On the Unlikely – But Plausible – 2013 Major League Debut of Javier Baez

javier baez daytona cubs[Ed. - The following is a guest post from Sahadev Sharma, whose work you likely know from many corners of the web. In addition to said corners, you can find Sahadev on Twitter and on the weekly Bleacher Nation Podcast.]

When Javier Baez was invited to the Cubs’ Rookie Development Program (RDP) – a program the Cubs have explained is typically reserved for prospects that are likely to hit the Major League roster sometime that upcoming season – I raised an eyebrow, but ultimately didn’t think much of it. When he got an invite to big league camp, I was definitely intrigued.

Both Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are downplaying Baez’s presence at Spring Training, and that’s what they should be doing. Epstein said Baez isn’t close to the big leagues and has “significant development in front of him.” Hoyer essentially echoed those sentiments, saying that “this is not about [Baez] making the Major League team, this is about experience.”

This is exactly what I expected both of them to say, and, frankly, I believe them. It’s definitely true that Baez has plenty of things to work on in the minors – particularly improving his approach at the plate. Nothing that happens over the next month and a half of Spring Training is going to convince the Cubs, nor any sensible talent evaluator, any differently.

Baez is someone who doesn’t display the natural leadership skills and exemplary makeup that Albert Almora does,* and, though Baez speaks English very well, it is his second language. Going through the RDP twice (this and next season) for someone like him can’t hurt; understanding how to conduct oneself off the field is something that’s essential for professional athletes. This is especially true for a player like Baez, who already is being hyped in the local media, and will be expected to be a star once he arrives at Wrigley. That type of pressure is never easy to handle, especially for a young kid, and though nothing can truly prepare a player for such an intense situation, going through these activities multiple times can’t hurt Baez.

*Let’s be clear: I don’t believe Baez has makeup issues, but he’s 20 and often acts his age. That’s what sets Almora apart from many prospects. He may be young, but he displays the maturity of a veteran leader.

While Baez’s invites to both the RDP and big league camp were mainly presented for the mere experience, that wasn’t the sole reason. There is a situation that could present itself – one that’s very unlikely* – in which Baez could find himself on the Major League roster at some point this season. And because of this minute possibility, there was a slight added benefit of getting him to both the RDP and big league camp.

*One NL scouting director put the chances of Baez hitting the majors this season at 1%. While a rival front office member initially laughed and indicated that the situation I laid out was unlikely, he acknowledged it was not impossible.

So what exactly has to happen for this improbable situation to play out?

First of all, Baez would have to perform well enough at High-A Daytona (where I’m told it’s likely he’ll start the season) that he’s called up to AA Tennessee (a realistic timeline for this would be Baez tearing up the Florida State League for three months and moving up to the Southern League by the All-Star Break). Once there, Baez would have to continue to show that he’s maturing quickly and developing at a faster pace than expected. While this is happening, the Cubs would have to be making an equally surprising playoff run. Not only would those two very unlikely situations have to occur, but the Cubs would also have to have a hole at third.* Then, come August, maybe the Cubs call upon Baez to help aid them in an unexpected run towards the postseason.

*Or somewhere in the middle infield, which would likely mean deep regression or an injury for Starlin Casto or Darwin Barney, neither of which any of us want to see happen. Not to mention that either of those scenarios coming to pass would make a playoff run all the more implausible.

I can’t emphasize enough just how unlikely it is for such a confluence of positive events to occur. But let’s temporarily suspend disbelief and remember that something very similar played out in Baltimore last summer with Manny Machado. The similarities between the two situations are actually quite stunning. You would have been laughed out of any respectable baseball discussion if you suggested that the Orioles were going to compete in 2012. Further, most believed that Machado wasn’t expected to arrive in the bigs until some point in 2013. But things change quickly when the playoffs are at stake. The Orioles had a massive void at third and Machado, a shortstop by trade, was holding his own in AA Bowie (.789 OPS). So the Orioles filled a hole with their young, stud prospect.

