Cubs young shortstop Javier Baez waits in the wings
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com March 4, 2013 10:39PM
The Chicago Cubs Javier Baez strikes out during an intersquad game at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa, AZ on Thursday, February 21, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
MESA, Ariz. — Javier Baez has a quick bat and a lot to learn.
The Cubs’ 20-year-old shortstop is unfazed by the competition of major-league training camps — he hit a home run and drove in three runs against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. But big-league training camps aren’t fazed by him, either. He strikes out. He gets fooled by offspeed pitches. And the home run came against a fringe pitcher who might not be in the big leagues this season.
He’s not lacking for confidence. ‘‘It’s the same game,’’ he said when asked about facing big-league pitchers. ‘‘I’ve got to get used to it.’’
He will. Or he should. Baez, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 major-league draft, is ranked the 16th-best prospect by both Baseball America and mlb.com. And so far, he doesn’t appear out of his league.
‘‘It feels great,’’ said Baez, who grew up in Puerto Rico but went to high school in Jacksonville, Fla. ‘‘I’m young. I’m already in the big-league camp. So it feels pretty good.’’
But his job in spring training with the Cubs is the same as any other 20-year-old kid in a big-league camp: observe, listen and learn. It takes more than a quick bat to get to the show. And the good news is that Baez seems to have a grasp of that concept. He’s honing his immense baseball skills, and learning how to be a professional.
‘‘I learn a lot of things from [Alfonso] Soriano, [Darwin] Barney, [Starlin] Castro,’’ he said. ‘‘If I’m doing something wrong, they tell me how to do it better.’’
Soriano in particular is a mentor for Baez, who hit .333 for the Cubs’ Class A team in Peoria, but .188 for the high-A team at Daytona.
‘‘If he sees you doing something lazy or not doing it right, he’ll tell you to do it the right way. Every time,’’ Baez said. ‘‘If he goes to the weight room and I’m not in there, he sends somebody to get me. He takes care of me. He’s not doing it in a bad way, but in a good way. So I just follow him everywhere.’’
The Cubs want Baez to grow as quickly as he can, but they’re not pushing him — especially with an All-Star-caliber shortstop already in the 22-year-old Castro.
‘‘Javy’s still so young,’’ Cubs player development executive Jason McLeod said. ‘‘He’s only played three months of a full season. He’s going to ultimately decide [when he reaches the major leagues]. He loves to work. The plan for him is to get a full season under his belt. We’ve addressed some things [we] think he needs to work on to fully develop his entire game.’’
For Baez, it’s a matter of discipline to get in shape and stay in shape. He does a 15-minute workout — exercise bike, stretching and weight-lifting — before batting practice. The biggest thing he’s learned as a professional? ‘‘How to do my routine every day without someone telling me, ‘Javier, you’ve got to do this. Javier, you’ve got to do that,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘Now I do my own thing.’’
Castro knows the competition is coming.
‘‘He’s real good,’’ Castro said.
Better than you?
‘‘I don’t know,’’ he replied. ‘‘But he’s good.’’
The Cubs will deal with the logjam when it occurs. Baez is willing to move. He could play third or second. He likes center field, his position in high school before to moving to shortstop as a senior.
But it will be a non-issue. With a bat that quick, he’s a hitter first.
‘‘I don’t really care about position,’’ Baez said. ‘‘I just want to be in the lineup.’’
INDIANS 13, CUBS 5
KIDS ROCKED: Cubs starter Alberto Cabrera allowed five runs and seven hits in 22/3 innings Monday, including home runs to Lonnie Chisenhall and Mark Reynolds. Even most of the outs were hit hard. Cabrera was relieved by Brooks Raley after getting Matt Carson on a fly to the fence in right. Cabrera retired seven of the 15 batters he faced. Raley, a lefty, didn’t fare much better, allowing five runs (four earned) and six hits in 21/3 innings. Minor-league pitcher Tyrelle Harris allowed three runs in his only inning.
COLEMAN SHARP: Casey Coleman finally stemmed the tide of the Tribe, allowing no runs on three hits, with no walks and two strikeouts in two innings. Minor-league pitcher Marcus Hatley pitched a scoreless ninth.
CHAVEZ GOES DEEP: Johermyn Chavez, a 24-year-old right fielder, hit a home run off top-rated Indians prospect Trevor Bauer (the third overall pick in the 2011 draft) in the eighth. Chavez also threw out a runner at second base on a hit to right.
HURLER KEEPS ON TICKIN’: Indians starter Carlos Carrasco stayed in the game after he was hit in the head by Darnell McDonald’s line drive in the first inning. The ball deflected off Carrasco’s glove first, but it was a pretty good shot. The Indians’ trainer spent several minutes with Carrasco on the mound before he was allowed to stay in the game. ‘‘We made him pass every test there was,’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said. ‘‘Even after the inning, we took him up to the clubhouse and really put him through a real good rundown of stuff.’’
ON DECK: at Rockies, 2:10 p.m., in Scottsdale (mlb.com).