The CCO’s coverage of the minor league season concludes today with the fourth and final post-season award, the Minor League Player of the Year.
Unlike some years, this season there was one player in the Cubs’ system that stood out above the rest. Javier Baez was clearly the top player in an organization that showed a lot of improvement on and off the field.
All position players that began their season in April with Kane County, Daytona, Tennessee, or Iowa were considered but only players remaining in the minors for the entire minor league season were eligible for the award. Last week, Kris Bryant, along with pitchers James Pugliese, Corbin Hoffner, and Michael Hamann were named Short-Season Player and Pitchers of the Year while Kyle Hendricks was selected as the CCO’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
The CCO Minor League Player of the Year – Javier Baez, SS
The attention of many of the Cubs Faithful has turned to the minor leagues as Javy-Mania is about to hit the North Side of Chicago. Media members who couldn’t name a minor league player if their free press box meal depended on it are now jumping on the Baez bandwagon, and with good reason. The 20-year old shortstop hit a combined .282/.341/.578/.920 with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee this past season. His RBI total and 75 extra basehits led all minor league players this season.
Javier Baez was the ninth player selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. A protracted contract negotiation had Baez signing minutes before the deadline. Baez appeared in three games for the AZL Cubs in the rookie league and two for Boise, hitting a combined .278/.278/.389 with two double and an RBI. In his first full professional season, Baez spent the early part of 2012 in extended spring training with an unspecified injury. He then joined Single-A Peoria were he batted .333/.383/.596 with 10 doubles, five triples, 16 home runs, 46 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 57 games. Promoted to Daytona in the beginning of August 2012, Baez hit only .188/.244/.400 with three doubles, one triple, four homers and 13 RBI the rest of the way.
It was back to Daytona to start the 2013 season, and Baez used his second tour of the Florida State League to his advantage. Baez went .274/.338/.535 with 19 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs and 57 RBI in 78 games. Promoted to Tennessee, Baez homered in his first at bat, which started the hype machine. Baez went on to hit .294/.346/.638/.983 with 15 doubles, 20 home runs and 54 RBI in 54 games against Southern League pitching, as the Smokies won the second half division title and went to the playoffs.
Despite all of his offensive potential, flaws still remain in his game. Baez has a career fielding percentage of only .934 and has committed 67 errors in 209 games. While some feel he improved after his promotion to Tennessee, it was only to a .948 percentage in a little more than a third of the season. Over the past year, there have been several stories from the front office wanting to see Baez play other positions, only to be retracted later. Baez is now headed to the 2013 Arizona Fall League where management has said they would like to see him play both second and third base.
Javier Baez also has somewhat of a checkered past, with several ugly incidents in extended spring training, A-ball, and the 2012 Arizona Fall League. He also had to leave the AFL early after breaking his thumb, with some reports saying it occurred following some horseplay with teammates. His penchant for glaring at umpires has led to him being ejected in several games. However, Baez may have turned a corner this past year, as he was seen as trying to be a peacemaker when teammate Jorge Soler lost control earlier this season.
Although Javier Baez put up some rather gaudy offensive numbers, there was some competition for this honor from several of his teammates. Outfielder John Andreoli led the system for the second straight year with 40 stolen bases and his combined .305 batting average paced all Cubs’ prospects in hitting. When injuries weakened Tennessee early in the season, outfielder Rubi Silva stepped up his game. Silva established a new career-high in home runs with 15 and drove in 52 runs while swiping 13 bases. Silva put together a .284/.310/.483 line and his .284 batting average was good enough for sixth in the Southern League. Infielder Arismendy Alcantara (.271/.352/.451) was all over the Southern League offensive leader board. Alcantara was second with 36 doubles, third with 31 stolen bases, seventh with 69 RBI, tied for tenth with 15 home runs, and fourteenth with a .271 batting average. Third baseman Christian Villanueva (.261/.317/.469) was also among the Southern League’s offensive leaders. Villanueva led the league with 41 doubles, tied for fifth with 19 home runs and finished fifth in the league with 72 RBI. Villanueva was also named the league’s top defensive third baseman.
This concludes our regular season coverage of the Chicago Cubs’ Minor League system for 2013. Thank you all once again for turning to the CCO for all of your minor league news. I’ll be back with some feature articles, along with full off-season coverage beginning with the Arizona Fall League. Until then, this is Tom U., signing off.