The similarities don’t end there. 2011 was Machado’s first full season in pro ball, as 2012 was for Baez. Machado was impressive in Low-A (.859 OPS* in 38 games), and struggled when he was promoted to High-A (.692 OPS in 63 games). In comparison, Baez destroyed Low-A pitching with a .979 OPS, and also struggled in his 23-game stint in High-A (.644 OPS).

*I’m aware that OPS isn’t the be all, end all of offensive statistics, but rather than breaking down each player’s numbers in the minors, I’m trying to give a quick snap-shot of what these kids did with the bat at each level.

To be fair, while Machado is a year ahead of Baez development-wise, he’s only six months older. Machado also played all of 2012, prior to his call-up to the majors, in AA, much of it at only 19. Machado was also a more highly-rated prospect, ranked as high as 4th in baseball (by Keith Law, behind two of the greatest prospects in recent memory, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout), while Baez usually falls in the mid-20s in most rankings. Baez does trump his Oriole counterpart in that Machado never dominated a level like Baez did in Peoria.

The biggest challenge to Baez in pulling off this feat is improving his approach at the plate (or as one scout told me, he just needs to find an approach that isn’t “see ball, swing hard”). Machado has always known how to work a count, while Baez believes he can send every pitch on a 500 foot journey.

Baez is going to have to show that he really has embraced the Cubs’ organizational philosophy of not just swinging at strikes, but making sure to get your pitch. That flaw is why we’re not consistently seeing Baez creep into the 10-15 range in top 100 lists. Whether he’s to do the improbable and arrive at Wrigley in 2013 or develop on a more practical timeline, one thing is for sure: if he’s ever going to live up to the lofty expectations that came with his eye-popping season in Peoria, he must correct the fatal flaw that is his approach at the plate. Expecting him to do it over the next few months may be asking too much.

Sahadev Sharma is, among other things, a contributor at Bleacher Nation. Follow him on Twitter @sahadevsharma.

87 responses to “On the Unlikely – But Plausible – 2013 Major League Debut of Javier Baez”

  1. justinjabs

    Totally thought this was Brett’s work until I reached the bottom. I think that’s a compliment to both of you.

    Also, Sahadev should get a picture.

    1. Brett

      I didn’t put the usual preamble at the top, since it’s published under Sahadev’s name. Maybe I should have. I’ll swap the bottom one to the top.

      1. hansman1982

        ya, I thought it was you until the bit about talking to FO execs. For a minute, I thought you were really moving on up in the world.

        1. justinjabs


  2. Nate Corbitt

    “So you’re saying there’s a chance…..”

  3. hansman1982

    If Baez were on the 40-man, I’d say a callup would be inevitable at the end of the season along the lines of Jackson, Vitters, Rizzo.

    Now, if he shows that he matured immensely over the offseason and is more selective with the bat and somehow hoodwinks the FO into placing him in AA and he destroys AA pitching and the Cubs NEED him at 3rd or 2nd…he probably still won’t see the bigs.

  4. Marcel91

    Good article. Would like to see him promoted based on his development not his name/hype alone. We know that if the previous regime were here he’d already be knocking on wrigley’s door regardless of whatever flaws he had. If you put up numbers you got promoted. This FO is all about development first and i’m glad Baez won’t be rushed like Castro was.

    1. hansman1982

      I’d say Castro was ready.

      1. Cedlandrum

        You are right hansman. I think people forget how good Starlin was in AA that year. He was freaking killing the ball and then you know basically hasn’t stopped since.

  5. Beer Baron

    ‘Whether he’s to do the improbable and arrive at Wrigley in 2012 or develop on a more practical timeline…’

    I’d say him arriving in 2012 is beyond improbable. But if we are able to go back in time, rather than accelerate a prospects timeline, let’s do something really useful like travel back to 2010 and NOT take Hayden Simpson.

    1. CubFan Paul

      Ricketts loves that pick.

  6. JR

    Great stuff Brett. Does anyone know of any other all star level major leaguers who didn’t walk much in the minors? The not walking thing seems to be a major problem for Baez and Almora and I am curious if other dude’s have gotten over this issue to succeed in the Bigs and learned to walk? I am hoping we don’t have a team full of players with Castro’s approach in a few years..

    1. JR

      My bad, good stuff *Shadev. I need to look closer.

