Javier Baez vs. Teuvo Teräväinen: Who Is Chicago's Top Prospect?

Javier Baez vs. Teuvo Teräväinen: Who Is Chicago's Top Prospect?

Over the last couple months, two Chicago prospects have received an enormous amount of attention in their respective sports.

The baseball buzz in Chicago is centered on a 20-year-old shortstop named Javier Baez, who is climbing the organization's minor league system with ease.

In hockey, even with the Blackhawks preparing to defend a Stanley Cup championship and with Brandon Saad having been the runner-up for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie last season, 18-year-old Teuvo Teräväinen has been getting a lot of attention after dominating a warm-up camp for the World Junior Championships held at Lake Placid earlier this summer.

With news yesterday that Teräväinen has signed his entry level contract, and Baez making people ask how long fans will have to wait to see him at Wrigley Field, the discussion at bars around Chicago could soon be debating which of these two potential superstars is the better prospect.

Teräväinen was the 18th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks, but was considered the top European prospect in his class. One of the reasons he slid was his age; he won't turn 19 until Sept. 11 of this year. Still a smaller prospect - listed at 5010 and 185 pounds - he's an elite playmaker who recently dominated the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp.

I, like most analysts, have Teräväinen rated as one of the top two prospects in the Blackhawks organization (with defenseman Adam Clendening). If you watch a video produced by the Blackhawks (here), you'll notice how often individuals in the Hawks' front office compare him to Patrick Kane. This summer, the Kane comparisons have become more frequent, and have come from places outside the organization.

The plan remains to have Teräväinen play this year for Jokerit, but having an entry level deal in-hand makes it possible for him to join the Hawks once that season ends this year. His time table could be similar to Marcus Kruger's in the spring of 2011.

What have some national folks had to say about Teräväinen?

ESPN.com's Corey Pronman said this on Aug. 13 ($):

With Chicago GM Stan Bowman in attendance, Teräväinen had a fantastic week and led all players in scoring. "He's been great here," said Finland head coach Karri Kivi. "I think he was the best player at the tournament." He had scouts buzzing about how dangerous he was every shift with one of the more memorable performances at this under-20 camp in the past few years. Teräväinen's great speed, puck skills, vision and shooting skill are what made him so dangerous.

He was able to split defenders and push the pace, while also controlling the play with the man advantage and setting up many scoring chances. What was interesting was not only what Teräväinen did on offense, but also on defense. He played a lot of tough defensive minutes, logging penalty-killing time, and even killing off a 5-on-3. When asked about how he felt in a penalty-killing role, Teräväinen said, "It was my first time [in International play.]"

It's worth noting that Pronman rated Teräväinen ahead of Saad at Hockey Prospectus last fall. At that time, Pronman said:

Teräväinen is a simply dazzling offensive talent who can beat a defense in many ways. He's a high-end puck-handler and passer who regularly makes highlight reel plays, but his vision and patience are even more impressive. Teräväinen can make plays through tight spaces and make quick plays but also has the ability to slow the game down and create from the perimeter. He's also an above-average to plus skater who has a solid one-timer. He can play center and wing effectively, doing the former frequently in recent viewings, and he plays fine defense.

You can read a collection of the pre-Draft scouting reports on Teräväinen in this piece from Blackhawks.com.

Where does Teräväinen rank overall among NHL prospects?

That's a good question. He was the youngest player drafted in 2012, but hasn't played a lot of hockey on this side of the Atlantic. With Saad cemented in the NHL lineup, Teräväinen is the top forward prospect in the organization and could be a member of the Hawks' top-six within the next 14 months.

Javier Baez will turn 21 on Dec. 1, and is flying up the ranks both inside the Cubs' organization and in the eyes of outside analysts. His dominance at Daytona and now with Tennessee have led some to ask if he should get a call-up in September (the answer is no). Combined between the two levels he's played at this year, Baez has 33 home runs and 100 RBI in 120 games, with a ridiculous .926 OPS and 277 total bases.

In their 2012 preseason prospect rankings, Baseball America ranked Baez 62nd overall and MLB.com had him at 61st overall. Fast forward 12 months, and BA and MLB.com both had him ranked the 16th overall prospect in baseball. Where will he be ranked in 2014?

To get some better perspective on Baez, I asked the best Cubs blogger out there - John Arguello. He's the Editor in Chief at CubsDen here at ChicagoNow, and is considered by most to be the go-to source for information about the Cubs.

Here are some of Arguello's thoughts about Baez from our conversation:

I think they're cautiously optimistic that he can be a high impact level player. When you have elite bat speed it can compensate for a lot of flaws and that gives you confidence that he'll be able to succeed at least on some level in the majors.  In other words, it raises his floor.

