With Starlin Castro sidelined for 7-10 days with a strained hamstring, Javier Baez should see more action than anticipated during early spring games. While Baez is known for his prolific bat speed and light-tower power, he flashed some leather in the first inning of Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers by tracking down a pop fly down the line in shallow left field on a dead sprint, resulting in a basket catch.
Just as soon as Baez showed off his defensive skills though, he reminded fans of why he is a top five prospect in baseball by launching an opposite field home run on the first pitch he saw. The home run was estimated at 450 feet and was an exhibition of easy power, as Baez displayed a seemingly effortless swing that resulted in a no-doubt bomb to the berm in right-center field.
On his second trip to the plate, Baez was jammed slightly on a swing reminiscent of his first at bat, but this time he was able to muscle the ball out into shallow right-center field for a base hit. After impressing with the bat and the glove already in the game, for his third act Baez decided to make a play with his legs by sliding hard to break up a double play, causing shortstop Jean Segura to make a high and wide throw to first. This kind of hustle play can often go unnoticed, but it almost led to a big inning for the Cubs as the team threatened with runners on second and third but ultimately failed to score.
Before fans get any ideas about Javier Baez opening the season as the starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, it simply is not going to happen barring a significant injury to Castro, and even then it’s not a likely outcome with Darwin Barney and Emilio Bonifacio capable of handling shortstop. However, Baez has done nothing but elevate his stock so far this spring, showing that he can be a productive big league player at some point during 2014 season. Javier Baez will begin the year at Triple-A Iowa as the everyday shortstop and Starlin Castro, pending any setbacks to his hamstring, will continue to play shortstop for the Cubs through the final six years of the seven-year, $60 million extension he signed prior to last year.
What Javier Baez is proving right now is that he is more than just a high-potential offensive player with a wicked swing, he is also an athlete with baseball instincts who can fit at any number of positions on the diamond. Whether Baez ends up at second base, third base, shortstop or the outfield, he is knocking on the door of the big leagues and Cubs fans will have the privilege of watching him aim for the rooftops in Wrigleyville at some point during the 2014 season.