Observations on Javier Baez

Observations on Javier Baez

Javier Baez has a tattoo of the MLB logo on the back of his neck and walks with the confident swagger of a guy who fully intends to be there one day.   For some, that swagger teeters on the edge of cockiness.

There's a fine line players have to cross between confidence and cockiness.   Chipper Jones once called it "necessary arrogance". It's a way of saying that a ballplayer needs to believe wholeheartedly in his talents -- to be self-assured to the point where you know you can beat your opponent. It's the unnecessary stuff you'd rather do without.

On Saturday, I came out to the park 2 hours early to observe Baez, not just in the batting cages and to watch him take infield practice, but I wanted to see how he interacts with his teammates and coaches. His talent is undeniable.  His tremendous bat speed brings to mind the former MLB superstar Gary Sheffield.  I was eager to see that swing that so many have been raving about.  I wanted to see how he handled the shortstop position.  But  I also wanted to learn as much as I could about Javier Baez, the person.

My impressions were that Baez appears to be popular with his teammates, seemingly joking around at one point and hanging out with them while waiting for his turn at batting practice.

In one BP session, Baez got into a rhythm and started cracking drives all over the field, some of them over the fence.  The sound is distinct.  You could almost close your eyes and know when Baez is the guy taking batting practice.  Then, in the next session, Baez started swinging from his heels, fouling pitches off and popping them up.  When the session was over, hitting coach Barbaro Garbey walked over to him.

We can guess as to what Garbey was probably saying.  Baez sometimes falls into the habit of over-swinging.  He doesn't have to swing that hard to put a charge into the ball.  His natural bat speed alone can generate big time power.  There's no need for him to dial it all the way up all the time.  In some ways, it's symbolic. Learning to dial it down is something Baez is trying to learn in every phase of the game.

The kid didn't say anything.  He just listened quietly.

Later, in his very first AB...pop!  There was that sound again as Baez ripped a line drive single into LF.   One inning later...boom!   Baez launched one over the Pepsi sign in left-center field.

Apparently, lesson learned.

Then came the 9th inning. Peoria had a 15-2 lead.  In this kind of situation, it's an unspoken rule in sports that it's a time to call off the dogs.  But after finding himself ahead in the count 3-0, Baez swung for the fences.  In fact, he swung right through a take sign.    It didn't go unnoticed by the opposing Cougars.  Manager Brian Buchanan walked to the mound and spoke with his pitcher.

The next pitch plunked Baez in the ribs.

Sunday was game two of the series and I was eager to see how Baez would react.  I went to check the lineup boards, scanned up and down...nothing.  Baez was being benched.  Apparently, the Chiefs weren't as forgiving as I would have been.  But after all, I'm a fan.  I want to see the kid play.   At any rate, I didn't think he was doing it to be cocky, the kid just loves to compete.  He wanted to hit. That is what he knows how to do and he's good at it.

It was the right move, however.

Sportsmanship is part of the game too.  You want Baez to be competitive and you want him to hit, but you also want him to know there are times where you have to rein that in.

So the game starts and where was Baez? Sulking in the dugout? Cursing the manager for taking him out of the lineup?

Not exactly.

He was hanging out on the dugout railing with his teammates, supporting them and watching the game.  He did it for nearly the entire time he was on the bench.  At one point, he held a ball in his hands.  Sitting in the 2nd row almost directly behind him, I yell out, "Javier!".  He turns around, looks at me and lobs the ball right into my waiting hands.  The person sitting next to me had gotten his autograph earlier.  He had won that right in a contest the night before, but Baez also patiently signed autographs for other fans that had congregated in the area.  That was nice to see, but I still wanted to see Baez play.

In the 6th, a bad hop grounder got third baseman Anthony Giansanti right in the middle of the chest.  He walked in from the infield, somewhat wobbly, then collapsed.  It was a scary moment, but after laying supine on the grass for several minutes, Giansanti got up and walked out under his own power.  Baez got the call, picked up a glove and started warming up.   It certainly wasn't the way you wanted to see Baez get into the game.  But I have to admit that despite my concern for Giansanti, I was quite giddy inside.

