Javier Baez's haymakers not landing but he'll learn to adapt

Javier Baez's haymakers not landing but he'll learn to adapt

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.

Hooray!

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?

Pain.

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  • Good analogy!

    this is why I have put my expectations of him making a MLB appearance to late 2015 (at the earliest), and that timeframe, only if he is raking like he was in AA last year. If he needs more time, so be it.

    Totally understand the whole age comparison thing, and that's why we need to be patient with him and allow him to adjust his approach to better competition (for however long that takes). I think the FO will be patient and let him work out these issues in his own time.

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    Javy will be in Chicago in June of 2015 at the latest.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    By then the Cubs will be 25 games out.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    While depressingly believeable, it has no bearing on Javy's ETA.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    And who know how we will be playing next year.

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    Thanks and agreed. This may take a bit longer than we originally hoped

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    My question is not whether Baez can make the majors and succeed, it's can he be an impact player? And are these struggles a sign that he might not reach that level?

    That's the way I look at all of the Big Four, though I know you wrote yesterday not to expect Almora to be a perennial all-star (which makes sense I guess given his lack of any outstanding tool offensively and only adequate speed).

    But if Almora isn't star material and who knows about Soler with his injury issues, it seems critical that Baez and Bryant reach their ceilings if the Cubs are going to be contenders by 2016 or 2017. Hence my frustrations.

  • I'll get my first glimpse of Baez in person this weekend against the Round Rock Express in Iowa. I'll be sure to watch him closely and come back with a report that will solve all of his problems.

    I was also hoping to watch some potential trade candidates from Round Rock. Is it me or does Texas not have much at Triple A?

  • In reply to Holy Cattle:

    Haha! We will all look forward to that -- especially Javy and the Cubs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, if Javy Baez is Clubber Lang, who is Apollo Creed?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Not sure about Apollo but the way Bryant is playing, he is clearly Thunderlips.

    Great. Now all I keep hearing is Javy yelling in a Mr. T voice, "Nobody can stop me! You tell Balboa I'm coming after him!"

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Albert Almora. He has the graceful footwork in the outfield

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    "Javier Baez is Clubber Lang."

    Now there's the perfect quote to end the week with.
    An entertaining analogy -- and one that is more than just clever. Here's hoping Baez wants to box!

  • Is it just me or does it seem like he has gotten worse the last week or so? 20 Ks in his last 40 ABs.
    They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.

  • In reply to couch:

    Boy, I hope so.

  • In reply to couch:

    We are all concerned about Baez because we were all counting on him to be a fixture in the infield to open up the 2015 season.

    Now where are we going to be in 2015? We still have unanswered questions in LF RF 3B & 2B. I think Bryant will be solid in RF we have to find a top hitter to play LF then we have Baez, Alcantera and maybe Bruno to have success at 2B and Olt or Baez at 3rd I guess as long as 2 of the 4 have success we will be OK. With guys like Lake, Kalish & Valbuena to make up a solid bench.

    We shall see on Baez I hope he gets it corrected and soon. I hear people talking about moving him down to AA I think that would be a mistake at this point.

  • Outstanding article. He's facing guys now that know how to pitch and will face it once again when he is called up to the ML club. Big adjustments but that what development is about.

  • In reply to xhooper:

    Thanks. Figured it might be a lighter way to describe a depressing trend.

  • Ok, so I am a Cubs fan as die hard as they get and very critical at times most times of recent days. Nice article John but I believe there are major issues with Baez here. His approach, hack happy not a solid game plan when coming to the plate. I look at stats all the time. Guys who have made to the big leagues and have been good have not been this awful as Baez. Could he possibly be a trade piece. A good friend of mine and a major CUBS insider simply says that Baez is to good for triple A . Which do you agree with he isto good for triple A or has he already hit his ceiling and we should trade him your thoughts?

