Updated: August 4, 2014 10:37PM
DENVER — Buckle up. The Cubs will unleash Javy Baez on Coors Field this week.
Whether the promotion of their No. 2 prospect provides the kind of high impact the Cubs eventually envision, the hard-charging, harder-swinging middle infielder promises to at least bring some energy to the final weeks of a last-place season.
Baez, 21, is expected to make his major-league debut Tuesday as the Cubs’ second baseman, alongside young All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, as the team opens a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and starts the clock on assembling their lineup of the future.
It’s the promotion players in the Cubs’ clubhouse said they wanted to see since the trade Thursday of a pair of veterans created the roster flexibility to do it.
“I don’t know when, but he has to be here — soon,” Castro said Sunday.
Not soon enough for Baez, who admitted in spring training he hoped to make the club out of camp, then appeared to let it affect him as he slumped out of the gate at Class AAA Iowa and was involved in a brief dugout altercation with teammate Eli Whiteside in the third game of the season.
“We’ve certainly seen a maturation process continue,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ top scouting and player-development executive. “We’ve seen someone whose start of the year didn’t go as well as he hoped, or we all hoped, and he was certainly frustrated and searching.”
But since slumping to .142 with just five extra-base hits through May 15, Baez has hit .305 with a .606 slugging percentage and 20 home runs in 76 games. He hit Nos. 22 and 23 overall Sunday.
“Since the first month of the year, his approach has been much better,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey told minorleaguebaseball.com. “He’s been starting to drive the ball better. He’s been a lot more patient, swinging at better pitches, giving himself a chance rather than chasing out of the zone. And he’s been a better teammate.”
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 draft still strikes out a lot. He leads the Pacific Coast League with 130 strikeouts. That’s certainly not going to make him look like a budding All-Star at times as he gets his first taste of major-league pitching, though his rare bat speed has a chance to turn a mistake pitch into a tape-measure event.
“I don’t think he’s near where he’s going to eventually end up being,” McLeod said, adding that facing older, more refined pitchers was a learning process for the youngest player at Class AAA this season. “He’s not a finished product by any means. He’s still going to have his growing pains.
“But we’ve seen a kid who’s becoming more of a professional and a more mature player.”
The Cubs potentially could have half their position-player lineup Tuesday filled with players considered young building-block pieces in the third-year regime’s rebuilding plan: All-Star big-leaguers Castro and Anthony Rizzo along with rookies Arismendy Alcantara and Baez.
Powerful third baseman Kris Bryant, who supplanted Baez as the Cubs’ top prospect by midseason, likely will wait until next year for a debut because of service-time issues, despite dominating at Class AA and AAA during his first full professional season.
“The future, if they want it to be, might be closer than it [seems],” said veteran pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who hopes he’s still around to see more of it. “If they want to wait a little bit more, they can wait. But there’s no denying that they’ve built an empire down there in the minor leagues. It just depends on if they can deliver once they get up here.”