Top prospect Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs entered the month of May with a dismal offensive line of .172/.238/.379, and while he managed to hit three home runs, he was clearly overmatched by more intelligent pitchers who could take advantage of his over-aggressiveness.
The struggles continued into the beginning of May, but with a recent hot streak that has seen Baez hit .439/.444/.927 in his past 10 games, he has his overall line on the season up to .225/.287/.437, earning him PCL Player of the Week honors. It was only a matter of time before Baez became more comfortable with the highest level of the minors, and while he still refuses to rein in his vicious swing, Baez has once again shown glimpses of the superstar many think he can be.
He still has work to do with pitch selection and recognition, but it is only a matter of time before he masters this league as he has at every previous level of the minor leagues. The question that remains is what position will Baez play when he comes to Chicago?
After receiving some work at second base this spring, most assumed that Baez would eventually make his first appearance on the Cubs at the keystone. However, Luis Valbuena and Darwin Barney have formed a productive platoon at second base for the time being, with Valbuena currently second to just Anthony Rizzo for the team lead in OBP at .398, and Barney heating up with the bat while possessing the best glove on the team.
Both Valbuena and Barney likely deserve to start in the right situation, and it would be best for the Cubs and the players if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can find takers for the two at some point this summer. By trading both Valbuena and Barney the Cubs can recoup a couple prospects and open the door for their top prospect, while also providing Valbuena and Barney a new chance on a winning ball club.
There is one player who may crash the Baez party though, and that is Arismendy Alcantara. After a 4-for-4 performance on Memorial Day, Alcantara now has a line of .281/.321/.520 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases in 46 games at second base for the Iowa Cubs. Alcantara is not walking at the elite 10.9 percent rate he was last year, but his 5.9 percent rate is still an improvement over his numbers in the three seasons leading up to last year.
While the Cubs will need to see continued improvement from Alcantara in controlling the strike zone, he is proving with his bat that he can be an exciting addition to the top of the Cubs’ lineup as soon as this summer.
In order for Baez to receive a call to the Cubs, something will have to give as the other position he could potentially play other than shortstop is third base. Currently, Cubs 3B Mike Olt leads all NL rookies in home runs with nine, and is just one behind Starlin Castro for the team lead in RBI with 24 despite 80 fewer at-bats.
Olt is also playing solid defense at the hot corner, so despite his overall line of .169/.246/.416, he will likely continue to see playing time in order to develop at the major league level.
The reality for the Cubs is that unless the team is in contention and can use a boost from Baez, he may end up down in the minors for the majority of the season. There is simply not a clear-cut position for him to play right now, and the Cubs will have to sort out their infield with trades of either prospects or players currently on the major league roster.
While the major league team has severely underperformed thus far, monitoring Baez’ progress and the development of the Cubs’ infield will be one of the more interesting storylines for Cubs fans to follow this summer.