  • In reply to sringh5:

    If people could determine success by looking at certain stats, then why would an opposing team not do the same thing and equally conclude that Baez is doomed because of his walk rate, K rate, or whatever the metric of choice is?

    We can also look at the track record of players who were as productive as Baez was at AA in terms of power numbers, OPS, etc, and conclude that he has a very good chance to succeed.

    I think the situation is too fluid to draw conclusions by isolating certain metrics.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I think we all are desperately hoping Baez reaches his ceiling, it's just that some of us look for any sign that this may not happen while others look for reasons why his struggles may only be a blip.

    With some of us, it may come down to expectations. I'll use Starlin Castro as an example. When he came up, perhaps due to my own ignorance, I was hoping he was going to be a superstar. A transformative player. In this way, I was optimistic.

    For this reason, I wasn't as ecstatic as many over his first two seasons. I looked at his OPS and it wasn't even .800 and I thought, when is he going to take the next step? I thought the only way he could was to become more selective and draw more walks.

    When he regressed, I thought, wow, this guy is not a Hall-of-Famer in the making. It took me a long time to accept the fact that he may just become a solid piece and be happy with that.

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    In reply to sringh5:

    Exactly. Buster Posey didn't struggle in AAA. Posey skipped AA, went right to AAA, dominated, and at 23 was NL Rookie of the Year. Now, he is a great player. But isn't that what the hype was. If Baez is struggling this much, don't expect him to suddenly turn it on and become one of the league's best players.

  • Look no further than the Iowa staff to prove your point.

    Chris Rusin is not considered a top level prospect, but here is a guy who has pitched off and on for 2 year in MLB and has had some success. He has taken that knowledge, paired it with his midling talent level and has had a lot of success. I don't care what level you are at, pitching a no-no is an accomplishment.

    Wada has pitched in Japan for many years and whereas he stuff might translate to a 4 or 5 at the MLB level, he has hundreds upon hundreds of innings under his belt. He knows his stuff and knows how to get guys out.

    Hendricks is a guy who again isn't a top level guy so he has had to grind it out, learn how to pitch. He doesn't have the luxury of rairing back and throwing 95+. He has had success at AAA because he knows how to get guys out with his stuff.

    Although I am slightly worried about Baez, I am confident he will break out. And when he does, he will go on a tear like he has at other levels.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    That is an excellent way to look at it.

  • He simply needs to learn that a 400 ft home run counts the same on the scoreboard as a 500 ft home run. Getting him to stop swinging from his heels will solve 75% of his issues. Home runs will come naturally for him. He doesn't have to try to do it.

  • Nice piece John. Just sat through Rocky III just a couple of months ago. I forgot that heavyweights of that era landed 150 power punches per round.

    Holy Cattle is gonna have to keep an eye out for Carl Weathers this weekend.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    LOL! By era, you mean era of cheesy boxing movies, right?

    I was thinking how any number of those undefended haymakers would result in a knockout -- and maybe even a concussion!

  • I believe Baez is going to be a star. I'm not as concerned as I normally would be with a top prospect struggling. Lets wait until June and we'll see a different player. Its way to early to judge any prospect this early. Stats are not the only way to judge prospects. Take Castro soooo many fans were ready to trade him. Everyday on Cubs den somebody wanted to trade. We all have a tendency to overact but Nate SCH shouldn't be playing LOL.

  • In reply to rockyje:

    Agreed. We have to be a bit patient here. It isn't a mechanical issue with Baez like it was with Jackson. I think he has a lot of learning to do.

  • Don't agree with the comment about Rocky movies getting exponentially worse as they went on. Thought Rocky V was very underrated, love the street brawl at the end when the Don King wannabe says you touch me I'll sue. Rocky then knocks him into tomorrow with the comment, sue me for what. Great movie.

    My problem with Javier is does he have a 2 strike swing? Men on 1st and 3rd with one out and a 2 and 2 count. Do you really want him swinging absolutely as hard as he can with his all or nothing swing.

