At the beginning of Spring Training this season, it appeared more than a long shot that Chicago Cubs infield prospect Javier Baez would make the team out of camp. However, several recent developments are pointing to the possibility of the team’s top prospect making the team’s Opening Day 25-man roster. First, let’s look at how we got here in the first place.
Baez got a great opportunity to prove himself with current shortstop Starlin Castro nursing a hamstring injury for 7-10 days. With Castro on the bench, Baez got playing time everyday at shortstop, and he made the most of it. He showed off his raw power by hitting two long balls and driving the ball to all fields. The showing comes on the heels of a stellar Double-A season in which he hit 37 home runs and drove in 111; many view Double-A as the hardest division of minor league baseball for batters to face.
Now, for the signs that point to management considering including Baez in the final 25 that break camp in late March. The first minor sign came a couple days ago when the team announced they would start playing Baez at second base and third base in Spring Training. This may seem like a small move on the surface, but it means they believe he’s close enough to being major league ready that he needs to start preparing for a position switch right now.
At second base, there’s no doubt Baez would be an upgrade over the incumbent Darwin Barney, at least offensively, as Barney hit just .208 last season. Barney’s defense is good enough to keep him on a major league roster, but he’s more of a platoon player; he could be a good one for the Cubs in fact. If he continues to rake the ball, management might feel that Baez has nothing left to prove and should be the team’s Opening Day second baseman.
At third base, prospect Mike Olt has yet to claim the position with a strong showing in Spring Training. He seemed like he may be the favorite to win the job out of camp, but other than one home run, he hasn’t done much to cement himself as the Opening Day starter. If management truly feels that Baez is ready, they could decide to start him at third base as well. It could get interesting if he plays third base, because he would have to either move to second base when third base prospect Kris Bryant is called up, or Bryant would have to make the move to the outfield.
Some may say it’s too soon for the Cubs to call Baez up, and they could be right, but his performance speaks for itself. As long as he’s dominating his competition, management isn’t going to hesitate to bring him to the Cubs, where he can gain experience as the team pushes closer to contention. Baez making the team out of camp, which would have seemed like a miracle at the beginning of Spring Training, is seeming more and more possible with every swing he takes.