fellow promising young player Mookie Betts. Bradley, 25, rebounded nicely in the minors and has taken advantage of another shot in the Majors. He’s shown unexpected pop with a good mix of over-the-fence pop and doubles. He’s also shown a patient approach with a walk rate of 12%. The downside is that his pitch recognition needs work — as witnessed by his 26% K-rate. If the pop is for real then a higher strikeout rate is more palpable (Past seasons have hinted at raw power potential). With Betts established in center field, Bradley has shown outstanding defence in both left and right fields. The young outfielder may not be a perennial .300 hitter in the Majors but he’s shown enough ingredients to develop into an above-average regular.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Rays: A right-handed pitcher with an average fastball, Odorizzi’s success comes from changing speeds, commanding a four-pitch repertoire and showing above-average control. The young pitcher hasn’t been as good at striking out batters in 2015 (compared to 2014) but he’s trimmed his ERA by a full run by cutting down on base runners and significantly reducing his home-runs-allowed rate. His success with the long ball has come simply by inducing more ground balls and going from being an extreme fly-ball pitcher to more of an average fly-ball pitcher (29.9 to 40.7% over the past year). Other young Rays pitchers are more flashy with more impressive velo readings but Odorizzi has shown the promise (and improvements) necessary to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter. Trevor Bauer should take note.

Kennys Vargas, 1B/DH, Twins: Vargas, now 25, was a feel-good story for the Twins in 2014 as a surprise contributor to the club after having no experience above A-ball before that season. The news for the young slugger has not been nearly as positive in 2015 as he’s struggled to stick at the big league level and both his positions (first base and designated hitter) have been assumed by veteran Joe Mauer and impressive young slugger Miguel Sano. An aggressive hitter, Vargas’ 7-48 BB-K rate in 47 games has been the nail in his big league coffin and he’s shown much better patience in the minors. It’s possible that the presence of Sano (both before and after the rookie’s arrival in The Show) caused the second-year player to press at the plate and try to prove his worth. Vargas’ outlook for 2016 doesn’t look great if he remains in the Twins system; at best he’ll be a Triple-A insurance policy against injuries to Sano or Mauer. As a result, a trade to another team would likely be the best move for his career and development.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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