As the top prospect in a loaded Chicago Cubs‘ minor league system, Javier Baez has obvious talent and a very bright career ahead of him. At only 21 years old, he is tearing apart high-level pitching in Spring Training, making some wonder whether he should travel north with the big league club for Opening Day.
Baez burst onto the scene last season hitting .282/.341/.578 in 130 games between high-A and double-A. His 37 home runs were the second most of any player in Minor League Baseball. While he is inconsistent defensively, Baez plays shortstop, which is one of the most valuable positions on the field, and most scouts believe that he will be able to stick at the position if needed. Baez has great athleticism and a rare gift of elite power. He is commonly recognized as the best prospect in the Cubs’ system and one of the best in all of baseball.
As incredible as Baez was last season, he still has plenty of room for improvement. In 2013, Baez had an extremely high strikeout rate of 28.8 percent, and his 7.9 percent walk rate was far less than desirable. He is a free swinging “see-ball-hit-ball” kind of hitter and will likely always be that way, but that does not mean he cannot improve. With the power numbers he posts, you can live with the high strikeouts and low walks, but if Baez does not become more selective at the plate, MLB pitchers are going to figure him out and eat him alive.
Obviously it is an extremely small sample size, but in 21 at bats this spring, Baez is showing off his incredible talent, hitting .333 with three home runs and an OPS of 1.190. He has also worked some deep counts, which is obviously nice to see, and has shown the ability to hit to the opposite field more than in the past. His Spring Training success, coupled with the Cubs talking about trying him at second base (Starlin Castro is the obvious starter at shortstop), has many thinking Baez will be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day. As great as he is, that simply is not going to happen.
Barring any miracles, the Cubs are not going to be competitive this season, therefore they have no reason to rush Baez. On top of that, the Cubs get an extra year of team control later in his career if they just wait to bring him up later this season. He is an incredible talent with unlimited upside, but he still has plenty of work to do in the minors. Bringing a talented prospect to the big leagues before he is ready is just asking for the player to become a bust.
Giving Baez more time in the minors to perfect the imperfections of his game is a no-brainer. He will be the starting shortstop for the triple-A Iowa Cubs to start the season. That being said, if triple-A proves to not be a challenge for Baez and he continues to tear the cover off of the ball, Baez will be playing in Wrigley Field at some point early in the season. Stay patient Cubs fans; this is a potential MVP caliber player who just needs to be on the correct development path in order to reach his ceiling.