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Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez continues to showcase potential in 2016

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Oct 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) throws to first base for a double play against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of game six of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez (9) throws to first base for a double play against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of game six of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs have obviously gained tremendous notoriety for their recent success in drafting, acquiring, and developing talent. One of those players specifically may have more swagger than baseball may know what to do with.

Chicago Cubs. JAVIER BAEZ. B. 421 AB, 50 R, 115 H, 19 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 59 RBI, .273 AVG, Co-LCS MVP. INF/OF

Javier Baez has always been something of a wild card among the Chicago Cubs’ impressive stock of young talent. Despite obvious excellence with the glove and the versatility that he brings to the mix, his ability to provide consistency at the plate has always been a question mark.

While he did make some strides toward becoming that consistent offensive threat, there’s still room for growth.

That growth isn’t something that is as much of a necessity as it relates to his defense. Baez appeared at five different positions in 2016, showcasing the combination of athleticism and defensive instincts that could make him a tremendous asset moving forward.

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Just to put that in a bit of perspective, Baez logged only 383 innings at second base this past season, roughly 900 fewer than Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler.

Yet, those two were the only players at the position who finished with a higher Defensive Runs Saved total than Baez, as he logged 11, trailing the two by only a single run in that regard. While Baez does figure to see time at shortstop and third base, and maybe even a little bit of time in the outfield, he’s already representing elite defense at the position.

Development

In today’s day and age, defense alone can make you a valuable asset. However, in order to continue to reach his full potential, he’s going to have to develop the consistency that he hasn’t quite been able to display at the plate. In some regards, he has.

In each of the three seasons that he’s appeared at the big league level, he’s managed to increase his contact rate and cut down his strikeouts. Of course, the Cubs would likely prefer he improve upon a 3.3% walk rate in order to drive up his ability to reach base, given his effectiveness as a baserunner.

The power potential is undeniable. Baez’s swing has the ability to make strong contact at a high rate, while also providing for opportunities to hit monster home runs.

Mother’s Day against Washington and Game 1 of the NLDS against San Francisco stand out as a couple of moments in which he demonstrated that. If he can harness that power and continue to develop his approach, he’s as terrifying an entity as exists in a baseball player.

His defense and versatility alone make Javy Baez can’t-miss television. He has, arguably, as good of hands and as natural an ability in the field as any player in baseball.

Postseason Stage

His postseason performance was a microcosm of Javier Baez’s skill set to this point. There were flashes of brilliance at the plate, but he ultimately underwhelmed in terms of an ability to provide consistent production at the plate. He reached base at just a .282 clip for the postseason.

But the moments in which he broke out were of monumental significance. He provided the only run in Game 1 against San Francisco, knocked in five runs across the series against Los Angeles, and a key homer in Game 7 of the World Series.

Additionally, there was the baserunning and the defense. The highlight of the former came in which he stole home in Game 1 of the NLCS. His glove was a constant focal point and there was nary a situation in which he disappointed with either the leather or the arm.

The versatility also came into play, with appearances all over the infield, including early regular starts at third base. Ultimately, the postseason served as something of a coming-out party for Baez.

Super Utility Superstar

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Joe Maddon and the Cubs continue to deploy Javier Baez moving forward. His versatility makes him a lock to be utilized heavily. But a lot of his playing time could be determined by his consistency with the stick.

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The possibilities are seemingly endless. He could grab the bulk of the starts at second with Jason Heyward in center and Ben Zobrist in right. He could take some time at third while Kris Bryant appears in the outfield.

He’s certainly another piece in an already incredibly versatile Cubs team. But his combination of upside at the plate in the field makes him as intriguing a player to watch as there is on a team stacked with them in 2017.

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