  • In reply to ruby2626:

    He does have that swing. There are plenty of games where Javy plays "calm" and his swing looks like he is trying to drive the ball to the opposite field. Then there are games where he goes up there and seems like he is trying to poke a hole in the moon. Then there are the games where he looks good in certain at bats and horrible in others.

    And if you are referring to his "clutchiness", Javy has come up huge in big moments throughout his career. Just this week, in the midst of his horrible slump, he was invloved in scoring or driving in the winning run in back to back games.

    I do agree that Rocky V is very underrated. The acting in the film is probably the series low point, but the story was probably the best outside of the original. And Rocky IV, while preposterous beyond belief, was the good kind of preposterous. I remember reading an article from Bill Simmons when the ESPN 30 for 30 docs came out that he fought to have one created for "When Rocky Won the Cold War", or something to that effect. That would have been awesome. Rocky II and III are the low points to me.

  • In reply to ruby2626:

    Not a fan of Rocky V in any way, but as cheesy as it was, I LOVE Rocky IV! "To beat me, he's gonna hafta kill me..." Mixing Rocky and the Cubs in one discussion has made my year! Love it! Thanks John!

  • On the Cubs AAA roster, guys like Rusin and Wada aren't going to try to beat you with their fastball, right? I'd imagine other AAA teams have similar starters.

    Hopefully in the long run this will make him a better overall player. At some point regardless he will have to learn to make these adjustments. Better to do it in AAA than in the majors, like Castro had to do.

  • If I thanked you every time that I learn something from you, I'd sound like a broken record John, but thanks for that piece. I don't mean just the Javy/Clubber analysis, but the info about how the different leagues mesh and evolve. I'm impressed.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Thank you 44, I appreciate that.

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    Javy has been a major tease this season. Every time he has a game where he shows patience and you think he's about to turn a corner, he follows it up with a 3 strikeout game.

    There is some good news to the delay, though, in that Rizzo and Castro appear to be growing into their role as team leaders, so they'll be ready to mentor guys like Javy and Kris Bryant as Soriano did them. Also, by next March we should have a very good idea of whether or not Mike Olt is the long term solution at third, so placing Javy and Bryant will be a bit easier.

    It's frustrating because I think all of us wanted to see the Cubs make improvements this year, and Javy was a big part of that, but we have to roll with the punches as they come.

  • something is wrong... the sky hasnt fallen today.. Baez has shown he can make adjustments.. confident he will. patience is key

  • Young "T" was baaad aaaass!

    No pain no gain.

  • In reply to JohnCC:

    Haha ;)

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    Great analogy. My question is, is Baez the type of player who can change his approach a little bit to be more successful? We saw with Castro that he just wasn't wired that way, though in some ways it seems to be that he has been more patient this year in terms of waiting for his pitch.

    It doesn't seem likely that Baez can be an all-star if he doesn't become a little more selective. But is it in his DNA?

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    He did it in Daytona after a very impatient start there and again at Tennessee. I don't see why he can't do it in Iowa. It's just a bigger adjustment for him. He was impatient at the previous two levels but didn't also have to deal with the quality of breaking balls and sequencing he's having to deal with now. If he's done it twice before, I would imagine it's in his DNA.

  • Hate to be a downer, but I see a trip back to Tennessee. Simply did not get enough aa at bats. He will never be a big league player until he learns to take at bats like a pro, and not a home run hitting contest. Bat speed is meaningless, unless you can recognize pitches and consistently put the barrel on the ball.

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    I would hate to see a demotion. What if he then goes to Tennessee and struggles. Do they then send him to Daytona?

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    I do not know if a demotion should be in the cards or not. But I do totally disagree with your idea that Bat speed is meaningless with out pitch recognition.

