The Chicago Cubs have made clear at every turn that top prospect Javier Baez will be two things when the season starts: (1) a shortstop, and (2) an Iowa Cub.
But, with each breathless Spring homer and every broken window, the question feels more pressing: what happens when Baez is ready for the big leagues? To my mind, the question remains modestly premature, given that Baez still has some things to work on at AAA, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll show he absolutely has to be in the majors any time before August.
I won’t criticize anyone who wants to ask the question, though, and it’s clear that the Cubs are doing some thinking about it. As GM Jed Hoyer indicated before Spring Training started, Baez was expected to see some time at second and/or third base this Spring, in part so that he could start getting more familiarity with the positions – just in case – and in part, I assume, so the Cubs can see how much work he would need at those positions to make a full-time move – just in case.
It sounds like that’s going to happen soon, and it sounds like second base is going to be the focus.
“We’re going to make sure when we put him there he’s really comfortable and confident he can handle that side of the diamond,” Rick Renteria said of playing Baez at second base, per ESPN. “I think he’s pretty close. It’s going to happen, sure.”
Baez, himself, confirmed to ESPN that the Cubs spoke with him yesterday about playing second or third base soon, so it could happen later this week. With Starlin Castro recovering from his hamstring issue, the Cubs could continue to give Darwin Barney playing time at shortstop (which has its own side benefits), with Baez slotting in at second. From the sound of things, that is Baez’s preference, over third base. And, long-term, the Cubs have more options at third base (Bryant, Olt, Villanueva, Candelario) than at second (Alcantara).
When he heads to Iowa, Baez will play shortstop. Getting some familiarity with second base now will have some value, but if it comes time that he’s ready to come up to the bigs and Starlin Castro is playing well at short, then Baez will have to do some learning on the fly at second base. What will happen with Darwin Barney at that point remains to be seen.