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javier baez aflI 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.

  • willis

    Yeah, you have to shake yourself and remind your brain that he’s only had 20 games at AAA, even though it feels like more (probably because of how bad he’s been). I do think though, we should look to see something positive soon. If not, then I think it’s fair to worry what’s wrong. If he is still struggling come late May, the uptick in worry will happen.

  • Q-Ball

    It’s too early to panic. I do think it’s fair to say that Baez, even if he is a ML All-Star, will always have alot of swing and miss to his game. Sometimes that goes with the territory when you are talking about elite power. But he has to command the strike zone more, no question.

    He’s also about the youngest player in AAA, so he has time to adjust

  • Karl Groucho

    Great article, thanks for this. This is the way to provide honest news about our prospects and not think the sky is falling if that news isn’t 100% puppies and roses.

  • Kyle

    The most likely scenario is that he bounces back and begins swagging all over the field like he always does.

    It’s still worth being a bit concerned over, though.

  • Edwin

    Panic early, panic often.

    • vitaminB

      panic at the disco

      • SenorGato

        Cool band.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    Agree completely. Now is the time to monitor Baez closely, but not to panic. Not yet.

  • Brocktoon

    Agreed with the comments, you don’t “panic” over this, but it is concerning that the K rate and the overall numbers are worse than his ice cold start in ’13

  • MightyBear

    Q-Ball you beat me to one of my comments in that he’s all of 21. Also, I do think Baez is going to be one of those players (and I’m not making comparisons) like Soriano. When he’s hot, no one can get him out and he can carry the team on his back. But when he’s not, he can be fooled easily from literally trying to hard. I’m not worried about Baez, Bryant or Alcantara and I think all will be contributing at Wrigley soon (that includes next year).

  • Rebuilding

    In the long run this will be the best thing that ever happened to him. We all just saw what happened with Castro when all of your adjustments have to be made at the MLB level – it gets ugly. Part of the reason some prospects skip AAA altogether is because it is filled with wily junkballers. The kinds of guys that are fringe 5th starters, but have made it this far by being able to get wild swingers out, while more veteran hitters feast on them. Obviously, if Baez had come out right away this year he would have crushed a few fastballs and then seen nothing but junk, breaking stuff for weeks. I would much rather see him adjust to that stuff in Iowa than in Chicago. And he will, he’s still got all of the talent he did last year

  • Darth Ivy

    Dear Mr. Baez-

    Remember the most important tip whenever you get into trouble….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6vPQL_aYfI

    • MaxM1908

      He he he. Good one, Darth. “Feels like I’m wearing nothin’ at all!”

  • Head and Heart

    Also AAA is the hardest level he has played at so far (I know that’s obvious) so I think it is safe to say that his adjustment period might take a little longer at this level than it did at previous levels.

  • Jon

    I’m tired of all the babying of prospects. This is how I would handle both Bryant and Baez
    [img]http://s24.postimg.org/8dpjsv4n7/UFP60w_K.gif[/img]

    • Spriggs

      What would you do to Vitters? :)

      • Jon

        Find an big ocean.

    • Darth Ivy

      hahahaha

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Just think, somewhere out there is a 60 year old man that has caused everyone he knows to hate him because he tells everyone he was once thrown into a river by John Wayne.

      • DarthHater

        (a) I don’t know what movie that was, but based on John Wayne’s appearance, I’d say the movie itself is at least 60 years old, so the kid would be substantially older.

        (b) I’ll bet it’s Diehard. Would explain a lot.

  • WernerT

    Just a question. Do you (should you) take into consideration his spring stats at all? Does this spring — where he got quite a number of at bats — fit into the picture anywhere?

    • Darth Ivy

      I wouldn’t because they weren’t competitive games, ie, Jackson throwing only fastballs that one game

    • Rebuilding

      You can’t really take it too much into account. It’s the spring – some guys go through whole starts and don’t throw a breaking ball, or some innings they throw exclusively breaking balls, or they work on a pitch they don’t have, yet. It’s just practice

  • Napercal

    His swinging from the heels on every pitch always made me nervous. And no, it isn’t time to panic. However, given the general poor performance, is it possible to pinpoint any one issue? For example we have the ability to watch Olt and Lake. Breaking balls are a real problem. Is Baez undergoing the same thing?

  • SenorGato

    I wonder if he got enough AA PAs, but also am not so worried right now. Try very hard not to get caught up in this minute by minute analysis of a prospect’s odds. For instance, Almora drew a walk and hit a double last time I checked today (MiLB not loading for some reason right now). Not ready to hit the panic button on any of these guys.

