Javier Baez’s struggles with the big-league club last season were well documented. We saw flashes of extreme power potential, but the pitch recognition issues and patience issues, which led to an enormous strikeout rate, squandered that potential. Baez, as widely expected, was sent down to AAA to make some major adjustments to his swing mechanics and approach. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the season, Baez lost his sister to complications from spina bifida and spent a few weeks on the bereavement list.
With all of this on his plate, it would be understandable if Baez experienced a “lost season” (or, at the least, a lost half-season). However, the adjustments that the coaches have made to his mechanics, as well as his hard work on pitch recognition and patience, have seemingly paid off so far. His line is Iowa is currently 295/376/495. His line at Iowa last season was 260/323/510. His power is close to the same (he’s been especially powerful lately), but the on-base percentage is up significantly. More importantly, his strikeout rate is down to an “I’ll live with it” 24.8%, while his walk rate is up to a nice 8.3% (those numbers at AAA last season were 30.0% and 7.8%, respectively). It’s a small sample (relatively speaking) but if you watch Baez at the plate, he really has made some significant modifications. He’s standing closer to the plate (reminiscent of Anthony Rizzo…speaking of which, I REALLY wish Soler would stand closer to the plate) and he quieted some of his pre-pitch hand movement and leg kick. Even after these rather major changes, his overall line has still improved. This is a good sign.
So, the question is, what would you do with Baez? Do you leave him in AAA for the foreseeable future to keep working on this approach, or do you call him up soon? I think the crucial factor in this decision is whether you believe the Cubs have a legitimate shot to be a serious factor in the playoffs this year. If you don’t, there’s no reason to rush him back to the big league club. Leave him in the minors, let him get more reps with the new approach without the pressure of a playoff hunt, and make sure you maximize his development for the future. If you think the Cubs do have a chance to be a playoff threat, then you have to ask yourself if calling up Baez makes the team better. Remember, this is not a zero-sum game, calling up Baez will require movement of the players already on the roster.
These are the scenarios that I see as the possibilities if you do decide to call up Baez soon (remember, Baez has been playing 2B and SS at Iowa):
1) Baez plays 2nd base, Russell moves to 3rd. Bryant moves to LF.
2) Baez plays 3B, Bryant moves to LF.
3) Baez plays 2B, Castro moves to 3B, Russell moves to SS, Bryant moves to LF.
4) Baez plays SS, Castro moves to 3B, Bryant moves to LF.
5) Baez plays SS, Castro moves to 2B, Russell moves to 3B, Bryant moves to LF.
6) Baez/Russell play 2B/SS (whichever), Bryant stays at 3B, and Castro is traded.
If you pick option 6, you’ll have to come up with a plausible trade scenario…and would Theo/Jed really sell low on Castro? That’s what you would be doing at this point. Short of trading Castro, there doesn’t seem to be a way you could bring up Baez and not move Bryant to LF. Are the Cubs ready to give up on him at 3B? The bat will obviously play anywhere, but it’s all the more valuable in the infield.
What do you think, dear reader?
Have a great weekend…here’s to a good series again the Royals.