  7. ETS

    “Whether he’s to do the improbable and arrive at Wrigley in 2012 or develop on a more practical timeline”

    2012 is awfully improbable. ;)

  8. Chad

    I’d like to see him cruise through AA and get the call to AAA before I get too excited. I just think that a little time developing can’t hurt. Think of Castro as he came straight from AA. I think a little more seasoning in AAA could have helped his defense. Maybe not, I don’t know. I still think there’s no chance until 2014, but hey if he is that good, why the heck not.

    1. brickhouse

      He needs to perform at high A ball 1st which he struggled at last season

  9. Dustin S

    The dark cloud that looms in the background is the chance of the Cubs looking even worse than expected and/or not showing improvement even into early-mid 2014. Sveum still has a pass for this year, but we all know how Chicago is and the pressure will start to build. Hendry was always quick to hit the panic button and pull guys up early to try anything to ease the pressure from the Chicago fans and media. Sveum has a long leash, but you wonder when the grumbling starts and he starts looking over his shoulder for his job if he won’t start asking for some help – even if it means calling up guys like Baez/Lake/Almora before they are ready. I don’t think Jed and Theo will let that happen and they will stick to the long-term plan. But it will be interesting to see how it plays out when the natives get restless.

  10. Danny Ballgame

    I don’t see any chance this year and not until late 2014 at the very, very earliest. It is nice to have a few guys that could be the future of this team going through the minors right now. Go Cubs Go

  11. CubFan Paul

    The more likely call up candidate is Logan Watkins.

    He could replace Dejesus in CF or Barney at 2B if they allowed real competition in Camp.

    1. Danny Ballgame

      I wouldn’t mind bringing him up after a trade of Sori/DeJesus or Barney.

  12. MJ

    I take the front office’s words at face value. I don’t think there’s any chance of Baez making his big league debut this season not matter what he does. I think him being sent to the development program, winter ball and big league spring training speaks loudly of what they think of him. But when he’s called up, they want to make sure he’s really ready to stay. Making sure he’s prepared for what’s coming (because you know there’s going to be a frenzy the day he makes his Wrigley debut) and that nothing is shocking to him.

    Plus, I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson with Rizzo & Jackson. They don’t want to keep going through the exercise of calling someone up, seeing them hit .120 and having to send them back down again.

    1. Brett

      Technically, all they’ve said is 100% certain is that he won’t break camp with the big league club.

      1. SirCub

        That is unless he really lights it up in ST. I think this front office is wise enough to pay close attention to spring training performances and base their decisions off of that valuable data.

        1. DB Kyle

          Not sure if serious?

          1. SirCub

            Had my tongue lodged solidly in my cheek on that one.

        2. TWC


  13. Seth

    Hey Sahadev Sharma I don’t think you are crazy. It’s a very interesting thing to think about and dicusss. I think the Manny Machado comparison is brilliant, albeit he might be a few notches above Baez. But IF everything falls just right it could possibly happen and it looks like the Cubs FO is preparing themselves for that with sending him to the big league camp. I also think that is a perfect way to describe this front office, very well-prepared.

  14. Cedlandrum

    Very nicely done by the way Sahadev. Very balanced and yet thought provoking. You made the case but tempered expectations all at the same time. You are like a magician.

  15. MichCubFan

    Not happening. Theo has said many times that he wants hitters to get a full season of at-bats in triple-A, and that isn’t going to happen unless he would start this season there…which isn’t going to happen. 2015 or maybe a September call-up in 2014 is by far the earliest he will come up, but it will probably be more like mid-2015.

    The only way I could see them allowing someone to skip the triple-A at-bats is if we desperately needed that player for a playoff run.

    1. Brett

      You and Sahadev wrote the same thing, for what it’s worth.

      1. MichCubFan

        Ok, good. I can’t wait to see what the big three do this year. I wonder about their plate discipline after Almora walked twice and Baez didn’t have many, either.

        Good article, now that i’ve read it more carefully.

