Cubs give hot prospect Javy Baez an audition at second base
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter March 17, 2014 10:03PM
Updated: April 19, 2014 6:28AM
PHOENIX — Just because Rick Renteria won’t say it doesn’t make it untrue: Second baseman Javy Baez has a clearer, straighter, faster path to the big leagues than shortstop Javy Baez.
On Monday, for the first time since he was a freshman in high school, Baez became a second baseman.
Baseball America’s fifth-best prospect started at the keystone in front of an audience that included his manager, who made a rare split-squad road trip to see him in game action after working on the practice fields this spring.
“He looked fine over there,” Renteria said, which has to be considered a fantastic first step.
“It’s a short throw to first,” Baez said. “I’ve been doing early work on doing double plays, so I get used to the angle to first base.”
He’ll get a few back-to-back starts at second base in the next two weeks.
He even might play third — his body type might fit there better than at second — before camp breaks. Renteria has said he’d like to put him at first base, too.
On Monday against the A’s, Baez got in reps at second.
In the fourth, he ranged to his left to field a grounder by Stephen Vogt and tried to start a double play. Baez bounced the throw, which was scooped by shortstop Darwin Barney for a simple force out.
“He did an inside turn; he shoulda probably done a reverse turn, which would have given him a better chance to throw the ball firmly,” said Renteria, a former second baseman.
“One of the things he’ll have to work on.
“Just kinda get a feel for the angles and the distances.”
In the fifth, Josh Reddick’s liner hit the left edge of the mound and sailed into Barney’s glove behind second base. He slickly flipped it to Baez, who pivoted at second and threw to first for a double play.
“Pretty impressive,” Renteria said. “Nice job.”
Pivoting — both to start and turn a double play — is the biggest challenge of moving to second base, Renteria said.
“It’s not an easier position, by any means,” he said. “But it has its own nuances. We’ll see how he transitions, how he looks, how he sets up.”
The Cubs wanted Baez to get comfortable at shortstop this spring before giving him time at second. He’ll return to shortstop in the minors, but versatility, it stands to reason, will get him to the majors faster.
The Cubs won’t replace Starlin Castro for anything but an injury; that’s not true for second basemen and third basemen projected to make the 25-man roster.
Renteria debated the argument Baez was closer. Rather, he said “it makes sense” to move him around.
“Somebody gets hurt and they’re not playing my position,” Baez said, “I can come out playing another position if I have to.”
Baez, who played second base, shortstop, catcher and center field in high school, said it was “not really hard” to give up his identity as simply a shortstop.
“I’m just trying to get there and be in the lineup,” he said.
The Cubs’ shortstop of the present (and likely future) laughed when recalling his own stint at second base as a minor-leaguer.
“It’s easy,” Castro said. “First base is right there.”
That short throw, though, could be a huge leap — both for Baez and the Cubs.