Usually, when we think about bat speed, we think about tape measure home runs, but it goes beyond that.  It allows you to hit anybody's fastball -- and while people seem to worry more about whether a guy can hit a breaking ball, the truth is if you can't hit a good fastball, you're cooked at the MLB level.  As far as breaking balls go, however, it does allow you to wait that extra split second, which can make a big difference.  To give you an example of an occasion to illustrate what I mean by being able to compensate for some flaws, I went to see Baez play in Peoria last year and he got a slider off the plate, reached out and "poked" a line drive into the right-center field gap for a triple. That left me mouth agape about as much as the tape measure home runs.

What has to give [Cubs management] even more confidence is that Baez is now producing at the AA level, which most regard as a test that separates the men from the boys when it comes to prospects.  And as for those flaws, not all hope is lost on that either.  Baez has shown himself to be very coachable -- and that has shown up in an improved approach at the plate this season.  He has improved his walk rate (a well above average 9.4 percent in AA) and shows a greater willingness to take pitches the other way.  He has great instincts and has much better mental makeup than he was initially given credit for.

While I'm all about talent, I'm also big on mental makeup because that makes you more likely to make the best use of that talent.  His natural skills alone could make him a productive, exciting (but perhaps frustratingly inconsistent) ballplayer -- but the entire package of characteristics gives you some hope that he can continue to adjust/adapt and become a special player.

If analysts are comparing Teräväinen to Kane, I asked Arguello if there was a player (or two) in the Majors he considered a good comparable for Baez.

Baez defies an easy comparison because you just don't see that kind of bat speed and power at the SS position.  On the negative side, he's also an aggressive hitter who won't walk a lot and will strikeout over 20 percent of the time. Robinson Cano [second baseman, NY Yankees] compares in terms of bat speed and an aggressive approach but you'll have to add some raw power and strikeouts and subtract some average.

Adam Jones [CF, Baltimore Orioles] might be a better comparison because he does strikeout more than Cano and doesn't hit for as high an average.  His 2012 year [32 home runs, 82 RBI, .839 OPS, 3.8 WAR] is a realistic comp as to what we can expect from Baez if things pan out -- but keep in mind he could be putting up those numbers from the SS position.  Neither is a perfect fit for various reasons.  If you want a local comp, maybe numbers similar to the 2007 version of Alfonso Soriano [33 home runs, 70 RBI, .897 OPS, 4.3 WAR in 135 games], who was a very good player that season.

The biggest concern some fans have is where Baez will play when he arrives at Wrigley. With Starlin Castro already at shortstop, even with all of the frustration that comes with the Cubs' enigmatic 23-year-old, both players can't be at the same spot. Arguello thinks it would be Baez, not Castro, that would make a move.

The Cubs have talked about having Baez learn a different position this offseason, so it's much more likely that he'll be the guy to move.  As far as a comparison to Castro, their approach and style in the field is different but they are about equal defensively. I've heard opinions on both sides as to who will be the better shortstop, but the main thing is that Castro is already there; if you have to move him, Baez better be a significant upgrade. Baez is a pretty good shortstop, but even those who like him best don't give him a huge edge over Castro, so it's just not worth making the move.  The good news is that Baez's bat can play anywhere on the field.

So which prospect is more likely to be a superstar?

The answer is probably both. Baez will probably be considered one of the five best prospects in baseball when pitchers and catchers report in late February, while Teräväinen has the skills to be a difference maker for the Blackhawks.

Both of these youngsters could arrive in Chicago for good in 2014, and the eyes of many in - and out - of Chicago will be waiting to see how they transition to the top level of their respective sport.

Special thanks, again, to John Arguello. Be sure to bookmark Cubs Den as your go-to source for Cubs info (if you haven't already).


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  • I love Teräväinen! How nice is it, as a Chicago sports fan, to know that the Blackhawks are set for quite sometime? You mentioned Clendening as a #2, but we can't forget about Danult, Pirri, Morin, LeBlanc, McNeil, and Raanta! The season can't come soon enough. Great post!

  • I'm excited for Javier Baez, but we've seen this story so many times over the years. Corey Patterson was the next big thing. Felix Pie was the next big thing. Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo. I just want them to win games and consistently make it to the playoffs. Adding one guy won't do that.

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    In reply to sportsfanchronicles:

    The reason this story is different is new ownership for the Cubs and a remarkable change in front office philosophy. This is not the cheap Tribune Cubs that never placed much emphasis on developing minor leaguers.

    I'm excited for both, but being a baseball fan first, I think Javier is Chicago's top prospect.

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