  16. SirCub

    Yea, Machado is right where my mind went to when thinking about a possible Baez call-up, also. I think that the part of the scenario where Baez gets an early promotion and crushes AA is not really all that unlikely (maybe 20%?), and I honestly think the part where the Cubs are in playoff contention has a decent chance (~10%), and really the “hole-at-third” part of the scenario seems almost inevitable (90%). I think the thing that makes it even more unlikely is that I could totally see all of those things happening and the Cubs still not calling him up.

    I would put the odds for that scenario at about:

    0.2 * 0.1 * 0.9 = 1.8%

    Then maybe 1 out of 5 chance that he actually gets called up if all that happens. Anybody want to give me 300 to 1 odds on Baez getting called up this year?

    1. Timothy Scarbrough

      The problem with that, is that if we are competitive it is likely that we figured out 3rd base, making a Baez callup less likely.

  17. Die hard

    Sveum can always get a job as Javier Bardems double

    1. Tommy

      The No Country for Old Men version, or the Skyfall version?

      1. Die hard


  18. cubzfan

    Does anyone remembe a 20 year-old pitcher by the name of Gregg Maddux… Itcoul happen he just hs to show he is ready to take that next step n hi plate discipline.

    1. Tommy

      Never heard of him, and I doubt he amounted to anything.

    2. Danny Ballgame

      Baez struggled at High A ball. Until he makes it to AA, he is not jumping to the big club

  19. cubzfan

    Does anyone remembe a 20 year-old pitcher by the name of Gregg Maddux… It could happen he just hs to show he is ready to take that next step n hi plate discipline.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Except that you can count the guys who take that “next step” on one hand, even if you are a veteran of knife juggling.

      I’m not sure how Maddux (or any other pitcher) could be compared, as pitchers are fundamentally different athletes from position players. However, if you are referring to Maddux’s amazing control, then there was no huge “next step” for him: Maddux showed outstanding control as a 19 year old in his first full professional season.

  20. Cheryl

    A lot will depend on Sveum. Will he allow open competition? Castro doesn’t have the best plate discipline in the world but he’s improving. Baez, with more discipline, coud be a callup in August but unless he has an amazing Spring its unlikely as Sharma says. Maybe its time to take a non-traditional look at the way sme of these minor leaguers are developing. We tend to group them in a tidy development area of A, AA and AAA. The FO no doubt has ideas on this level but how good is Sveum at developing young talent? Will he stay with the older players or take a liking of certain players and play them rather than someone like Baez? This season will not only be a time to judge many of these players like Baez but it also should be the time to judge Sveum.

    1. TWC

      “Open competition”? In Spring Training?

      Outside of pulling names of Bleacher Nation commenters out of a hat, that’s about the dumbest way to field a team as there is.

      1. justinjabs

        Dibs on third.

        1. TWC

          Sorry, kid. Your number got pulled… you’re feeding Yosh Kawano pre-chewed sunflower seeds.

          1. fromthemitten


  21. DocPeterWimsey

    “Castro doesn’t have the best plate discipline in the world but he’s improving.”

    Not unless Castro is doing it without increasing his walk totals. Over his major and minor league career, Castro has walked in 5.8% of his seasons. He’s never had a season where he’s deviated significantly from that. His MLB rate has been 5.2%, which means that he’s take all of about 10 fewer walks in MLB than expected: and there has been no trend at all, going from 5.7% to 4.9% to 5.2%: i.e., random fluctuations.

    We can hope that Castro improves on this, but he basically shows about the same batting eye now as he did at 18. That’s the rule rather than the exception.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      whoops: Castro has walked in 100% of his seasons. He’s walked in 5.8% of his PAs.

      1. Cheryl

        OK Doc, you caught me. I was trying to be positive about Castro but you’re right he has very little plate discipline and his concentration has been questioned before. He needs to show some maturity on the field and at the plate. So far they’re only playing Baez at short. Leaves a question mark about where both players will play in the future. Let me ask this. If Baez and Castro are on a par in the field and at the plate next year who would you trade for Price? Or would you trade either?

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          I don’t think that batting eye has anything to do with concentration or maturity. A batter has to trigger “swing/don’t swing” when the ball is about 10′ from the pitcher’s hand. It’s a reflex, and the ability to identify exactly and precisely where that ball is going is probably like the ability to see deeper shades of red than normal people do: those who cannot do it cannot do it.

