With Castro’s injury, calls for Javy Baez are getting louder
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 2, 2014 9:49PM
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Updated: March 3, 2014 10:53AM
MESA, Ariz. — The Twitter buzz started almost as soon as news got out Sunday about Starlin Castro’s “mild” hamstring strain early in an exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals. It only intensified when his replacement at shortstop, Javy Baez, doubled and singled later in the game.
One example: “Baez is a beast. I am sold. Find him a spot.”
Another tweet: “It’s time to let the kids show if they can play.”
It should come as no surprise that despite an injury Castro said should sideline him no more than a few games, Baez — the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect — was asked whether he thought he could be ready to take over for Castro in the regular season if he goes down.
Because that is the question many fans want answered. Because that’s where these Cubs are.
“No, he’s not down. I know he’s not down,” Baez said. “He’s taking it easy because it’s only spring training. We need Castro on the team.”
This is the monster that four years of losing, two years of strip-mining the big-league roster and five months of doing nothing to improve last year’s team has created for the Cubs during a lengthy, underfunded rebuilding process.
Baez, 21, has played 54 games higher than Class A. Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler have played none.
Less than three weeks into camp, they have been daily subject matter for some media outlets.
Not even team president Theo Epstein seems to believe this is where the rebuilding process should be. He squirreled away much of his open payroll this winter to make a run at Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka and was as aggressive as the budget allowed the previous two winters to go after Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Korean pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu.
“We need to make sure that when the next wave of prospects comes up, they don’t take too much of a burden,” he said earlier in camp. “We hope to have strong players around them, hopefully an impact player or two so that they can break in the right way. That’s important and that’s something that we’ve thought about, and we’re going to have to act on it.”
Until then, any “mild” injury to a key player that might seem to open a door for one of the prospects will lead to natural questions.
Even though the front office has made it clear that Baez is going to open the season at Class AAA Iowa and the others at Class A Daytona or Class AA Tennessee.
But Baez will get more playing time in the next week, just as he did last spring when Castro suffered a more serious hamstring injury in the other leg.
The greater reality is that Baez, Bryant, Almora and Soler are operating under the heat lamp of constant scrutiny. So far, they’ve all handled it with poise beyond their age and experience.
“I’ve talked to a couple older guys in the clubhouse,” veteran Jeff Samardzija said. “With all the attention they’ve been getting, they’ve really kept their heads on great.”
But even Samardzija gets caught up in their talent and fast-paced development, suggesting he’d like to see their big-league timelines pushed as hard as Baez often swings.
“You’ve got to come with all your bullets in the major leagues,” he said, “and when they [can] help us out we’re looking forward to it.”
For now, Sunday’s events seem more fire drill than the real thing.
Castro, who suffered Sunday’s injury on his last stride before diving into second on an attempted stolen base, sounded confident this one won’t linger.
“Last year I couldn’t walk, and now I can walk normal,” he said. “The trainer stretched out and it felt better. I don’t want to be rushed, but I think I’ll be good.”