Baez took the field.  His actions and demeanor in the field are noticeably different than current Chicago Cubs SS Starlin Castro.  Baez wears his energy on his sleeve, a contrast to Castro's cool exterior.  Baez is not as smooth or fluid as Castro, but his aggressiveness and athleticism serve him well in the field.  On Sunday, he made difficult plays ranging both left and right.  His best play was when he dove, full extension to his right, bounced up and fired a strike to first from deep in the hole to beat the runner at first.  I came away thinking that he has a chance to be a solid SS, but at 19 he may not be done growing.  The bright side is that if he loses some range and has to move to 3rd, he's going to be one heck of a defender there.  But that's a bridge the Cubs will cross later.  Right now they're going to let him play SS and see how far he takes it.

Sparkling plays aside, it's at the plate where Baez will make his living in the MLB one day and where he made his first immediate impact upon entering this particular game.  With the Chiefs down 5-3, and Taiwan Easterling reaching on a single, Baez launched another jaw-dropper.  This one was even further than the bomb he hit the night before.  This time he easily cleared the black batter's eye set up 400 feet away in dead CF to tie the game.

Baez walked back to the dugout, quietly, but self-assuredly, accepting congratulatory high fives and the occasional pats to the head and back.  Perhaps another lesson learned.  Just let your bat and glove do the talking.  A  little "necessary arrogance" is more than enough to get Baez where he wants to be.

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  • I've been waiting to hear from someone who has seen him first hand. It's nice to see that he's getting along with teammates and showing a bit of humility, all I was reading were negatives about his personality. Thanks for the report.

  • In reply to King Jeff:

    Your welcome. Baez seems to be well-liked. Not easy to catch him alone. He always seems to have teammates around him -- and not the same group of guys all the time.

    Make no mistake, though. The kid has some swagger and he has a way of getting under his opponents skin. He may have to learn a little about sportsmanship, but in the two days I've seen him I've seen nothing to indicate that he's a bad guy.

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    Great report John, thanks. All said, do you consider Baez an impact player?
    Other than Rizzo, Jackson & Baez, are there any other potential game changers in the minors, maybe pitching-wise?

  • In reply to Kevin Twomey:

    I accidentally erased this comment from earlier, but yes, I do think he's a guy with impact potential.

    Those 3 are probably it right now, but there are guys you could call "interesting" and have the talent to take big steps forward. McNutt is a guy like that, so is Ben Wells, who's in Peoria. Dillon Maples should start the year in Boise. You also have Robert Whitenack, who is recovering from TJ surgery. The likelihood is that they will not become impact prospects but the ability is definitely there for that to happen.

  • Thanks for the observations on Baez, John. This kid sounds awfully exciting. It appears the ball just jumps off his bat and if he can handle breaking pitches and not get "swingitis" like we so often see among Cubs, I think we'll be in for some great things. It sounds like he's capable of learning and adjusting, too, so that also bodes well.

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    He's an aggressive hitter but he does work the account occasionally. Haven't seen him chase too many bad balls.

    Ball definitely jumps off his bat, looked like it was shot out of a cannon on those two HRs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think that is good thing. Power guys need to be aggressive in the strike zone, but not chase bad pitches.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed. I would describe both Rizzo and Brett Jackson as aggressive in the strike zone.

  • Just saw your other message, John. We were seated about 2 rows in front of the concourse just to the 1B side of the press box. I prefer shade to sun. If you saw a guy wearing a home white Zambrano jersey yesterday, you probably saw me. Those aren't so in vogue these days.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I was probably pretty close to you. I stopped by the booth to talk to Nathan Baliva (Peoria Chiefs announcer).

    I'm going one more time tonight. I hadn't planned on it, but might be last time I see Baez play this season unless I go down to Peoria soon.