          That written, Castro can still put up plus numbers for a SS. Would I like to see him be the OBP machine that Profar or even Machado probably will be? Of course! However, Castro can still create more runs than most opposing SS will if he never changes. (I expect him to add power simply because most players his age do: and 5-10 more HR a year would more than make up for the lack of walks.)

          As for who I trade for Price (or include in the package), well, the Rays will answer that: Baez. They will want someone making the minimum for as long as possible.

    2. TWC

      And his K% is pretty consistent, too. The big change from his previous performance last year was his BABIP taking a hit. Ten or 15 more ground balls one foot this way or the other and his overall line would look just like his previous two years’.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        Or he has to be more SCRAPPY!

        1. TWC

          Well, like, *duh*.

    3. MightyBear

      How many pitches per PA did he see last year? I believe that went up. That is what he worked on. Working the count and not swinging at the first pitch all the time every time.

      1. MightyBear

        You don’t have to walk more to be a more patient hitter.

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Guys with good batting eyes draw many walks. Guys with bad batting eyes draw few walks. Exceptions to this are, well, exceptional.

          1. DocPeterWimsey

            Incidentally, as Castro’s walks and K’s remained about the same last year, it almost necessarily follows that he was seeing the typical numbers of pitches. After all, 3 and 4 are the limiting numbers here. (And, no, nobody has ever demonstrated that guys increase the number of foul balls they average.)

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              2nd incidentally: Castro’s pitches per PA actually decreased last year, from 3.65 / PA his first 2 years to 3.46. There is about a 8% chance of that happening by chance alone, which means that we expect one position player per team to show this simply by chance alone. So, I wouldn’t get too worried that Castro getting worse: at least not yet!

              1. TWC

                Where was the pitches/PA info? On FanGraphs? Did I just totally miss it?

                1. DocPeterWimsey

                  Yeah, it’s under the “More Batted Ball” section. (I.e., “other crap for which we cannot think of a cohesive section”)

                  It is a little troubling that Castro’s rate of swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone went up last year. However, that could be a chance fluctuation, too: you expect about 1 or 2 guys per team to show his level of increase for no particular reason.

                  1. TWC

                    But his Infield Fly Ball % SKYROCKETED… it’s like Aramis Ramirez has returned.

                    1. Internet Random

                      “… Aramis Ramirez has returned.”

                      Now I’m going to have nightmares.

                  2. hansman1982

                    If only the creators of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Stat Corner would get together and have a $5M budget every year, we would have more information than the former Cubs FO.

    4. Cheryl

      How else are you going to determine who plays third base and where Baez will eventually fit? And what about the outfield? Have they really settled on who is where out there. The only thing that’s certain is if Soriano isn’t traded he plays. The catching is probably secure and Rizzo and Castro have nothing to worry about it would seem. Open competition will tell us a lot about the future.

      1. TWC

        Oh, like, long-term? Yeah, I’m sure there will be an “open” competition… I mean, there has to be, really. But this year, it’s Ian Stewart at 3B at least until May/June, and Luis Valbuena beyond that. Unless Stewart breaks out to MVP status (*cough*cough*sorry Kyle*cough*cough*), he’s only holding space.

      2. DocPeterWimsey

        Spring training cannot provide meaningful competition as ST does not provide consistent MLB level opponents for the putative competitors. This is especially true for position players: to an extent, you can judge pitchers without looking at outcomes: but you can only judge batters in relation to the pitches they get. The other teams are tossing out their bottom-of-the-rotation and middle relief candidates far too often, and the established starters often are focusing more on their secondary pitches than their main stuff. In the interim, you get the guys headed for AA & AAA who are just out there because, um, well, somebody’s got to pitch. Thus, not only are the sample sizes meaningless, but two players often collect numbers against very different levels of opposition.

        The decision on who plays 3rd is easy: Stewart, if he’s healthy. Otherwise, Valbuena. The decision on where to fit in Baez also is easy: if he ever gets to the point where his AA or AAA stats suggest that he’ll hit MLB pitching well, then they move him from SS to whichever position he projects to create the biggest improvement (2B or 3B, probably).

