Author's Note: This post was originally written during the 2016 National League Championship Series, but for obvious reasons Cubs Den was a very crowded website at the time. Everyone was excited as the Cubs marched toward a World Series victory and there were several posts going up on a daily basis. Since there was no time sensitive aspect, and because I worried the post might come off a bit as an "I told you so" at a time when I wanted everyone to focus on the joy of a postseason run, I decided to hold off until the offseason.
By the time the season ended, however, I had essentially stepped away as a writer for Cubs Den without publishing it. I eventually returned last season as John's health deteriorated but by then the article had slipped from my mind. Earlier this week I stumbled across it, and after last night's dynamic performance, it seems as good a time as any to release it. I did a light editing to remove 2016 specific references and added a few new pictures, but it is essentially the same version I wrote back during the NLCS.
Once upon a time, before I found Cubs Den tucked away in a quiet corner of the internet, I used to comment on various other Cubs websites. The internet being what it is, these sites all devolved into bile-spewing and name-calling and I decided I had enough, so I stopped engaging. Even after I started reading Cubs Den and was pleasantly surprised by the relatively civil discourse occurring in the comment section I abstained for well over a year, maybe even close to two. But just when I thought I was out for good, Ednel Javier Baez pulled me back in.
I thought I was too old to still have a favorite player. But from my first viewing when I took a day off of work and drove seven hours round trip to watch Javy make his debut with the Peoria Chiefs, he instantly became that guy for me. I repeated that trip as often as possible in those days as I knew his Midwest League days would be numbered. His attitude and demeanor reminded me of the way I tried to play it as a kid, only with infinitely more talent.
While his BP sessions in Peoria attracted the buzz, I was drawn in by his instincts during games, especially on the base paths. He showed an early knack for avoiding tags and taking extra bases. On defense he showcased his quick first step, insane transfers around the second base bag and cannon arm. At the plate it was impossible to miss his incredible bat speed. I felt it was my duty to start preaching the gospel of Javier Baez to all that would listen. At the time I did not realize how much patience would be required. I knew Baez would not be long for the minors, and blow through the system he did, but still when it came to Javy it seemed few could keep a level head.
Of course Javy did not make this journey easy either…
The Early Years
Most of my early posts on Cubs Den were centered around Javy. I’ve always been interested in the minor league system, and at the time I was one of the few that had actually watched Baez in person. So I wanted to give my perspective of him to as many people as possible and attempt to quell the fears of any fans that were dependent only on box scores to evaluate him as a prospect. I was quick to defend him at every turn:
“What I thought was the same thing I always think when I see any Javy Baez doubters and that is: Javy Baez will crush all non-believers.” - 2013/06/10
“Baez has supreme confidence in himself. You can tell by the way he carries himself, the comments he makes, and the way his teammates and coaches speak of him. There is no thought of failure in his mind. Sometimes this can lead to a guy that is slow to adjust, because he has such trust in his own ability, but ultimately the desire to succeed will win out.” - 2013/05/20
This comment in particular seems prescient:
“You’ll love Baez then too. Baez is [...] the kind of player that would see breaking the drought as challenge, not a burden” - 2013/06/03
“Baez has the star quality that will draw people to the ballpark.” - 2013/09/05
People actually began doubting his baseball instincts! I could not sit idly by and allow that nonsense to perpetuate without speaking out:
“Baez has great instincts. Yes, he gets over anxious at times and that get him into trouble, but there are zero holes in his game. He can hit a fastball, he can hit a breaking ball. He has good pitch recognition. He is an excellent baserunner. He can play anywhere on the field.
I know people worry about the Ks and the errors. But for guys like Baez it is more of a process of him determining what his own limits are. He thinks he can do everything and so that is what he tries to do at first, then once he determines what doesn’t work, he begins to weed that aspect out from his game and his performance improves.” - 2013/09/09
That last comment sums up my feelings best when it has come to the highs and lows of Javier Baez’s development. Some guys need to learn how to maximize limited skills. Others, like Baez have so much skill they need to learn what they can’t do, and that can take a little time since they are usually able to get away with it at lower levels.
His MLB Beginning
When Baez first arrived in the majors, he learned a hard lesson that one of the things he couldn’t do was hit Major League pitching with poor hitting mechanics. Things he could get away with at every other level no longer allowed him to be successful at the highest level.
I pride myself on patience. It is something that people who know me will comment on, and I think my fellow Denizens have also witnessed it. .I've preached it with Miggy and Heyward in previous year, and with guys like Ross and EJax before that. Sure patience doesn't always pay off, but it normally does. In each of those cases, except Edwin Jackson, the player ended up being a big factor in the Cubs winning the World Series.
