Javy Baez finally with Cubs — but he’s not Superman
By RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist August 4, 2014 2:52PM
Updated: August 5, 2014 7:17PM
Are you going to let Javy Baez breathe?
No, I mean really breathe, without weighing him down with all of your hopes and dreams, specifically the dream in which he walks on water to shake hands with Kris Bryant, who is holding a cup of wine that a split-second ago was water.
I’m talking to you, Mr. Cubs Fan, along with your wife and the one son whom you demanded — under threat of divorce — be named ‘‘Ryno.’’
Is there any possibility that you will give Baez room to grow without holding him to impossible standards?
I wonder. I seriously wonder.
The Cubs called up Baez on Monday, and he’s expected to make his big-league debut Tuesday in Denver against the Rockies. It will be a huge day for the 21-year-old infielder, as well as for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who has been selling the idea of homegrown products since he arrived in 2011. It’s only a matter of time before Bryant and other prospects get their shots.
I’ve heard some fans and observers insist the Cubs will be a World Series contender by 2017. Based on what, I’m not sure. Minor-league stats, I guess. Or their own alcohol intake.
Baez’s arrival officially will start the hysteria. Some of you have taken Baseball America’s top-prospects list to heart and carved out vacation time for future Octobers. Any way we might tamp down some of that excitement? You know, for the sake of the kid?
I have a feeling I’m whispering in a gale.
Epstein’s stance always has been that the march of prospects to the majors would be a deliberate process, that no one would be rushed. Hopefully, the sole reason Baez is a Chicago Cub is because Epstein thinks he’s ready. Any other reason isn’t a good one.
When Epstein arrived here three seasons ago, he laid out a plan heavy on building the minor-league system. Now that several of his draft picks and acquisitions have put up good numbers in the minors, many of you think this means a World Series title can’t be too far behind. Thus, when Baez arrives from Class AAA Iowa with his .260 batting average, 23 home runs and 80 RBI, some of you are sure he’ll pick up where he left off. Two months with the Cubs this season, and he’ll be on autopilot for 2015. That’s the best-case scenario, the only scenario for some of you.
History is filled with players who couldn’t cut it in the majors after successful minor-league careers. There are all sorts of reasons for that, starting with the fact that big-league baseball is filled with great players and the minors aren’t. But an inability to deal with pressure can’t be dismissed — certainly not on the North Side, where Cubs fans have been waiting for someone to lead them to that whole World Series thing. Wrigley Field, when it’s filled, can feel like a grand piano sitting on a player’s chest.
So, back to the original question: Will you give Baez breathing room? You certainly didn’t give it to Felix Pie, Corey Patterson, Bobby Hill and Kosuke Fukudome when they were newcomers. When they exhibited any signs of ability, you projected it into Hall of Fame careers. The crashes weren’t pretty. I think of them like I do child actors. Somehow, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have survived.
The pressure can’t be understated. Cubs fans no longer are content with sunshine and beer. They want victories, which is why attendance has dropped so precipitously. Old-time Cubs fans not only were willing to wait until next year, they thought next year would be the year, against all reason and evidence. That was pressure, too, though of a more benign kind.
Keep this in mind: Not all of Epstein’s high draft picks will succeed — perhaps most of them won’t — but there’s a chance some mid- to lower-round choice will turn into a superstar. So don’t put all your eggs in Baez’s basket. You’ll be doing him a favor.
The Cubs surely didn’t want him getting his first taste of the big leagues in front of needy fans at Wrigley Field, so that will occur at Coors Field against the Rockies. His first appearance in front of a home crowd should come in a three-game series against the Rays, which starts Friday.
What do you say we give him some room when he does get here?
I didn’t think so.