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Newest Cubs celebrity Javy Baez: Foul balls to long balls

Updated: March 6, 2014 11:09PM



MESA, Ariz. – Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe has been a conspicuous daily figure during practice the last two weeks at Cubs spring training. Hall of Famer Billy Williams arrived Thursday. And the return of popular All-Star pitcher Ted Lilly as a regular sidekick of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer this week has created a buzz.

But make no mistake: The biggest celebrity in this camp is Javy Baez – who grabbed even more attention Wednesday with another home run while Starlin Castro was getting treatment for his hamstring injury.

In the face of increasing noise directed at the last-place, rebuilding Cubs to give their top prospect a quicker debut than planned, manager Rick Renteria smiles and embraces the attention the kid is getting.

“That’s great for Javy, great for the Cubs, great for the organization,” Renteria said of the glaring spotlight. “Obviously, he’s an exciting player, as you guys all have seen. It’s not like you can hide it.”

The excitement shifted to chills for a few moments Wednesday when Baez drilled a foul ball into his left foot, collapsing to the ground and lying motionless on his back for several seconds before a 1-0 loss to the Indians.

“I was saying to him if the ball came off the bat like a normal human being’s ball comes off the bat, you’d have been OK,” Renteria said, “but since yours comes off like a bullet train, I would have gone down, too.”

Baez homered later in that game. He’s in the starting lineup for Friday’s home half of a split-squad doubleheader.

Despite all the attention and pleas for a quick Wrigley appearance for Baez, the Cubs remain firm on plans to start Baez at Class AAA Iowa this season as the starting shortstop.

Until he’s sent out of big-league camp this month, he’ll continue to get extra looks in Castro’s absence, and also play some second and third, Renteria said, to be ready for a potential major-league debut in 2014 (with Castro locked in at short).

He’s already been doing a lot of work at second base in practice.

Once at Iowa it’ll be nothing but short for the foreseeable future, Renteria said.

“Like anything, at any given time if there needs to be a chance, you’ll accommodate for the change,” the manager said, “but he’s going to play short.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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