Theo not concerned about Javy Baez’s plate woes
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter September 4, 2014 10:02PM
Updated: September 5, 2014 2:21AM
Theo Epstein warned us there’d be days like this.
So did Javy Baez’s minor-league history.
Maybe not quite so many days like this, maybe not quite this many strikeouts.
But this is why the Cubs’ big-swinging prospect is here now, playing every day, whether he strikes out four times or, on rare occasions such as Wednesday night, none.
And even as Jorge Soler has joined him at the big-league level, and stolen a significant amount of his thunder, the front office is as firm in its let-him-play approach to Baez’s 2014 debut as it was in Boston when calling up Dustin Pedroia for a .191 final month of the 2006 season.
The Cubs still cannot be certain exactly what they have in the No. 9 overall draft pick from 2011, and they certainly won’t try to tell you he’s going to be the MVP Pedroia was within two seasons.
But this is just an exaggerated version of the growing pains the Cubs expect from many of their top prospects just now starting to come through the system.
“As tough as it can be to watch sometimes, this is exactly what Javy needs,” said Epstein, the Cubs’ third-year president. “He’s going to end up going into the offseason reflecting back on this, and over time, it’ll sink in: Despite what pitchers do to him, he controls the at-bat. He can’t get away from his strengths.
“He can do as much damage as anyone in the game when he is patient and gets a pitch to drive and doesn’t try to do too much and uses the whole field. And those things, you can’t just tell somebody. . . . Players need to figure it out over time.”
The classic danger in that approach, of course, is the fine line a team might walk with a young player’s confidence, especially when the kid is striking out 40 percent of the time, compared to just six walks, and is struggling to hit .179.
But Baez, who had the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck before he ever played a professional game, has never lacked confidence.
And even as the second-youngest player in the National League, he carries the same swagger he had after hitting a game-winning home run in his debut and two homers in his third game.
It’s part of why the Cubs give him the green light on 3-0 counts, which he used to ground out Monday night.
And he hasn’t stopped thinking about his approach, no matter how big he keeps swinging.
In the nine games since Anthony Rizzo left the lineup — he was Baez’s primary protection in the 3-spot — Baez has put the ball in play more, decreased his strikeouts slightly and even drawn walks the last two games.
He said he hasn’t seen much of a difference in the way pitchers have handled him since Rizzo has been out, but figures he’s handling them better.
“I’m getting more fastballs, and they’re pitching me more in the zone,” he said, “because I’m laying more off the breaking balls on the ground.”
Not even Baez knows whether the adjustments will lead to a significant turnaround in the last few weeks of the season or what next year will look like when he’ll be judged on performance.
But Epstein reminds critics the slow start is also a pattern with Baez, who hit only .142 through 28 games in Class AAA Iowa this year before taking off.
“It takes him a little bit of time to have that light go on at a new level,” Epstein said. “It’s part of his aggressive nature. But he doesn’t back down. He’s very strong-willed. He has a strong mental makeup. He will continue to fight and scrap until he does figure it out, and when he does, he makes up for it.
“Like someone’s got to pay, and it’ll be fun when [they do].”