Chicago Cubs: What to expect from Javier Baez in 2018

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Javier Baez
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Javier Baez /

The 2018 MLB season is now less than two months away. Except maybe the starting pitching staff, the Chicago Cubs’ roster looks to be mostly set heading into the season.

The Chicago Cubs‘ lineup this season will likely look almost identical to the ones they featured in 2017. Players like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have proven to be consistent forces for Chicago. So we already have a good idea of the kind of numbers they’ll put up. But for other players, it’s not as easy to guess what kind of production you’ll get from them in a given year.

Javier Baez is one of those players. He’s something of a wildcard for the Chicago Cubs. In his short career, he’s shown signs of enormous upside and potential, but also a concerning lack of restraint at times at the plate. He’s still young enough, though, that he could easily improve upon his weaknesses.

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At the plate

Baez gets himself in trouble when he’s got two strikes in the count. In fact, pitchers have figured out they can throw him just about anything as far outside the zone as they want, and Baez will swing if he has two strikes on him.

This is the area in which he’s most in need of improvement. And with new hitting coach Chili Davis, it just might happen. Davis was brought in because the Cubs sport a fairly young group of hitters. And though they’ve already accomplished so much in a short amount of time, they still have some things to learn if they want continued success.

Baez’s 28.3 strikeout percentage paired with just a 5.9 walk percentage in 2017 shows that he needs to work on his patience at the plate.

When he’s not down in the count, though, he can be a force for the Cubs. In 2017, he hit .273 with 23 home runs and 75 RBI. Those are good numbers for someone who just turned 25 last December. If he can learn to lay off bad pitches when he’s down in the count and bring up his walk rate a bit, he’ll be an above-average hitter with plenty of power.

In the field

Though Baez can be a bit streaky and unpredictable at the plate, he’s consistently excellent in the field. Defensively, the Cubs have something pretty special with Baez at second base and Addison Russell at shortstop. Those guys can turn two about as quickly as any middle infield in the league.

Baez isn’t nicknamed “El Mago” (Spanish for “The Magician”) for nothing. He’ll make all the plays he’s supposed to make and then some while looking good doing it.

Perhaps the most lethal aspect of his fielding is his tagging ability. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better tagger in the league right now. The combination of Baez at second and Willson Contreras behind the plate is a nightmare for base-stealers facing the Cubs. As Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, “Don’t try it.”

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Baez has already been a productive and vital part of the Chicago Cubs’ lineup the past couple of years. But there’s still room for growth. Learning to be more patient and selective at the plate will be his biggest challenge in 2018.

Whether or not he can manage that is yet to be seen. But we do know with close to absolute certainty that he’ll continue to be a top-tier glove in the field while giving the Cubs good power at the plate.