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July 2013

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Scouting Javier Baez

Written by , Posted in General

I saw Javier Baez in person twice earlier this season when he was still with Daytona, and I came away both times thinking the same thing… if he ever minimized his strike zone he’d be something special but he has extremely high bust potential given the nature of his tools.  I feel like there’s no middle ground with Baez, he’s either going to be a superstar or bust. With his recent promotion to AA, I’ve been able to watch every game with milb.tv so here’s a comprehensive scouting report with video analysis.

Grading the Tools

Present/Future
Hit: 40/60
Power: 55/70
Plate Discipline: 30/50
Running: 50/50
Range: 40/45
Glove: 35/50
Arm: 55/60

The Swing

Baez’s swing is very level and smooth and he has the quickest bat I’ve ever seen. When he makes contact, the ball really takes off as seen in this first video below of Baez’s debut at-bat in AA where he launches a ball over 400 feet to deep CF:

Baez has a Gary Sheffield-esque bat waggle pre-pitch to keep his hands back and burst through the zone at the appropriate time. However, Sheffield would stop his waggle during the pitcher’s windup, putting his hands and bat into a solid hitting position; Baez on the other hand, does his waggle as the pitcher is delivering the ball, putting himself out of sync with the pitch.  In the video below you can see how his bat is pointing towards the infield as the pitcher is releasing the ball which results in a weak tapper back to the mound:

He had the bat speed to make up for this in the lower minors, but now that he is in AA, the waggle is throwing off his timing and causing a lot of late swings that produce foul balls, weak contact, or complete whiffs. This is something that can be remedied with a slight swing modification but will take some time for Baez to get accustomed to and will need to be done during an offseason.

Approach at the Plate

Baez has a very hard and violent swing that he never shortens or adjusts for any situation.  His approach leaves a lot to be desired as goes up to the plate to take his cuts and live with the results.  On this swing he’s leaning out over the plate reaching for a pitch off the plate and gets under it. You can see in this video how the ball seems to leap off Baez’s bat, even when he doesn’t square it up. The ball still carries to the warning track in the opposite field despite the poor contact:

Baez tends to get himself out more than the pitcher actually works to get Baez out. His ultra-aggressive approach works against him and he usually falls behind in the count. He goes up to the plate wanting to hit every pitch as hard as he can and that approach will start to prohibit his abilities now that he’s reached advanced levels of the minor league system.

This Season

Baez, like most Cubs prospects, has little-to-no grasp of plate discipline. He is a free swinger and offers at nearly everything around the plate and that really showed at the beginning of this season.  At High-A Daytona, through May 15th he had a 30.3% K% and 3.2% BB%. A very hot stretch starting May 17th until his promotion saw Baez lower his K% to 23.1% and raise his BB% up to 6.2% (a career best).  The improvement in discipline along with his massive power surge was enough evidence for the Cubs front office to promote Baez to AA.

Baez has raw plus-plus power and has showcased it many times this season.  At Daytona he had a SLG% of .535, which was 4th best at the time of his promotion in very pitcher friendly league. He accumulated 17 HRs, 19 doubles, and 4 triples in only 337 plate appearances.  From May 17 through July 5th he held a triple slash line of .308/.352/.602; during that time he crushed 4 homeruns in a single game, becoming only the second player to do so in the Florida State League.

Since his promotion Baez has struggled. After that debut HR, he reeled off an 0-19 slump, including 6 strikeouts; reverting to the tendencies he exhibited at the beginning of the season. Over this past weekend, Baez started to heat up. On Friday he opened up a doubleheader with a 2-4 performance plus a walk, and in the night cap he also went 2-4 adding a solo HR:

On Saturday, Baez went 1-3 with a walk and went deep again:

In 36 plate appearances at AA thus far, he’s accumulated 7 hits, with 3 of them being homeruns.  He’s also struck out 10 times (27.8 K%), and walked twice (5.6 BB%).  His triple slash line is .206/.250/.471 thus far at AA.  While I’ll be the first to scream small sample size, the worry I’ve always had with Baez was advanced pitching would exploit his lack of a defined strike zone and thus far that is what’s happening at AA.  There’s no doubt he’s going to feature his plus-plus power, but that alone is not going to make him a successful big leaguer if he doesn’t work on his approach. The same trends that worried me in April and the first half of May, have come back in July. I would have liked the Cubs to take a more cautious approach and let Baez show the patience he exhibited for 7 weeks was more than just a hot stretch before giving him the promotion; especially given how difficult the move from High-A to AA is.

