With Starlin Castro trade rumors swirling again, the of the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez cannot be overstated heading into 2016.
Following trade rumors involving Cubs infielder Starlin Castro is a lot like riding a see-saw. Actually, that may be too calm. A roller coaster would probably be closer – one day we think he’s on his way out, only to be told the next day that there’s nothing imminent.
It’s a coin-flip whether or not Castro opens Spring Training in a Chicago Cubs uniform – but should he be dealt during this offseason, young Javier Baez is poised to take on increased responsibilities – as well as increased criticism as a starter.
Last season, Baez rode the highs and battled in the lows – both on and off the field. He suffered a hand injury early-on, soon after losing his younger sister, dealing the former top prospect a tragic blow.
Once he returned to the diamond for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, it was all business for Baez, who manned several infield spots during the course of the campaign while putting together an impressive .324/.385/.527 slash-line in 70 games.
There are some who follow the organization who say that such a performance by such a highly-regarded talent isn’t anything other than what’s expected, but after his dismal struggles following his big-league call-up in 2014, regaining confidence was key for Baez.
If his Triple-A performance wasn’t enough to entirely restore confidence in his abilities, the fact that he hardly missed a beat upon returning to Chicago in early September certainly didn’t hurt matters. Baez posted a .733 OPS with the Cubs down the stretch, a near-200 point increase from his stint in the bigs the year prior.
Of course, his captivating blast in Game Four of the NLDS off John Lackey was a fitting capstone to a season that showed just how talented and gritty Baez truly is. But with all that in the past, what’s next for the slugging infielder?
Should Castro be dealt (likely for pitching), Baez seems the logical choice to take the reins at second base, forming a very young, albeit talented, double-play combination with Addison Russell.
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According to Steamer projections, Baez will appear in 80-something games and hit around 17 homers, driving in 45 runs. Of course, should Castro leave and Baez become the starting second baseman, you could see those numbers run closer to 25-to-30 home runs and 80 RBI.
Not bad for a kid who most fans had forgotten about after his strikeout-prone big league debut in 2014. In fact, those numbers would be amongst the best in the game amongst middle infielder, especially second baseman.
Personally, I’m expecting a bit more realistic numbers. If we can get 20 home runs and 65 RBI from Baez to go along with a batting line somewhere in the ballpark of .250/.300/.450 (which falls largely in-line with those projections), then, offensively, the Chicago Cubs will be set.
I spent most of last summer watching Baez play in Des Moines, and, while everyone’s still fascinated with Addison Russell, let me tell you this. If his bat plays well, defense won’t an issue for Javier Baez.
Simply put, if the bat plays, the Cubs could have one of the best infields in all of Major League Baseball.