For Javy, his early career struggles were tough to watch, for everyone. Fans wanted to know why Baez was being allowed to flounder while Bryant lingered in the minors. Obviously, economics were the main reason, but there were also baseball reasons that I attempted to point out:
“My view is that Baez is far better served by early exposure than Bryant because Baez needs to have his limits tested. Baez strikes me as a guy that learns through failure while Bryant is a guy that learns through prep[a]ration. It’s two different mindsets and there are different levels of benefit for each guy by getting this experience.” - 2014/08/15
I kept my spirits up and stayed optimistic and even went so far as to prognosticate, even if I was a year off:
“August 2012/April 2013 – Half the commenters here worried Javy was going to be a bust and not make it out of A ball
May 2013 – Everyone agreed Javy Baez is awesome!
July 2013 – Half the commenters: Javy is a bust that won’t make it out of AA
August 2013 – Everyone agreed Javy is incredible!
April/May 2014 – Half the commenters: Javy is a bust that won’t make it out of AAA
July 2014 – Everyone: Javy is amazing!
August 2014 – Half the commenters: Javy is a bust that won’t ever hit MLB pitching
2015 – Everyone will agree on what Javy is and I wonder what that conclusion will be…” - 2014/08/26
John did his best to calm everyone’s nerves with a great piece at the end of August 2014, Patience Needed for Javier Baez's Struggles. I was happy for the support, but the panic exhibited by others was starting to wear on me:
“I have plenty of patience with Javy. I am finding I have way less patience for the people who have no patience with Javy.” - 2014/08/27
August was just the start of Baez’s struggles however. His swing mechanics completely deteriorated as the season concluded and he sunk deeper into his slump. He was lost and completely overmatched. There was no denying that.
After the season, most were down on him, but I kept positive:
“Yes, I find the doubt regarding Baez amusing. Don’t worry. It won’t last. [...]His mechanics will not stay as messed up as they were at the end of the season.” - 2014/10/06
Just two days after that comment, even John became susceptible. Less than three months after preaching patience with Javy, there was a crack in his resolve. He toyed with the notion of the Cubs being more balanced and better off with a potential trade for Cole Hamels, using Javy and Arismendy Alcantara as the bait: Cubs Need to Strike a Balance With Future Lineup and How That Could Impact This Offseason.
The knife left a deep wound. Surely, off all people, not John. John is like me. John is patient.
“Et tu, Brute?
Do what you want with Alcantara, but leave Baez alone!” - 2014/10/08
It seemed only HoosierDaddy and I remained as Baez-backers. At that point I was sure the two of us were destined for a Highlander-there-can-be-only-one-style deathmatch. I wasn’t going to lose. I would keep my head. I would defend it and Javy to the last.
“Maybe it doesn’t happen until he is 24, but there is zero doubt in my mind that it will come eventually.” - 2014/12/22
“Baez does everything else on the baseball field well. He has tremendous baseball instincts. He is going to figure out his issues at the plate eventually. He wants to be great, he will not allow himself to continue to fail so spectacularly, even if it means he will have to change his approach/mechanics at some point.” - 2015/03/31
The Climb Back
Maybe patience isn't even the right word. Patience describes my feelings regarding Montero, Heyward and Ross. With Baez it was always something different. Something more aggressive. It was confidence. I never doubted Javy.
"Baez was just absolutely flailing last year and even to the most casual fan his issues were clear to see. It’s unfortunate that version of Baez is the first impression that a lot of fans who never watched him in the minors will be left with and in the back of their minds will forever be worried will return." - 2015/05/18
With the hiring of Maddon my spirits were definitely given a boost. Maddon would know how to deploy Baez and get the most out of him:
"I’m also the guy that has no problem with Baez filling the Zobrist role that everyone projects Alcantara to if it comes down to it. He can play anywhere, and probably play all of them better then Mendy. Zobrist was one of the best players in the AL and Maddon found plenty of ABs for him. I have confidence he could do the same for Baez." - 2015/04/21
Javy would end up having a successful, albeit injury shortened 2015, capped off by a dramatic HR in the playoffs. He was showing his willingness to make adjustments, but it was clear more were necessary.
Throughout the 2016 season we saw those improvements take place. He became more consistent. As Baez’s defense and base running wizardry began to draw more and more attention and others began to sing his praises I couldn’t help but feel a little proud:
“This makes me so happy to read. I tried to tell everyone. I’ve done my best for the last five years or so, not just on here but Cubs fans I meet as well, to preach the gospel that Javier Baez was going to be the kind of player that becomes a box office draw and must watch TV. He does everything. He even fails spectacularly. There is never a dull moment with him on baseball field.” - 2016/08/06
And if there is one comment that is a fitting summation of Javy's season and my/our hopes regarding his future it was an exchange in August of 2016 when many of us shared our feelings that the first thing we do whenever a lineup is posted is check for one name:
“Is it mature when I kick a clump of dirt and sulk whenever I see Baez isn’t in the lineup?” - 2016/08/10
Filed under: General