During his pre-Winter Meetings conference call with the beat writers Friday, Theo Epstein said Javier Baez will get playing time in center field this winter. Baez is currently playing for Santurce of the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League in Puerto Rico.
Javier Baez has appeared in one game (Dec. 1), lined up at second base and went 1-for-3 with a walk, a strikeout and a run scored.
Epstein said the plan is for Baez to play center field “in a few weeks.” Doug Dascenzo will work with him before he plays center in a game. Dascenzo is the Cubs’ Minor League Outfield Instructor.
“It will add to his versatility and it makes sense to do it at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field … it makes sense to see how Javy looks out there,” Epstein said to the beat writers. “He’s someone who’s always enjoyed taking fly balls during batting practice in center field, shagging out there, and has always looked good doing so. Maybe it creates another option for Joe [Maddon] late in games or as an injury fill in … who knows what it will lead to? It’ll be fun to take a look at him out there.”
Javier Baez has not played center field since high school. Baez has played mostly shortstop in the minors, majors, Arizona Fall League and winter ball. Baez has 42 games under his belt in the big leagues at second base, one game at first base and 11 games at third base.
The front office started talking about playing Baez in center field toward the end of the season. And Baez, at the time said he felt comfortable in the outfield. Jason McLeod mentioned Baez playing in the outfield last month when discussing the team’s versatility.
“We talk about baseball athleticism and we’re pretty fortunate that we have baseball athletes in the organization,” McLeod said.
“Whether it’s a guy like Kris Bryant, who you can move all over the field, and guys like Javy [Javier Baez] when you watch him run around in the outfield, he looks so natural at multiple positions. You guys have seen him up here play third, short, second,” McLeod said. “Down in the minor leagues he’ll go shag fly balls during BP and he just looks like his natural position is out in the outfield when he’s out there.”
“Those things are great for us, obviously to have the versatility.”
According to ESPN Chicago, the Cubs are not planning on Baez being the starting centerfielder on Opening Day.
The Cubs are exploring options for a centerfielder. Epstein left the door open again Friday for the possibility of Dexter Fowler returning. Fowler is expected to sign a long-term contract with another team. The Mets and Giants have shown interest in Fowler, who could be looking at a four-year contract.
It’s believed the Cubs would prefer a short-term solution, such as free agent Denard Span on a one-year contract. The Cubs do not want to block center field in order to keep their options open moving forward. Albert Almora could be ready after another year in the minors.
Gerardo Parra and Austin Jackson have been connected to the Cubs this off-season. And OF Will Venable, who was linked to the Cubs prior to the deadline, is unsigned.
The Cubs have also been exploring trades for a centerfielder. And Epstein’s comments Friday led ESPN Chicago to think a platoon in center field is a possibility with Baez playing center on days the Cubs face a lefty starter.
Working with Javier Baez to teach him center field is the right move for the Cubs. A team that considers itself a contender should have the best possible defense up the middle which would require an experienced centerfielder, especially with bat-first fielders in the corner outfield spots.