It is not a secret. The Chicago Cubs are currently in the middle of a rebuild. While the talent at the major league level leaves plenty to be desired for the most part, the Cubs have one of the most talented minor league systems in the game. According to most scouts and experts, the top prospect in a loaded Cubs’ system is shortstop Javier Baez.
Baez had an incredible 2013 season. Splitting time between advanced-A Dayton and double-A Tennessee, he hit .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs and 20 stolen bases last season. He actually performed better once he reached double-A, hitting 20 home runs and 15 doubles in only 218 at-bats against high-level pitching prospects.
At only 20-years-old, Baez was one of the younger players in his league and was completely dominant. After such a great season, he is now considered by most to be a top-5 to top-10 prospect in all of baseball.
As you can probably tell based on the numbers, Baez has an elite power bat. He has one of quickest swings of anybody in baseball and plenty of athletic ability. The knock on Baez is his plate discipline, and to a lesser extent inconsistency on defense. He is a free-swinging player that strikes out more than you would like, and does not walk very much.
Baez is an aggressive swinger, and while it is working well for him right now, I would like to see him become a more patient hitter as he grows. MLB pitchers will definitely look to expose Baez’s aggressiveness when he reaches the big leagues.
No matter how dominant Baez is in Spring Training, I almost guarantee that he will start the season in triple-A Iowa. His skills may be major league-ready, but the Cubs are not expected to be competitive in 2014, so there’s no rush to push him.
That being said, Spring Training will be very important to Baez. If has a hot spring and then continues his torrid pace through the minor leagues in triple-A, the Cubs have to bring him up eventually. However, Baez currently plays shortstop. While Starlin Castro had a disappointing 2013 season, he is one of the core players for the Cubs and is very unlikely to move off of SS. So, Baez will likely have to change positions.
Baez is more valuable as a SS, so the Cubs will probably keep him there as long as they can. That being said, they must prepare for a scenario in which both Baez and Castro are taking regular at-bats in their lineup. Baez’s physique probably fits better at 3B, but if he can handle 2B, he could become the best offensive player in the league at the position.
This Spring, the Cubs will look to get Baez comfortable at either 2B, 3B or both, and that may be more important than anything he does offensively.
While the plate discipline is certainly a concern, Baez has the upside to become a huge middle-of-the order bat for the Cubs when they are ready to compete, and a legitimate MVP-caliber player. He is certainly a player to watch during Spring Training not just because he can be a future star, but because you’ll want to see how he fits into the Cubs’ plans. If Baez is playing a lot of 2B and 3B this spring, that probably means he will be in the bigs sooner than expected.