Throughout the winter when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer talked about the Cubs’ plans for the season Javier Baez was included in the discussions. Baez may not be part of the starting lineup, but he figures to have a big role on team looking to return to the post-season tournament.
Javier Baez has a lot of talent beyond the tremendous bat speed that is always mentioned in the first couple of sentences when listing what he brings to the table. Baez has very good baseball instincts and the ability to slow the game down defensively.
Baez showed last season he is more than capable of playing third base in the big leagues, adding the position to a resume that already included shortstop and second base. Despite one beat writer’s constant reminders, Baez is not the best defensive infielder on the Cubs roster. He is very, very good and because he can move around the diamond, Baez could have a rather large impact on this year’s team.
Offensively, Baez showed a lot of improvement at the plate during what was an extremely difficult year for him last season. When the Cubs called him up in September, Baez took his skipper’s advice and did not suck.
In 28 games, Baez batted .289/.325/.408 with six doubles and a home run for a .733 OPS and hit the game-changing home run off now teammate John Lackey in the NLDS subbing for the injured Addison Russell. Baez cut down on his swing, focused on going the other way and reduced his strikeout percentage from 41.5% to 30% in the majors.
Baez started Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers at shortstop. Baez has played three different positions this spring (shortstop, first base and center field) and is expected to see time in seven of the eight defensive positions before the end of the Cactus League schedule.
Joe Maddon absolutely loves what Baez brings to the table. And the Cubs think defensively he can be the team’s super utility man moving forward.
Tuesday’s game provided a snapshot of where Baez is at this point in his career. Baez can make the sensational play in the field then fail to make a routine one. Baez will flail at strike three trying to launch a batting practice home run then go to the plate in his next at bat against the best pitcher in the game and collect a basehit.
Javier Baez has to become a constant team player that is ready to contribute defensively and offensively when he’s called on this season.
Joe Maddon was not happy about the mental mistakes Baez made Tuesday. Maddon has patience with players making physical mistakes, it’s baseball. Mental mistakes cost teams games and Maddon has said from day one, a player has to be strong mentally to succeed in the game and help his team win games.
“There is no part for mental mistakes in the game. These are the kinds of things we have to get across during camp. We’re on top of it,” Maddon said Wednesday to ESPN Chicago. The Cubs are looking to correct the mental mistakes but those adjustments don’t happen overnight.
Maddon addressed Baez’s performance against the Dodgers with the beat writers.
“That first at-bat was a little hairy. The second ‘AB’ was more to his liking. I want to see him making adjustments. When to cut it down [his swing] and how to cut it down is also important. Not playing every day is going to lead into that also. You have to have more self-awareness.”
Maddon pointed out that Baez will be “surrounded by some good uncles and everybody is going to be on top of his mistakes.”
Joe Maddon and Billy Williams talked to Baez at different times during Wednesday’s practice. According to ESPN Chicago “the message was to play the game the right way and while physical mistakes are acceptable, the same can’t be said about mental ones.”
The Cubs are looking for big things from Javier Baez this season. Hopefully he continues to listen to his skipper’s advice and does simple better this year.
- Report from ESPN Chicago
- Report from Comcast SportsNet
- Report from the Tribune
- Report from the Sun-Times