Javier Baez pities the fool who dares challenge him with fastballs.
The problem is that AAA pitchers are not fools. There isn't a whole lot of difference in physical talent between AA and AAA -- and some may even say there is better raw talent in AA because sometimes the best of those players go straight to the big leagues. For many, the jump to AA is the most difficult because it's the biggest jump in physical talent when compared to moving up to any other level in baseball -- even from AAA to the big leagues.
But that is not true of Baez. His physical talent was never a problem. Baez has been among the most physically gifted players at every level at which he has ever played.
But AAA is different. It's not the logical next progression. AAA is not just for the guys who played AA last year. There are guys repeating the level for the 2nd or 3rd time. There are veterans trying to hang on and there are ex-major leaguers trying to make their way back.
To illustrate what I mean, the average age of AAA ballplayers is roughly 28 years old. The average age of the AA player is between 23 and 24 years old. We are talking about a 4-5 year difference in terms of experience. In fact, the average age of the MLB rookie is between 24 and 25 years old -- closer to AA than AAA.
And while journeymen may lack the raw talent of Javier Baez, they have learned a little something about the game. If they hadn't they simply wouldn't be around. We can get into a lot of scouting terminology such as pitch sequencing and location and that would make for an excellent article, but I don't have that data nor do I have a current scouting report on that. We can also talk about the pressure Baez is putting on himself to bop his way to the majors-- but I think that particular pressure has been replaced with a more basic pressure -- the pressure to succeed in his current environment. I've seen Baez struggle mightily in the Arizona Fall League and he eventually adapted. But this isn't the same situation. It's obvious that these more experienced pitchers are wiser and more able to consistently execute their plan of attack. I have yet to see Javier Baez live this year on anything except MiLB.TV and if you have that you know that, as fun as it can to watch, you cannot make a proper scouting evaluation that way.
Instead of all that, it's Friday and I'm going to make a more familiar and hopefully fun analogy:
Javier Baez is a brawler stuck in the ring against pitchers who know how to box.
If you'll forgive me for a moment as we all know the Rocky movies got exponentially worse with every sequel, there is that moment in Rocky III where our hero, Rocky Balboa, discovers he cannot go toe-to-to with the physically superior Clubber Lang. So he learns to box and in the end superior knowledge, approach, and style wins.
Except that Javier Baez is Clubber Lang. He can go to-to-toe with anybody in terms of physicality but he's befuddled by the newer, wiser, more experienced Rocky who throws him 3 jabs and a haymaker when he was expecting only one jab. Lang covers up his face only to have Rocky pummel him in the ribs. Then amid all the confusion, Lang desperately throws a haymaker -- and misses.
But old habits die hard, especially when you've been successful your whole life. Lang stubbornly hangs on to his brawler style - if he can only connect once then he'll drop Rocky like a bad habit. He gets more and more desperate, flailing away in futility. Gradually we see the arrogance disappear from Lang's face. Rocky knows Lang can't beat him with that aggressive, brawling style.
"C'mon champ, you ain't so bad! You ain't nothin'!"
And inevitably, addled and his senses dulled, Lang goes down. Fight over.
Unlike the movie, things won't end there for Baez. He's a smart kid. Like our hero Rocky, a former brawler himself, he'll learn how to box. He'll learn how his more experienced opponents are trying to approach him and he will once again instill fear into every pitcher's heart that the next haymaker he unleashes will land squarely.
And my prediction for when that eventually happens?
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