Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez should start the season in Iowa
The anticipation of this year’s Chicago Cubs started long ago. Last season actually. The arrival of the prospects to Chicago, including Javier Baez, set anticipation levels for the future skyrocketing. When he homered in his first game at Colorado, I about lost it. Finally, the future.
But after 52 games, it was clear that the aggressive swing that had scouts comparing it to that of Gary Sheffield‘s was going to need a little bit of work. A .169 average, .227 on-base percentage and 95 strikeouts in 213 at-bats. Yes, when he makes contact it’s a thing of beauty. But I saw him about spin himself into the ground more times than I can count.
His path through the Cubs’ system has been littered with ‘struggles’ early on as he was promoted to the next level. Some of you may remember upon his promotion to Triple-A Iowa, things didn’t go well at the start. Upon his promotion to Chicago, he was batting .260. But that was thanks to a solid second half to see that number rise.
I fully believe that Baez is the future “something” of Chicago. Where he ends up is yet to be seen. For now, second base is open, and that’s the job he’s auditioning for. There are plenty of rumors and speculation about what the Cubs may do with all the middle-infield talent they have, but that’s another story.
So my opinion, regardless of his Spring Training numbers is to start Javy at Iowa.
After his stint in Chicago, Baez took part in the Puerto Rican League. At this point, he’s been made very aware of the holes in his swing, and what he needed to work on. He proceeded to strikeout 21 times in 43 at-bats. So clearly there is still work to do.
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Cubs’ new skipper Joe Maddon personally went to see him play in Puerto Rico, as well as the new hitting instructor John Mallee. Maddon gave some simple advice to the young slugger.
"“I talked to him about a couple of things, and he only struck out one time,” Maddon said. “He hit some balls well through the middle and hit a double down the left field line. He worked really good at-bats.” h/t Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune"
I think it will be in his best interest to start him in Iowa at the conclusion of the spring. Give him the opportunity to take what he learns from his time in Mesa and apply it. Now, I know Triple-A pitching isn’t the same as the Majors. That’s been an argument made by many that it won’t help him to go and hit minor-league pitching. That he should have trial by fire against the big boys.
In this case, it’s not about his results, but his approach. He needs to build it from scratch. If he struggles in Chicago, he may press harder, and revert back to the “swing-and-miss” mentality that is currently his Achilles heel.
With the additions the Cubs have made, as well as their subtractions, the team has several options. Arismendy Alcantara saw more time in Chicago, but he too struggled. What will benefit him is his versatility. He played a solid center field for learning on the fly, but is a second baseman at the core.
The Cubs also acquired Tommy La Stella from the Braves, specifically for his ability to get on base. Something Alcantara and Baez struggled to do. So instead of mixing in Baez, let him get his cuts down in Iowa, and consider making the change when Kris Bryant comes up. This could benefit both of them, as Baez -having spent time already in the Majors- can help the transition, should Bryant need it.
Cou would also get the opportunity to see what La Stella can bring, as well as possibly giving Mike Olt a last chance to prove his prior promise. Olt is only 26, so the Cubs need to identify if he’s addressed his strikeout propensity and see where he may stand. Alcantara then becomes the “superutility” man as we expected.
There are clearly a lot of moving parts to this team, and will be in the near future. If the Cubs don’t make any moves before camp -meaning a trade of Welington Castillo, or possibly Travis Wood– all of these could still happen early in the year. The Cubs may break camp with three catchers, but logically I can’t see that being the case for very long.
Bryant is coming, and when he does, a corresponding move will be made. Maybe Edwin Jackson makes the team, then gets DFA’d when it’s time for Bryant’s arrival. All speculation of course.
Whatever the case ends up being, the development of Baez is critical to the Cubs, and I believe that starts in Iowa this season.