I want to offer up some data points about Javier Baez’s last two seasons, but I don’t want you to presume I’m making any kind of argument. Baez’s struggles this year at AAA, while they might mirror some past experiences in terms of stats, are necessarily unique. He’s facing different kinds of pitchers, throwing different kinds of stuff, while working different kinds of things at the plate, etc. Just because a guy has done X-type things in the past doesn’t mean he’ll parallel those things in the future.
Instead, observing what a prospect has done in the past provides the nudge necessary to step back and remember to view baseball through a very long lens. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Javier Baez in the future, but I think it’s interesting to look back at how he became the Cubs’ top prospect, and one of the top five prospects in baseball.
Back in 2012, Baez made his full-season debut with the Peoria Chiefs at Low-A after an extended time in Mesa. He struggled for about a week, and then went on to terrorize the league. He was a former first round pick, playing shortstop, and crushing the Midwest League – he was on our radar.
He was promoted to Daytona at the end of the year, and struggled with contact issues pretty consistently (well, not all that consistently – because he was being rained out every other day).
In 2013, Baez started once again at High-A Daytona – a level he’d seen before. Here’s where I really want to take a look, because we have a collective memory about what Baez’s 2013 season was (absolutely, ridiculously, overwhelmingly good), but it’s easy to forget what it felt like early in the year.
Do you remember?
On April 23, after a few weeks of play, Baez was hitting just .225/.253/.438 and had already struck out 25(!) times. You may think that’s about when he turned the corner, but you’d be wrong. Baez did heat up for a little stretch, but actually bottomed out again on May 17, with a .238/.270/.456 line, and continued contact issues.
From there, of course, Baez flipped a switch, and he destroyed the Florida State League for a month and a half, was promoted to AA Tennessee, and somehow killed it even more at that level. His final line for the full season stood at .282/.341/.578, and that is despite nearly a month and a half of struggles at the outset. It was a great year – it just wouldn’t have felt that way if you were thinking about it in late-April or mid-May.
Fast forward to the 2014 season, where Baez is struggling badly at AAA Iowa. Unlike his 2013 season, he did not start the year at the level he ended the previous season (given how he crushed AA, there was no reason to), which is probably worth remembering as he works through some new-level issues.
Baez last played on May 4 (he got the day off yesterday), and his season line so far stands at .149/.232/.311. Worse, he’s struck out 31 times in 82 plate appearances, or 37.8% of the time. That’s a rate that would do you in at the big league level, so it’s particularly scary to see it at AAA. His .200 BABIP certainly isn’t helping matters, but, even if that were closer to his career mark, it would still be an underwhelming slash line because of the strikeouts and reduced power.
So, Baez is struggling so far at AAA. There’s no sugarcoating that part, and it’s absolutely disappointing that he didn’t tear it up right out of the gate (I’m sure Baez, himself. would say the same thing). But, that 2013 season provides a little perspective, at least. On May 4, it didn’t quite look like Baez was going to finish the year as one of the top prospects in baseball.
And even that doesn’t quite go far enough – because, last year, by May 4, Baez had played 27 games. This year, because of his ankle injury, Baez has played just 20 games.
After 20 games in 2013? Yup, it’s that April 23 low that I mentioned up there.
Does that mean Baez is about to break out? As I said, you can’t draw explicit parallels like that, and further, Baez’s 2013 season didn’t really take off for another 17 games after that. I’m not making any predictions here. I’m just saying it’s interesting to note.
Also interesting to note: if Baez needs this adjustment time to more advanced pitching, I’m sure glad he’s doing it in the relatively insulated AAA environment rather than in the big leagues. This is why development is a process. An important one.