Assuming the Cubs are able to sign him, of course, 18-year-old shortstop Javier Baez immediately becomes one of the top five positional prospects in the Cubs’ system. While he played shortstop in high school, most folks see him bulking up and sliding over to third base eventually. Baez was roundly considered a top 15 prospect in the draft, so the Cubs didn’t reach this time around.
Baez has a fast swing, and is expected to develop serious power. He’s average defensively, but is a superior athlete – something current scouting director Tim Wilken favors in the draft.
“I think he projects anywhere where his bat’s going to take him,” Wilken said of Baez. “He can play short. We’ll just let that take care of himself. We’re going to find out from him – he’s going to tell us on the field. I have seen him play third. Our scouts have seen him play third. We’ve even seen him catch.”
Baez is a big kid – 6’1″ and 205 – who’s expected to get bigger. He’s got quick hands, a discerning eye, and a strong arm. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Wilken says Baez comes in around 60 or 70 for hitting, 70 power, 55-60 speed, 50 or 60 defense all over the infield, and 70 arm. Another scout I’ve talked to has the numbers about the same, with the arm a little lower, more like a 60.
One potential knock is that Baez has a bit of cockiness in him. Wilken did his best to deflect the criticism.
“He’s a very quiet young man off the field, very fiery on the field,” Wilken said. “He’s more of a student-type young man. He’s confident, but it’s silent confidence. He doesn’t mince his words. You’re going to get straight answers. There’s not going to be a lot of verbiage in between.”
Better still, the aforementioned scout says he hasn’t seen anything to suggest Baez is aloof or uninterested, as some reports have suggested, or that Baez gets inappropriately angry on the field. The scout says Baez hates to lose, but that he soaks up teaching like a sponge.
And if Baez’s performance in a very weak, small high school league is any indication, he’s going to be the greatest hitter in the history of baseball. He hit .771 (64-for-83) with 20 doubles, six triples, 22 homers and 52 RBI in 115 plate appearances. He also scored 46 runs, stole 28 bases and drew 32 walks, while striking out just three times. If I were playing in an 8-year-old T-ball league I couldn’t put up those numbers. And I’m spry.
To be sure, drafting a shortstop-cum-third-baseman is not a slight to Starlin Castro, Josh Vitters or even Aramis Ramirez. The thing is, the kid will be just 19 for his first full season of professional ball, and the earliest possible estimate on his big league arrival is some time in 2014, but more likely 2015 or 2016. Projecting what the Cubs’ roster will be like in five years is a fool’s exercise, and the Cubs were wise, therefore, to simply choose the best bat on their board.
Speaking of which, the Cubs were wise to choose a bat in the first round this year. In a draft that is roundly considered one of the deepest in years, particularly in high school pitchers that can be bought out of their college aspirations, the Cubs smartly grabbed a bat early, and can theoretically go pitcher-heavy in the later rounds. Look at me! Complimenting the Cubs’ organizational decisions!
Baez has signed on to attend his hometown Jacksonville University in the fall, but, while the Jacksonville program is decent, it isn’t the kind of powerhouse school that a kid who expects to go in the first round of the draft signs onto with the expectation that he can use it as leverage. Instead, I suspect that Baez’s commitment to JU was more of a deep backup plan. He’ll cost a pretty penny, but I don’t expect the Cubs to struggle to sign him.
Hopefully they’ll be able to sign him in time for him to join the low A Boise Hawks short season club; though, given his age, the Cubs may prefer that he stick to rookie ball this year, before playing in low A or A next year.
Some video of Baez for your eyeball enjoyment: