Oh boy. I’d place this into the Last-Thing-Javier-Baez-Needed Column: Last wednesday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon disputed a report floating around Twitter that scuffling Cubs infielder Javier Baez had been informed he made the 25-man roster, likely landing in the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup. Maddon went on to say that neither he nor the Cubs front office had made any such guarantees to the young super-slugger.
Monday the Cubs announced they cut Baez along with high-profile prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. Both Russell and Bryant were expected to miss the Major League cut this spring, but Baez comes as a bit of a surprise.
As I’m sure many of you know, Baez swings with the might of an angry Thor, walloping balls over fences and into stray parking lots… but he’s got some alarming baggage. In his 52 games and 229 plate appearances in his first go with the Cubs last season, Baez struck out a whopping 42.5 percent of the time – that’s a lot more than just your typical young, wild and free swinger. This is a kid that swings and misses much, much more than Adam Dunn ever did – especially at balls outside of the strike zone (nearly 40 percent of the time during his run with the Cubs last season).
Coming off a poor Winter League performance, Baez is currently enduring a tough spring facing predominantly Major League arms. I suppose you could say he’s striking out a little less than he was last season – down to 36 percent – but nothing to really suggest he’s made strides into becoming a more efficient batter.
He was on a shortlist of guys in Cubs camp that needed a confidence boost from a solid Spring Training. But management hasn’t lost faith in him yet.
When asked, Maddon has been largely supportive of Baez’s spring, praising his strong and smart instincts on the basepaths admitting his growth at the plate is a working process but will surely show itself in due time, that’s according to the reports provided by ESPN’s Cubs beat reporter Jesse Rodgers.
And as of Monday, Javier Baez will return to Iowa to spend some more time practicing plate discipline in Triple-A to start his season, at least.
So, who’s going to take his place come Opening Day? The speed and versatility of someone like Arismendy Alcantara intrigues me, but his bat has nearly as many holes in it as Baez’s – he’s probably more valuable to the Cubs as pinch-runner and an extra glove in both the infield and outfield. It could very well be Tommy La Stella’s job right now. It’s also realistic to see the two split time at the position until Baez is ready to assume the role for good.
In the mean time, another stint in the minors should do Baez some good. He needs to develop a better batters’ eye. His contact problems fall directly on his lack of plate discipline. He chases more pitches out of the strike zone than anyone, but makes more contact than you’d think when he swings at pitches actually thrown within the strike zone. That should give you a little more hope that his plate problems would improve if he could learn a little more patience. In his first taste of pro ball, Major League pitchers exploited his long and furious swing more than any of us thought they would. He’s got to get patient and he can’t start to break a bad habit at Wrigley Field.
He’ll be up soon enough, hopefully with a keener eye.
From there, you can let the youngsters fall, climb and grow for themselves as youngsters do. Players like Anthony Rizzo needed time and big-league at-bats, let Baez have the same luxury upon his return. Rizzo was afforded the time to grow in the Cubs’ self-proclaimed rebuilding years. While the franchise is offering fans a different brand of baseball this season, players like Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks and Javier Baez need to be given some room to breathe and grow into the players the Cubs and their fans hoped they’d be when they acquired them.
Baez is just 22 with sensational power for a middle infielder and is swift and smart on the bases. There’s plenty to like still. He needs to torch some awful habits, but next time he’s up, he’ll be up for good.