  • Isaac

    I think the point you’re trying to make is that we’re not ready to trade Theo and Jed for Jon and Kyle just yet?

    • Kyle

      a) that had nothing to do with anything, especially given that Baez isn’t an Epstein product

      b) I’d be listed first

      • Isaac

        Hahaha…”b)” made me laugh out loud. Kyle, you are usually good for a chuckle or two per week, which I laud you for.

        I just chose the first two loudest names I could think of on this board, and you two came to mind. I regularly think about how grateful I am for the front office we currently have.

        • Karl Groucho

          Thank you Theo and Jed, and eight pound, six ounce, newborn baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.

          • KHRSS

            hahaha, it’s no wonder people get so offended when the plan is questioned.

    • Jon

      This is odd indeed because I think I have been one of the biggest Baez fans here. I’m panicking a bit only because I so want him to succeed in the big leagues.

      Go stir up some political debate, Isaac.

  • V23

    Good write up Brett.

    Different player…but that’s what frustrates me about Olt. He should be in the lineup almost every game. Let’s see if he hits/walks enough to stay. This twice a week crap is a waste of all of our time. Bryant will be ready next year…heck probably is ready now, so let’s see what Olt is.

    Without being able to watch the AAA games, I wonder if the pitchers have focused on a certain area of Baez’s game that he has to figure out, or is that he is just sucking right now?

    • Kyle

      They’ve figured out that he cannot lay off or hit advanced offspeed pitches.

  • fortyonenorth

    I wish I could be as positive as everyone, but I think Baez has huge holes in his game that are (finally) being exploited by semi-talented pitching. I hope to God he proves me wrong, but I think there’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing and consternation among fans throughout this year.

  • Kyle

    The percentage of articles Brett writes saying “it *looks* bad, but it’s really not, everybody stay calm” goes up significantly every year. Would that I could say the same about the MLB win percentage.

    • Coach K

      I’m fully expecting an in depth report providing the yearly percentage of articles written by Brett since the inception of this website that include the above saying. I’m expecting it before I go home from work. You have 30 minutes. Get to it.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    The third base position is just sitting there waiting for someone to claim it. And so far Luis Valbuena has been our best option there. We have four guys that potentially have a shot at it including Baez and of those four guys Bryant is the only one making good with his progress. I thought with Olt, Baez and Villanueva that we has a log jam of third base talent in a dog fight for the job. So far Olt has played like he wants to get sent down, while Villanueva struggles and Baez is mired in a deep funk. It’s like that old blues song “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out”. I wish we had Nolan Arenado who currently has a 25 game hitting streak going. I wonder if Baez will ever learn to shorten his strike with two strikes? Is it going to be viscious swings forever?

    • V23

      Valbuena is the starting 2b! How can you judge Olt when he barely plays?

      Guess what, Arenado had 514 ab’s last year. He struggled, then finished pretty good. Olt isn’t getting the same chance.

      • Kyle

        He barely plays because he’s terrible.

        • SenorGato

          Stop it, if he reads that his self esteem might be damaged. He can do whatever he sets his heart to so long as he believes and gets as many chances as necessary! We still have him super cheap for a while, why not let it play out?

          • Kyle

            Oops, Olt’s feelings got hurt. He can’t be expected to perform with hurt feelings. That’s got to buy him another year with the “always an excuse” crowd.

            • Brocktoon

              Did I say 400 ABs? I meant 400 games

      • Kyle

        Arenado was 22 all last year. Olt turns 26 in a couple of months. There’s a difference.

        • Jon

          Arenado also never had a K rate north of 14% his entire career majors and minors. Sometimes I wonder if names are just randomly drawn out of hats.

      • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

        Nolan Arenado also won a gold glove

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        I don’t know how you can speak of Olt and Arenado in the same sentence. They aren’t even close. Arenado is probably the best young third baseman in baseball. Olt is simply swinging and missing ala Brett Jackson. If he was making outs on ground balls and deep fly balls it would be different. And he seems to be behind in the count all the time. I’m not saying we should pull the plug on him yet, but I can guarantee you that if he doesn’t pick up the pace he will never see 500 at bats.

    • SenorGato

      Bryant as long as possible with Baez at 2B.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I don’t know why, but Bryant only had one at bat in todays game. I hope he isn’t injured.

    • Jon

      stomach flu

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        Maybe he celebrated cinco de Mayo and got Montezuma’s revenge.

        • 5412

          Hi,

          The technical term you are referring to is “Heinekinitis”.