    His extreme bat speed can actually help with his pitch recognition because he does not have to be swinging as soon as other guys especially against guys that throw a lot of junk. I actually think that is part of the problem right now. His mind is saying wait for it and his heart is saying swing now dang it. So you see him flailing around at balls in the dirt because that is the timing he is seeing watching everyone else swing. When he gets to the point where he is watching the pitcher from the dugout and not the other guys batting to get his timing down we are going to see a huge upswing in his numbers.

    How can you show a cheetah how to hunt if you are a lion? You don't because the skill set is not the same. Right now I think that is problem with Baez. He is hunting like a lion. When he should be using his eyes more and letting the ball come to him before exploding at it.

  • Wow, we throw out a runner! after 3 errors and a wild pitch.

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    In reply to Oneear:

    It sounds like the name of a new romantic comedy -- "It's like Fever Pitch meets Four Weddings and a Funeral!"

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Almost as painful as watching Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Ahh!!!!! Blown run down! Worst than Adam Sandler!

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    Off topic-can the Cubs trade their first round pick this year?

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    No...first round picks can't be traded. Only the Competitive Balance picks after the 1st and 2nd rounds can be traded and the Cubs don't have any of those.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    With the lack certainty this year, it would probably be the year to do it too . Crazy it is not allowed.

  • In reply to xhooper:

    agreed.

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    I think the better movie analogy is “Tin Cup,” except instead of trying to hit a hole-in-one with every stroke, Baez tries to hit a 450 HR with every swing. But maybe it’s more than just that. Maybe there is a gaping hole in that ferocious swing that more experienced pitchers can take advantage of? So maybe it is more than just a slump. Maybe he is going to need to seriously re-work his game, and there is no guarantee that will work. Sorry, Cubs fans. At one point Corey Patterson was the top rated prospect in all of baseball. Prospects fail all the time, especially if they wear a “C” on their hats.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    Why do Cincinnati prospects especially fail all the time?

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    Would you believe that Patterson is 34 now? Talk about a player who had to learn that he couldn't hit a home run every time he was up to bat. At least Baez has the power to put a charge into the ball, though...

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I don't think he's swinging from his heels on every pitch, though. Do you have any evidence to support your assumption that he is?

    The big difference this year is that he is seeing a completely different type of pitching. I believe that's his adjustment and that just comes with reps. How many is yet to be seen.

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    In reply to Quedub:

    I have no evidence other than the box score and what I've read. When it comes to the Cubs, I am an eternal pessimist. Bit I hope I am wrong!

  • In other prospect news, Paul Blackburn is pitching in the MIdwest League (Low-A) for the first time as a 20 year old, about a year younger than most prospects at that level.

    Its common for a player to need to adjust to the new level in his first few games. Sure enough, in his first two starts Blackburn threw 9 innings, gave up 11 hits, 6 ER, struck out 7 and walked 2. In his 6 starts since settling in, 33.1 IP, 22 H, 7 ER, 26 K, 6 BB. That's a 0.84 WHIP and a 1.89 ERA with a 4.3 K/BB ratio, 5.94 H/9, 7.02 K/9 and 1.62 BB/9.

    If he is doesn't regress, Blackburn will almost assuredly see Daytona in July and August. He doesn't turn 21 until December. Depending on how he does if/when he reaches the FSL later this season, the Cubs may, MAY, have a 21 year old, highly touted starting pitcher in AA to start the year next season, and that hasn't happened for a very long time.

  • John, where do the coaches fit in here? Are the coaches so much better in A & AA then they are in AAA? Are they the reason for Javey's success and adjustments at the early levels? Lastly, if each player has an advancement plan (Cub's way), there is no way we see Javey in the bigs until he makes the adjustments necessary for sustained success and I would hope the coaching staff makes that a top priority!

  • In reply to socalcub:

    I really like the staff at Daytona and Tennessee best but the Iowa staff is good as well. There is only so much you can do as a coach. Both Baez and Alcantara are aware of what needs to be done bynow, they just need to execute better.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks John. Let's hope they both put it together soon.

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