On a quiet Sunday afternoon earlier in July, the non-contending Texas Rangers made a splash into the trading market, acquiring veteran outfielder Austin Jackson, reliever Cory Gearrin, and prospect Jason Bahr from the Giants, in exchange for cash considerations, or a player to be named later. At first glance, the acquisitions raise eyebrows, as the AL West cellar-dwelling Rangers added big-league talent to a roster that is highly expected to undergo a complete reconstruction at this year’s trade deadline, just over three weeks away.
The move was thought to add Jackson to an up-and-coming squad of outfielders, in a transaction that wouldn’t be conducive to regular playing time for the 31-year-old journeyman. Gearrin was an added bonus in the trade, representing an experienced quality middle-relief option for Jeff Banister, with 1 1/2 years of club control remaining. However, Rangers GM Jon Daniels immediately clarified any controversy over his intent behind the move, stating “Our primary motivation in the deal was acquiring Jason Bahr. He’s a guy we look at (as) a little bit (of an) undervalued prospect.”
Daniels further emphasized the insignificance of the acquisition of Jackson to the Rangers’ future plans, saying “we’re looking at talking to other clubs about the possibility of a trade. We’re not yet certain when he will report, or if there is potential for a second move.” To even the most intense baseball fans and avid prospect enthusiasts, the name Jason Bahr might not ring a bell, but it’s clear that Daniels envisions a bright enough future for the right-hander that he was willing to take on the spare parts from the Giants. The move appears to be a salary dump for San Francisco, as well as a route to clear playing time for prospects Ray Black and Steven Duggar, who were both called up directly following the announcement of this transaction. The focus of the trade is clearly the 23-year-old Bahr.
Jason Bahr had a roller-coaster ride of a collegiate career at Central Florida, starting out as a Redshirt Freshman, before being given a dearth of innings in his second campaign, and ultimately being cut from the roster in the following season. Bahr was given a new lifeline when UCF underwent coaching staff changes, and he ran with the new opportunity to contribute, notching 98 strikeouts in 60.3 innings, while appearing mostly as a reliever for the Knights. In just one season, Jason Bahr’s professional baseball dreams had gone from a long-shot to reality, as he was selected in the 5th round of the 2017 draft by San Francisco. A lanky 6’5″ right-hander, the Rangers are gambling that Bahr will add some strength to his 190-pound frame as a late-bloomer, but it’d be abnormal for a pitcher to still be growing into his frame in his age-23 season. This move could pay off to be a savvy acquisition by Jon Daniels, as he is essentially buying an undervalued prospect while he is on the rise. A similar deal transpired back in June 2015, when the Diamondbacks shed the $9.5 million salary of Bronson Arroyo to Atlanta by packaging it with young pitching prospect Touki Toussaint, a 19-year-old fireballer who lacked control at the time, in exchange for utility infielder Phil Gosselin. Three years later, Toussaint has developed into one of the games’ top pitching prospects, and is now on the brink of his MLB debut, as the move seems poised to pay off for Atlanta.
Jason Bahr is a project for a Rangers organization that can afford to take a flier on such a raw pitcher. While he generally sits in the low-90s with his heater, Bahr has exhibited the propensity to fire into the mid-to-upper 90s with the pitch as a reliever. In 13 starts for Single-A Augusta, Bahr accumulated a 2.75 ERA/2.93 FIP, backed up by an exemplary 11.53 K/9, ranking him 1st among all qualified SP in Single-A, in addition to a quality 2.75 BB/9, before earning a promotion to San Jose (A+). Bahr continued his dominance with San Jose, earning a 1.69 ERA through three starts, but these numbers are likely skewed by a LOB % of 100 % and an unsustainably low induced BABIP of .209. The chart below chronicles Bahr’s combination of missing bats and avoiding free passes. Out of all 516 MiLB pitchers to throw 60+ IP in 2018, Bahr ranks tied for 15th in K-BB%, a likely reason Daniels was so enticed by his skillset. The white dot shows Bahr’s promising ranking among his peers, in terms of K-BB% and FIP.
With an athletic delivery, Bahr has a high ceiling that is heavily contingent on the improvement of his still-developing secondary offerings. The development of his changeup has lagged behind the curveball’s progress so far, but if Bahr is able to establish one that is even average, giving him three serviceable offerings, he should be able to stick in the back-end of a big-league rotation. Depending on how much Bahr fills out and develops over the next year or two, the Rangers could have anywhere from a middle-leverage reliever to a late-blooming middle-of-the-rotation arm on their hands.
I am a rising sophomore LHP at Macalester College (St. Paul, MN), and an avid baseball fan.