Taken just one pick apart in the 2011 MLB Draft, Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor each had great potential. Their paths to this World Series were very different. But the expectations from each are very large.
When it comes to baseball, the “six degrees of separation” rule isn’t that unusual. For the Chicago Cubs, it becomes even more common. Take Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod and you pretty much have it covered. In 2011, the story of Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor began–and McLeod is your link on this one.
Back then, McLeod was the San Diego Padres scouting director. From the start, he had his eye on Lindor with the Padres No. 10 pick. But he was concerned that Tim Wilken–then Cubs scouting director–was going to scoop Lindor up at No. 9. What better way to find out then to ask? So McLeod did just that. The words that came from Wilken have made plenty of Cubs’ fans happy today.
"“If Baez gets there, I’m taking Baez,” Wilken told McLeod, referring to Javier Baez, who – like Lindor – was from Puerto Rico and had moved to Florida at age 12."
It was Wilken’s belief that Baez would be a star above everyone else that led him to stand by him.
"“He kind of looked at me funny at first,” Wilken said Thursday, recalling their conversation. “I said, ‘It’s a no-doubter for me. I feel that convicted about him.’"
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For McLeod, he didn’t get Lindor that day. The Cleveland Indians took him with the No. 8 pick. The Cubs ended up with Baez, and a few months later McLeod would join the Cubs along with Epstein and Hoyer. He may have known very little about Baez at the time, but he’s learned plenty about him since then.
Different paths to the same place
The path of Lindor and Baez to the majors vary greatly from that moment. Both were expected to be the “future” shortstops of their respected team. They were both fun to watch and garnered compliments from all those that had the chance to see them play. Baez broke into the league first in 2014 and made an immediate—but not lasting impression, at least at that time. After homering three times in his first three games, it’s the finish to that season that most Cubs’ fans remember. Baez finished with a .169 average while striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats. To some, it looked like his aggressive swing could lead to him being a bust.
Lindor was still pressing through the Indians system, splitting time at High-A and Double-A. He batted .303 between the two and was already showing his potential. But the Indians favor the veterans, so Lindor wasn’t yet on the Tribe’s radar.
2014 would prove to be a trying year for Baez–but it may have also helped mold him into the player he’s become. His sister Noely died at the age of 21 due to complications from spina bifida. The two were very close, and Javy took two weeks bereavement after her passing. There were more than a few who wondered if he would be able to push through her loss and continue to play the game.
A “break” before his break
Once he returned, Baez looked primed to be called up to Chicago. Until a broken finger on a slide into second base derailed that. Baez would eventually make it to Chicago for 28 games. His swing had evolved. Still dangerous, but more under control. He hit just one home run during the regular season, but came up with a clutch home run in the NLDS against the Cardinals. That may have very likely have been Javy’s “turning point”.
For the Indians, 2015 became a year to finally try the youth of their system. Lindor and well as Giovany Urshela would get there chance for the Tribe. Lindor never looked back. He would hit .313 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs, finishing second to the Astros’ Carlos Correa for AL Rookie of the Year. His slick defense had many comparing him to another Indians great–Omar Vizquel. That was high praise for the youngster and well deserved.
Now the two will meet in the World Series. Baez comes in after winning the co-MVP of the NLCS alongside Jon Lester. While Lindor became a household name last season, this year’s postseason put Baez on everyone’s radar. Lindor too has been fantastic, batting .323 during this year’s playoffs. If not for Andrew Miller, he could have made a case for ALCS MVP.
The two kids who came from Puerto Rico, and were drafted in the same year just one pick apart will meet in the grandest of stages. The path they took to get here might have been different, but the impression they’ve made on the fans in their respective cities–and now in the World Series–will make them household names for years to come.