  • Another player that has that "necessary arrogance", Albert Pujols, so he's in great hitting company.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Agreed. I'd say Pujols has it too. I think all the great hitters do.

  • John, is it possible we will see Baez moved up to AA next year and possibly do some work in AFL end of this year?

  • In reply to lokeey:

    I don't think AA, but maybe high Class A Daytona. The Fall League is an interesting idea. I can definitely see that happening.

  • John - what does a reasonable timeline to Wrigley look like for a kid like this? He's insanely talented but also really young, and he's not going to be able to "out-athlete" his way all the way up. Thoughts?

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    His bat will get him to Wrigley quickly if he develops a good approach. I could see as early as 2015.

    I do agree the time is coming soon where he won't be able to rely on his natural talents. He'll have to continue to develop as he moves up. The Cubs are in no hurry right now. They want to do this right. They may have just two, maybe 3 impact talents in the minors right now. Two of them will be up later this year in Rizzo and Jackson. Baez has some growing up to do, both physically and from a maturity standpoint, but his talent won't allow the Cubs to be too deliberate.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the thoughts John, you and Tom really are amazing at what you do.

    As to your point about impact talents (which I agree with), in my mind its why you break the bank for Soler. Especially now that the CBA has really tightened things up, if you have a way to "cut in line" to secure a potential impact talent you've got to do it. Gritty guys who somehow fell through the cracks of conventional measurements will only get you so far, at some point its as simple as having better players than the next guy!

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    Thanks, R2G!

    Definitely break the bank on Soler. Can't do it in the draft. If Soler doesn't work out, it's just money. The Cubs have plenty of it anyway. They don't have enough impact talent.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The Cubs will need rh power before 2015.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yes, they will but I'm sure they'll address it one way or another. Maybe Vitters gives them some punch next year if he continues to progress. Otherwise I'm sure they'll add a veteran as a stopgap.

  • Judging by the fact that Baez tossed John a baseball, the kid's political skills are quite advanced for his age. Because if he struggles in the future, he'll be glad he bribed one of the team's more influential bloggers. ;)

  • In reply to Taft:

    LOL! I'm sure he had no idea who I was :)

    I made Kyler Burke laugh when he was approaching the dugout with a ball and I was coming down the stairs. I yelled out "Kyler, over here!" But the problem was I had a beer in each hand. Apparently I had planned on catching it with my teeth. He just laughed and tossed it to someone else.

    You'll notice my write-up of Burke wasn't so glowing today...I kid, of course :) Even Burke would tell you he didn't have his best stuff.

  • Great report, John. I like how Chipper holds himself. The guy who had about the best mix of humility, yet when he swung and gave that look of watchout was Jim Thome. He had a boyish, golly gee side but he was lethal with a bat. I'm hoping Baez isn't a polarizing player because of negative arrogance but polarizing because he's just better than everyone else.

  • In reply to Greg Shuey:

    Thanks! Agreed. Good way to put it. I'm hoping he's just good and gets under opponents because he beats them. Kind of like Chipper did.

    Never met Thome but I hear he was genuinely about the nicest guy you'll ever meet.

  • I had almost the exact feelings that John had about going to watch .....our New Guy Baez ........the plays he made in the field were textbook scouting plays .....made almost back to back .....and were great .....and passed any scouts eye Test......Arm Strength ...Athletic Ability .......throwing across his body between short and third ......diving ....jumping up and gunning the runner down ........but the RAW POWER ....that HR went 450 ft .....almost hitting the trees in CF ......that was Jaw Dropping ...Head Shakin... Can't Teach .........Baseball Ability .....in the Cub Line-up 2 years ...maybe the 3rd baseman of the Future

  • In reply to Cuno Barragan:

    Cuno, that about sums it up!

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    Nice post John.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Thanks Just Win!

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    Archive this post John. It should make for a great re-read in 2016 when he make his first ASG.

  • In reply to Louie101:

    Good idea. Thanks. We'll either say we knew it all along or we'll think, "oh, what might have been." :)

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