Cubs’ Javy Baez showing ‘major’ deficiencies
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 13, 2014 9:53AM
Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez warms up before a spring exhibition baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Javy Baez still has the tattoo of the MLB logo on the back of his neck that he got in high school to tell the world where he was headed. And the Cubs still believe he’s stamped for success in the big leagues.
But the front office considered a list of sound reasons for sending him to the minors from big-league camp this spring.
And a .153 start through Monday that included the highest strikeout rate in the Pacific Coast League was perhaps a reminder of that list – and to Cub fans clamoring for a rush to the big leagues to be careful what you clamor for.
“The biggest thing is he’s pressing a little bit, trying to do too much,” said Cubs farm director Jaron Madison who just took a trip to see AAA Iowa and the slugging shortstop.
Baez, who got into a dugout altercation with a teammate three games into the season, then suffered a short-term ankle injury, remains a big part of the Cubs’ rebuilding plans.
But that imminent call to the big leagues this season doesn’t look so imminent anymore for the one many still expect to be the first of the Cubs’ top prospects to reach the majors.
And for those watching Kris Bryant’s big start at Tennessee salivating over a possible big-league callup in 2014, the Cubs plan to take their time even considering a AAA promotion with the big third baseman.
As for Baez, some point to the fact he started slow last year, too. But even then, he was heating up by the end of April – with as many home runs that opening month (five) as he has overall extra-base hits now.
Last year he was batting about 90 points better at this point in the season at advanced-A Daytona with 16 extra-base hits.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria, a former first-round draft pick, who had to fight a lot of adversity to reach the majors and eventually carve out a career there, suggested the AAA struggles could be good for Baez.
“It’s really important for his development because now he’s got to [have] patience,” Renteria said. “Believe it or not, those are positive things for us at this point. Patience is one of the things he’s going to have to have [in the big leagues].”
Patience from the paying public is another matter when it comes to the Cubs’ long rebuilding process built on the backs – and bats – of players such as Baez, a No. 9 overall draft pick ranked as the fifth-best overall prospect by Baseball America heading into this season.
“He started off slow, started getting hot, and then got hurt. So he’s still trying to find his rhythm and understand how these guys are going to pitch him at that level,” said Madison, who added that he saw signs that Baez’s work on his approach and reigning in some early over-aggressiveness was paying off with better at-bats and more consistent hard contact.
“It looks like a breakout’s right around the corner,” Madison said.
Not that anyone anticipated Baez would get off to such a miserable start, but Baez’s strikeout-prone aggressiveness (as well as work left to do in the field) were big reasons the organization didn’t rush him.
That aggressiveness was also a clear precursor to the extended struggles he suddenly has faced at AAA – where more polished pitchers, often with major-league experience, are better at commanding secondary pitches and expanding young hitters’ strike zones.
“When you’re in AA you’re facing a lot of guys who go right after you, who are trying to figure out who they are and blow fastballs past guys,” Madison said. “And he can hit a fastball as well as anyone.”
It’s easy to forget sometimes that Baez is the youngest player in AAA, or that despite more than a year of hype as an organizational cornerstone he might not be ready for the big leagues.
“He’s an exciting player,” Madison said. “We have a lot of exciting players who are close to the big-league level but still have to prove to themselves and to us they’re ready to face big-league pitchers day in and day out.”