        The OF also is set: Sori in LF, DeJesus in CF, and the platoon in RF. They’ll want at least a month of BJax doing well against AAA pitching before shifting him to MLB.

        The lower part of the starting rotation is tougher to call, and ST might affect that. However, whenever you have that situation, then you might as well flip a coin: or save yourself the worry of losing a quarter and just use the coin-flip that is ST performance.

        1. TWC

          I’d totally agree — if I’m reading you right — that when Baez is ready for the majors, he’s going to fit in around Castro.

          … at least at first.

        2. Bill

          I’m not sure what healthy means for Stewart. Healthy or not, he’s still bad. The likelihood we see power numbers even remotely close to pre-injury (in a thin air Col) is about as likely as a RB putting up great numbers coming off a torn ACL. As you said earier, “exceptions to this are, well, exceptional.”. Without the power, Stewart is not a good hitter. So, a slam dunk for Stewart starting 3B? Maybe, but that’s like saying he’s the choice of the two ugliest girls at the dance. It’s a choice between bad and bad for Dale. Jed/Theo dealt him a bad hand dealing with the 3B situation.

          1. fromthemitten

            I’d say if Stewart doesn’t hack it the first man up is Vitters. After that, Junior Lake. After that? Christian Villanueva. After that? Maybe Baez. I’d be surprised if he plays in AAA this year.

            1. fromthemitten

              Hell they might even bring up Watkins over Baez if he has a good enough arm

          2. CubFan Paul

            “is about as likely as a RB putting up great numbers coming off a torn ACL”

            Apparently you haven’t been watching football in recent years (Adrian F. Peterson)

            What was once a 2 year recovery with No guarantees, is now an 8 month rest with rehab with all kinds of assuredness and recent examples of ‘steve austins’.

            1. fromthemitten

              *gives u the stone cold stunner*
              *flips u off*
              *cracks open a beer*
              *cracks open another beer*
              *dumps one beer on you chugs the other*

              oh wait you meant that other steve austin…

              1. hansman1982

                while wearing more body armor and braces than Barry Bonds.

              2. Katie

                I like this immensely. Stone Cold, indeed.

                And I better get ample opportunity to see Baez at AAA. There’s no need to rush him since the Cubs aren’t contending for anything but the cellar in the NL Central.

            2. Bill

              No, never heard of this Peterson guy. Who is he? Apparently you didn’t see the word ‘exception’. Most RB’s take a season (after their surgery) before they to get back to the same level they were before the injury.

              1. TWC

                In the NFL, where HGH isn’t banned, nor tested for, folks like Adrian Peterson have a leg up.

                And are you even serious? I mean Peterson has been damn near the best RB in the league for the last 6 years, and I’m not even much of an NFL guy.

              2. CubFan Paul

                *No one* takes a season off if they have 8 months to recover.

                There are *no* more exceptions in the professional world with ACLs. Science & Technology has come Apparently further than you know. (look at Theo’s acquistions of TJ survivors)

                They can rebuild him ..we have the technology ..better than he was before ..better ..stronger ..faster

                1. Bill

                  I never said players “take a season off”. I said they don’t get back to pre-injury level, for a couple years. It takes anywhere from 8-12 months to rehab from surgery, then another season where they get their confidence, quickness, rid of rust, etc. Peterson was the exception, a freak one at that, not the rule.

                  Please provide for me a list of people coming back from wrist surgery, who were “better, stronger, etc”. Stewart isn’t coming back from a ACL or TJ, he’s coming back from wrist surgery. We aren’t talking about ligaments, we are talking bone. For a power guy the wrist are incredibly important.

                  Hey, if you want to think he’s going to come back with more power, it’s sweet that you believe in fairy tales.

  22. cubchymyst

    Completely off topic but if anyone is interested in learning more about the how stats can be used to put together a team a writer at Fangraphs just started a new piece about Adjusted Linear Weights. This is the first article of the series he is writing. Here is the link.


  23. Sam

    Very nice article Sahadev!

  24. Die hard

    Dodgers Yankees WS? ESPN says so…. Must be true