[Ed. - The following is another guest post from freelance reporter and ESPNChicago.com contributor, Sahadev Sharma. If you're familiar with Sahadev's work, you'll understand what a privilege it is to get to put something of his up here in this space. Here's his previous piece on the Cubs' post-Rizzo hot streak.]
The other day, before we were all on 24-hour Dempster-watch, out of the blue I got an interesting text from an NL scout.
“Javier Baez is a bit above this league.”
Now when I say scout, I don’t mean any scout. This is my favorite scout, my go-to-guy, whose opinion I trust more than any other. I had heard from other scouts that Baez was a huge prospect with the bat but was not without his warts. He needs to work on his pitch recognition, aggressiveness and hitting breaking balls.
When I relayed these thoughts to this scout, he agreed with those issues, but also reminded me that he’s only 19.
“He’s a bit unique in that he’s so quick that he can hit any pitch,” added the scout. “He’ll get more selective with reps. He’s not really challenged (by low-A) pitching.”
Then on Monday, I saw this as part of Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein’s blurb on Javier Baez in his weekly Ten Pack (subscription required):
You might want to see Baez move up, but the Cubs have a shortstop they like at High-A in Arismendy Alcantara, and one at Double-A in Junior Lake. Both of them need at-bats too. The needs of a whole organization have to be considered before a prospect is promoted.
Side note: I want to emphasize that if you aren’t familiar with Goldstein, you’re missing out. Yes, you may think he’s a bit snarky on Twitter, maybe that’s not your thing (frankly I love it, it’s what makes Twitter fun), but you can’t deny that the guy knows his stuff. Not only does he have an amazing amount of connections in the game, he’s not too shabby of a talent evaluator himself. I spent the Midwest League All-Star Game picking his brain during batting practice and the game, and learned more than I have about scouting than ever before.
Of course, after getting that text from the scout, I had to check to see what his thoughts were on what Goldstein wrote. He said he could see what Goldstein was saying, but he had a bit of a different perspective on the situation.
“You have to treat your impact talents a little differently,” the scout said. “Lake has some upside, but in reality, is he going to ever be a 2 WAR player at the major league level? A lesser prospect should never block an impact guy if he’s ready to move. While [prospects] don’t develop in a vacuum, you’d better do all you need to to make sure top-end talent gets the chance it needs to develop. There are at-bats for everyone if you take the realistic view that there’s not a lot of high-end talent in the minor leagues, and the other prospects on a team are likely reserve players at the major league level that only improve their worth with defensive versatility.”
Baez is undoubtedly an elite-level talent. I’m not talking Bryce Harper and Mike Trout here, but Baez is considered one of the best offensive prospects in all of the minors. The scout I talked to admitted that maybe people on the player development side would give a different perspective, but it was clear that if he were making the decision, Baez would be headed to Daytona in short order.
In nearly two months of play, Baez has put up a rather impressive line of .328/.381/.589, with 10 home runs, seven doubles and five triples. Yes, it’s only two months, but recently it seems the Cubs have taken the approach of not being afraid to move a player up who is showing he’s more talented than the level he’s currently playing at, even if there is a solid prospect blocking him at that next level.
On Monday night, after 24 games in which he posted a .321/.391/.686 line with seven homers and 12 doubles in the Arizona League, Dan Vogelbach was moved up to Boise. Rock Shoulders, a prospect whom the Cubs’ brass likes, was already holding the fort down at first – Vogelbach’s position – in Boise. But apparently the Cubs considered Vogelbach’s development of more concern than worrying about where Shoulders would play.
Baez may spend the rest of the season at Peoria, or maybe we’ll be hearing soon that he’s headed to Daytona. The fact is, it looks like he’s ready to move on. It’s up to the Cubs to decide whether keeping him in Peoria, for the benefit of Alcantara or Lake, is more important than continuing the development of one of their most talented prospects.