Baez hoping for a short stop at Triple-A Iowa
Cubs' top prospect gearing for Major League arrival in the near future
CHICAGO -- Earlier this month, Javier Baez tweeted a message shared by many Cubs fans.
Baez wrote: "I can't wait to play in front of a lot of fans."
The Cubs feel the same. The plan, though, is for Baez, 21, to open the 2014 season at Triple-A Iowa. How long he stays there will depend on his performance, and if he continues on the same track, it most likely won't be long.
Baez, who will be in Chicago this week for the Cubs Convention, is ranked No. 2 on MLBPipeline.com's top 10 shortstop prospects list behind the Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, called up last season to the big leagues. MLBPipeline.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Jan. 23 on MLB.com as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 9 p.m. CT. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com is breaking down baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
Baez has certainly gotten plenty of attention. Last season, he batted .274 with 17 home runs in 76 games for Class A Advanced Daytona, and was promoted July 6 to Double-A Tennessee, where he hit .294 with 20 home runs in 54 games. For the year, he batted .282 with 37 home runs, 34 doubles, four triples, 111 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
The Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Baez was to play in the Arizona Fall League, but the team decided the shortstop could use the time off. In early December, he joined Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and some other Cubs prospects in the Miami area for a workout, which also gave some in the team's player development department a chance to check up on their offseason workouts.
Baez, who trains with one of his brothers in Florida, will soon be in Arizona and hopes for another impressive spring. Last year, he batted .298 and hit four home runs in Cactus League games. Not included in those stats were two more homers he belted in an exhibition game against Team Japan, the second a two-run, walk-off blast in the ninth.
He wasn't done. On June 10, Baez became the second player in the 94-year history of the Florida State League to hit four in a game, doing so for Daytona. Last September, Baez was named the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year.
His bat speed has been compared to Gary Sheffield's. With Tennessee, Baez batted .367 with runners on base, .377 with runners in scoring position. But he still has some development to do. While at Tennessee, Baez hit .234 against right-handed pitchers, .450 against lefties. He was charged with 31 errors at Daytona, 13 at Tennessee, which some Cubs officials say could be an inflated total because Baez can get to balls that other players don't, and in trying to make a great play, throws the ball away.
What did Baez learn last year while in the big league camp in Mesa?
"I learned everything," Baez said in an interview with MLB.com last month. "I was looking around to see what I could get from the other guys, the big leaguers. That's my goal, to get where they are.
"I'm a real quiet person on the field, but I'm always looking around and picking up stuff from everybody," he said. "I'll feel comfortable once I get there [in February] because I've been there already. I'll continue to learn from everybody, from the new guys who come in to the veterans. I learn from everyone."
Baez is one of several top prospects taking part in the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers this weekend, joining Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and C.J. Edwards.
"The most fundamental reason we're focused on young players is simple," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "It's just about talent, and cramming as much talent as we can onto our roster."
Epstein has said young players need to dominate at the Minor League level before they will be moved up. If Baez keeps developing as he has shown, it won't be long before he calls Chicago home.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.