Javy Baez incident should show Cubs why prospects need support
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 8, 2014 11:08PM
Updated: April 9, 2014 12:08AM
Think Javy Baez should be on the major-league roster now?
The Cubs’ top prospect — ranked fifth in the game by Baseball America — offered another reminder over the weekend that player development is an often uncertain and at best imperfect process.
He might also have offered a brief glimpse into the kind of pressure the Cubs’ top prospects are facing during a long and ugly rebuilding process placed on their backs.
Baez, 21, didn’t exactly charge the opponents’ dugout with a bat, like another of the so-called ‘‘Core Four,’’ Jorge Soler, did a year ago. But when he got ejected for arguing a checked-swing strikeout with Class AAA Iowa on Saturday, then got into a dugout altercation with veteran catcher Eli Whiteside, he raised eyebrows, if not a red flag.
‘‘It’s all part of development,’’ team president Theo Epstein said. ‘‘Players are in the minor leagues to develop physically and fundamentally, and also mentally and emotionally.’’
The incident isn’t a major concern to Cubs officials or to players in the clubhouse who know Baez, especially after he seemed to respond earnestly to several Iowa teammates taking him aside and to a one-start benching by manager Marty Pevey. (He later came off the bench to homer and snap an 0-for-9 skid).
‘‘It’s an instance that could wind up being a great thing in the long run for Javy’s development,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It was not a huge deal, but something he can grow from. It sounds like from the reports we got, teammates were right to call him out, and he handled that the right way. Javy’s a great kid who’s the youngest player in Triple-A, and he has some room to continue to grow. And he will.’’
But it wasn’t something anyone wanted to see from the Cubs’ top prospect, who has long seemed on track for a big-league debut this year. Players such as Starlin Castro said they never did such things in the minors.
While it may well be an important lesson for Baez, the incident also served notice that nothing is automatic about the rebuilding process, or even the elite prospects who are supposed to become the center of it.
And it reiterated the need for a significant support system at the major-league level when some of the kids start arriving.
‘‘I’m not worried about him,’’ said veteran pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who lockered near Baez during spring training. ‘‘From what I’ve seen the last two years in spring training, he plays hard. He knows he’s good, and he doesn’t want to get out.
‘‘And guys like that — you saw when [the Washington Nationals’ Bryce] Harper came up,’’ Villanueva added of the touted young outfielder who irritated opponents and some teammates with his brashness when he broke in. ‘‘He’s dialed it down a little bit. If you’re going to break bats, you go in the tunnel where nobody can see you.’’
That’s where the support system comes in.
‘‘It’s extremely important — extremely important,’’ said Villanueva, who remembers his old Milwaukee Brewers team providing veterans such as Craig Counsell and Geoff Jenkins for a young core headed by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. ‘‘It just depends who you have on your team. I know if he gets up here and I’m still here, if he does something that I don’t think is right from my experience, then I’ll let him know. And I’m sure he’ll respond accordingly.
‘‘We have to police ourselves. But I don’t think you try to mellow him down because that might take away who he is.’’