Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez
Javier Baez was the last first-round draft pick of the Jim Hendry era when the Cubs selected him ninth overall in 2011, out of Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, FL. It’s hard to imagine now, but for years Baez was at the center of trade speculation. Would he fit into Theo Epstein’s plans?
This was especially true after Baez made his debut with the big league club at the end of 2014, and he struggled to make contact at the plate. With Addison Russell and Starlin Castro already available to play middle infield, many thought Baez would be the odd man out. Instead, it ended up being Castro, who is a good hitter in his own right. Yet the decision to hold onto Baez has paid off.
Baez tore up the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with Iowa in 2015 before spending a little time with the big league club again. He got a chance to play regularly in 2016, showing improvement at the plate and constant highlight-reel defense. The 2016 postseason was primarily considered to be a breakthrough for him on the national stage. He then continued to show improvement in 2017 before putting in all together in 2018, finishing second in NL MVP voting.
Baez’s skills on both offense and defense have made him a fan favorite, and he has seemed to become a smarter player each year. It remains unclear whether Baez and the Cubs will be able to get a long-term contract extension done, though most Cubs fans are pulling for it to happen, as he still figures to have many solid years left.