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Diamondbacks Finally Free Trevor Bauer

Before the season started, fantasy owners were counting down the days until Mike Trout and Bryce Harper joined the Angels and Nationals, respectively. Matt Moore of the Rays was a hot target on draft day and the Mariners' Jesus Montero was a sleeper at the catcher position even though he didn't have catcher eligibility yet. The fifth megaprospect everyone was waiting on was Trevor Bauer, the eclectic right-hander taken third overall last summer by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Having drawn Tim Lincecum comparisons because of a unique delivery (here's video) and workout/conditioning routine, Bauer was the Next Big Thing after those other four Next Big Things.

Ranked as the ninth best prospect in baseball by Baseball America coming into the season, the Diamondbacks sent Bauer to Double-A Mobile when they broke camp. He struck out 60 batters and allowed just nine earned runs in 48 1/3 innings across eight starts before Arizona decided hey, we have to promote this guy. Bumped up to Triple-A Reno, Bauer went on to whiff 56 batters while allowing 14 earned runs in 44 2/3 innings across eight starts. In 16 minor league games this season, he owns a 2.23 ERA and an 11.2 K/9, or better put he's struck out 29.4% of the batters he's faced. The league average is somewhere around 19.0-19.5%, just for perspective. Bauer leads the minors in wins (11) and strikeouts (116) as of right now.

Unfortunately -- I'm not sure for who, really -- he won't get a chance to pad those totals. Arizona is calling Bauer up to make his big league debut against the Braves in Atlanta tonight, replacing the injured Joe Saunders. It sounds like Saunders will be back sooner rather than later, but Daniel Hudson's torn UCL means Bauer is in the rotation to stay. His stuff is excellent and his arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball and a "plus-plus curveball" to go with a solid slider, changeup, and splitter according to Baseball America (subs. req'd). Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system pegs the Bauer as a 4.18 ERA pitcher at the moment, albeit one with a fantastic strikeout rate (9.2 K/9). In a subscriber-only piece at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein says the right-hander from UCLA is "among the best fantasy rookie pickups from here going forward," and I think that goes without saying.

As for the drawbacks, Bauer is known to be pitch inefficient, give out walks, and surrender some homers. He's averaged 101 pitches per six innings according to Goldstein, walked 60 batters in 118 2/3 minor league innings (4.6 BB/9 and 11.7% of batters faced), and given up eight homers during that time. That last number isn't scary, but Bauer has admitted to preferring fly balls to ground balls -- fly balls are more likely to turn into outs -- and not being afraid of the long ball on Twitter (@BauerOutage). Since he'll be playing his home games at the hitter friendly Chase Field, expect Bauer to serve up a few dingers. Given his propensity to walk people, more than a few of them will be multi-run shots as well.

Despite that, I still believe Bauer can outperform that 4.18 ERA projection and settle in as a 3.50-ish guy with a strikeout rate near one batter per nine innings, although his WHIP figures to be a little high given his walk issue. That puts his performance in line with guys like Jonathon Niese and Yu Darvish, though his ability to rack up wins will not be the same given the different teams these guys play on. Following his outing against the Braves tonight, Bauer lines up to make starts against the Padres and the Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier-less Dodgers (both games at home in Chase Field) before the All-Star break. Needless to say, fantasy owners should be salivating. He's a long-term fantasy star that figures to be among the highest drafted pitchers in the coming years, but for 2012 and he's a very good rotation option that might hit some bumps along the way.




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