Defensively

Baez has been an error machine, accumulating 33 errors in only 83 games outpacing even Starlin Castro’s worst season in the minors. Baez’s errors have come in all forms from trying to do too much to airmailing throws over the first baseman. The video below shows Baez botching a routine grounder straight at him over the weekend:

Right now, he has enough athleticism to play shortstop, but I don’t see him staying there as he fills out more.  In the 11 games I’ve watched Baez either in person or online, I’ve seen this one play where his range stood out:

Overall I consider Baez’s range to be below average without much room for improvement.  His glove should be average if he puts the work into it but his current mechanics are very inconsistent- he looks robotic at times where he’s thinking through each step instead of letting his natural instincts take over.  With more reps this should become fluid but right now it’s one of the major causes of his high error count. He does have a very strong and accurate arm which has allowed him to make up for some of the fielding mistakes and it will play well at third base, his eventual landing spot.

Final Thoughts

I’m cautiously optimistic about Baez’s future. He has all the tools to be a superstar but his lack of a developed strike zone is a huge concern and he’s a major boom or bust type prospect.  As we’ve seen with a long list of players that came up through the Cubs system, plate discipline is not something easily learned but I’m – for now – willing to gamble on Baez realizing his potential and building upon that 7 week stretch in Daytona where he cut down his strikeouts, worked hitter’s counts, took his share of walks and exhibited an overall improvement in his approach.

Don’t be surprised though if Baez is the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade this off-season due to our logjam of high end third base prospects with Bryant, Villanueva, and Candelario all in the upper echelon  of Cubs prospects.  With major concerns about his plate discipline, which don’t exactly fit in with the grind-out-every-at-bat type of values the front office is trying to instill, and the high chance he could turn into a bust, the Cubs front office may want to cash in his value to bring in an elite player to immediately bolster our major league team. The Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton and the Rays’ David Price are they type of impact players the Cubs have reportedly already been in contact with their respective teams gauging trade possibilities this past offseason and it would take a prospect like Baez to pry that kind of elite talent away.

  • Michael Jimenez

    Just to be as current as possible Baez went 0-4 with 4Ks tonight. Down to a .184 avg/.225 obp/ .421 slg / .666 ops / 36.9 K% / 5.0 BB% at AA in 40 plate appearances.

  • Michael Jimenez

    Just to be as current as possible Baez went 0-4 with 4Ks & a BB tonight. Down to a .184 avg/.244 obp/ .421 slg / .665 ops / 34.1 K% / 7.3 BB% at AA in 41 plate appearances.

  • Cap’n Obvious

    The swing reminds me a bit of Gary Sheffield late in his career,when he had to cheat to get the power and was easily fooled. How has the Cub organization allowed him to keep such an awful trigger? This is an example of the piss-poor coaching in the Cub system that I have referenced before. The kid has talent, but without someone to harness it, he’s doomed for failure. A big league advance scout can find about 6 holes in that swing. The Rays would get that guy and fix him in about two weeks. I am not very excited about this guy…as he will not be very good unless he gets to an organization that can develop him.

  • Cap’n Obvious

    The swing reminds me a bit of Gary Sheffield late in his career,when he had to cheat to get the power and was easily fooled. How has the Cub organization allowed him to keep such an awful trigger? This is an example of the piss-poor coaching in the Cub system that I have referenced before. The kid has talent, but without someone to harness it, he’s doomed for failure. A big league advance scout can find about 6 holes in that swing. The Rays would get that guy and fix him in about two weeks. I am not very excited about this guy…as he will not be very good unless he gets to an organization that can develop him.

  • LVCubFan

    Is it weird that I’m excited for Cubs baseball this weekend, if only to check out Junior Lake? I’m preparing to blast social media with ‘Problem Child’ memes if he blows up.

  • Dusty Baylor

    So now, instead of the Cubs dangling Castro, since Baez is the future…Baez might be traded? I like Villanueva and Candelario, but Candelario is probably 3 seasons away, and Villanueva is putting up a decent .257/.311/.447 line in AA…Decent.
    Why not keep Baez….move Castro to 2nd or 3rd..or CF…or have a potential IF of Rizzo-Alcantara-Castro-Baez, or a mix of those until someone steps up, or is traded for/signed?

    • Noah_I

      You’ve left out Kris Bryant at 3B. Candelario, as you said, is far away, and Villanueva is more a stopgap type of player. He could be league average through his prime, but that’s likely about it. But Bryant could be ready for the big leagues on opening day 2015 (although I’d bet the Cubs would hold him off until at least mid-May to get the extra year of team control).

      The thing with Baez is that, as Michael noted, he’s a boom or bust type. He could be one of the best five or ten players in baseball for a long time if he gets more disciplined and and can stick at shortstop. Or he could be a replacement level bust because he doesn’t make enough contact to make use of the power. Due to that boom or bust nature, if the Cubs are going to make a trade from a David Price or Giancarlo Stanton type, Baez could be the best choice to include.

      • Dusty Baylor

        Agree on the boom or bust. If you could include him in a deal for a Stanton type..well sure. But otherwise lets see what he’s got first IMO

      • Noah_I

        The problem is that if you wait to see him in the Majors, and then he strikes out in 35% of his plate appearances and can’t get to his power, his value plummets. Think of the amount the Cubs could have gotten in a trade for Brett Jackson at the beginning of 2012 compared to the beginning of 2013.

      • Dusty Baylor

        So Catch-22. If they look to trade Baez, they better get a freaking ransom for him. At some point, seeing some of the Cubs best prospects get a shot….with the Cubs…will be a good thing.
        Trade Castro…no wait…trade Baez…No keep them both, trade this guy. Whatever.
        (not saying this is what you’ve said…just in general fans saying these things)

      • Noah_I

        Oh, I agree, if the Cubs trade Baez, it better be as the center piece for a stud young Major Leaguer with several years of team control. And the only way they should trade Castro is if they get a fantastic return of prospects. And they just shouldn’t trade Castro right now, because his value is down too much.

      • Dusty Baylor

        True. Also…I really think this is just a down year for Castro. It happens even with good young players.

      • Michael Jimenez

        Our greatest strength is left side infield prospects right now so if we make a trade, it’d be centered around a prospect there, that’s why I mentioned trade possibility but it would only be for a big name player like the ones I mentioned.

        Given Baez risk is greater than most prospects of his caliber that’s why I think he’d be the prospect the Cubs feel safest trading. If I was going to put percentages on it, I’d say he has a 20% chance to make it and 80% chance to be a bust. Remember, even the best position prospects still flame out over 60% of the time.

      • Don’t forget Slim Dan.

    • Michael Jimenez

      I don’t see the Cubs trading Castro to make room for Baez. Castro is the better defender of the 3 and is the most likely to stay at shortstop. Baez’s defensive ceiling is a Hanley Ramirez type where he plays just good enough defense to be there given his offensive production – and I think Alcantara is better defensively at short than Baez even though the Cubs have him at 2B right now to make room for Baez. That should be fixed to start next season (if not sooner) when Alcantara is at AAA.

  • Dusty Baylor

    So now, instead of the Cubs dangling Castro, since Baez is the future…Baez might be traded? I like Villanueva and Candelario, but Candelario is probably 3 seasons away, and Villanueva is putting up a decent .257/.311/.447 line in AA…Decent.
    Why not keep Baez….move Castro to 2nd or 3rd..or CF…or have a potential IF of Rizzo-Alcantara-Castro-Baez, or a mix of those until someone steps up, or is traded for/signed?

    • Noah_I

      You’ve left out Kris Bryant at 3B. Candelario, as you said, is far away, and Villanueva is more a stopgap type of player. He could be league average through his prime, but that’s likely about it. But Bryant could be ready for the big leagues on opening day 2015 (although I’d bet the Cubs would hold him off until at least mid-May to get the extra year of team control).

      The thing with Baez is that, as Michael noted, he’s a boom or bust type. He could be one of the best five or ten players in baseball for a long time if he gets more disciplined and and can stick at shortstop. Or he could be a replacement level bust because he doesn’t make enough contact to make use of the power. Due to that boom or bust nature, if the Cubs are going to make a trade from a David Price or Giancarlo Stanton type, Baez could be the best choice to include.

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    Is it possible that the Cubs promoted Baez to see him fail thus enabling him to see that he needs to make adjustments he was unwilling to make in single A?

    • Noah_I

      It’s possible, although I’d temper the language on that a bit. It could be that Baez is a guy who is so talented that he only has to change a relatively small amount to succeed from one level to the next. From May 15 to June 28, when he was called up, Baez put up a .308/.392/.629 in a pitcher’s league while lowering his strikeout rate to a very respectable 18.1% and improving his walk rate to a decent 7.8%. I would have liked to see the improvement continue in the FSL for one more month, but considering his ability to flip the switch in the FSL and suddenly become one of the best hitters in the league, maybe the Cubs wanted to put a shock to his system and say, no, you need to continue working on these things because the breaking stuff you’re going to see is just going to continue to get better.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Thanks for your answer

    • Michael Jimenez

      I do think Cubs expect him to struggle some at AA and want to see him make the adjustments but I don’t think they’d risk his development by rushing a promotion just to point out the areas he needs work.

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    Is it possible that the Cubs promoted Baez to see him fail thus enabling him to see that he needs to make adjustments he was unwilling to make in single A?

    • Michael Jimenez

      I do think the Cubs expect him to struggle some at AA and want to see him make the adjustments but I don’t think they’d risk his development by rushing a promotion just to point out the areas he needs work.

  • Jedi
    • Seymour Butts

      Kind of hard, Johnson…21 for a Dominican is Clemente, not Sosa.

    • Seymour Butts

      Kind of hard, Johnson…21 for a Dominican is Clemente, not Sosa.

  • Alex P

    Excellent article. Great depth of information. Keep it up!!!