          Regards,
          5412

  • Ivy Walls

    The organization is wanting Baez to have precisely the kind of start he is having, and waiting till he hits bottom where adversity and adjustment allows him to modify his approach. Baez is swinging at practically every pitch thrown, he is caught up in his own aura and power potential. So do not try to project some pattern until you see a different approach in his AB’s. They are not looking like the stranglehold that was on Castro last year but one that allows Baez’s talents to come through, like swinging at strikes or hittable pitches.

    • Edwin

      What if the problem isn’t Baez’s approach, and is instead his skill?

      • Kyle

        Approach is a skill.

    • Napercal

      Thanks for this update. This is what I have been hoping to see. Sounds like Mr. Baez has had an easy time so far in the minors and hasn’t been willing to change his approach. A little humble pie now will make him a better player in the future.

      • Edwin

        What about the other times he struggled?

      • Brocktoon

        That wasn’t an update that was his theory based on pretty much no data

  • SenorGato

    @kileymcd: I’m lining up my board & there’s a tiny difference from #5 to #23: #5 could be 6 or 7 diff players. There’s gonna be tons of underslot deals

    Now that someone has said it I think the underslot deals thing is obvious. This draft is stupid in the sense that no one seems to love anybody outwardly, though I don’t really think that would be the case if you talked to decision makers. Gotta find some way to knock the prices down…Just take Tyler Beede and get it over with. The drafts, NFL and MLB, have gotten more boring than they think (luckily top prospect prices through the draft are down!).

  • Kyle

    It’d be easier to swallow Baez’s struggles if he wasn’t being joined in the “Hurt or Bad Club” by Almora, Soler, Johnson, Edwards, Vogelbach, Villanueva, Watkins and Alcantara (sub. 300 OBP).

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Vogelbach, if he keeps up his recent pace, may hit his way out of that club before too much longer.

      I’m not sure we should be handing out membership cards this early, either. Particularly to players who were definitely not “bad” last year.

      • Kyle

        Vogelbach stopped being red-hot a week ago. He’s 8 for his last 29 with a .310 SLG in that stretch.

        Even if you go back further, he’s just not profiling as a future MLBer. He has to hit a ton given his defensive profile, and he doesn’t hit a ton. He hits a bit.

        • gocatsgo2003

          The kid’s lowest OPS was .824 and that was in 2013. His early struggles in 2014 are well-documented, but you don’t have to data mine just to be a dick.

          In the last seven days, he’s .364/.417/.455 for a .871 OPS (admittedly over only 12 PAs).

          • Kyle

            .824 in the low minors isn’t enough for a guy who needs to hit a ton to be a major leaguer.

            • Louis22

              Joey Votto finished his 21 year old season in the same league as vogs is in at the same age with a .754 ops and he turned out ok. Lets see what happens before rushing to judgement.

              • Kyle

                I’d rather “rush to judgment” than pick out individual outliers and use them as arguments.

              • Edwin

                One data point does not set the trend.

          • Jason P

            With Vogelbach’s defensive profile, you’d like to see him posting an OPS .875 or above with at least 25 home runs in the low minors.

            • Louis22

              If we were talking about any other infield position I would agree.

              • Brocktoon

                I’m confused, you demand less hitting from a first base prospect?

                • Drew7

                  Yeah, that seems pretty backwards.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      It’s kind of wierd because Alcantara’s OBP isn’t a whole lot higher than his batting average. I was looking at his stats earlier and about a third of hit hits are for extra bases.I think he has only walked about three times this season.

      • SenorGato

        Not super worried about Alcantara either, though he’s nowhere near the prospect Baez is.

    • Jason P

      That’s more like the “Bad, hurt, or mediocre” club if you’re going to include Alcantara, Watkins and Johnson

      • Kyle

        Johnson was hurt.

        “mediocre” is bad for a prospect. Mediocre doesn’t put you on the path to the majors.

        • Jason P

          Alcantara has a .790 OPS as a second basemen. Despite the crap peripherals, I don’t know how that merits inclusion in the “bad” club. There has to be a middle ground.

          • Kyle

            Context is everything.

            For an MLB hopeful, in the PCL, a .790 OPS if it’s extremely SLG heavy, is bad.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              More context: Half of the PCL is pitcher-friendly (including the Iowa Cubs’ home park), and half is CRAZY hitter-friendly. Not sure how many games the Cubs have played out that way yet, though I do recall that his biggest games of the year came in Colorado (I think).

              • Jason P

                They’ve played 1 series (4 games) east of Texas thus far.

              • Kyle

                Less context: If you are in the minors and your OBP starts with a 2, you are doing badly.

              • Brocktoon

                Well, pitcher friendly relative to the hitter friendly parks. 1 PCL team has scored less than the NL average per game

            • Jason P

              In addition to what Brett said, his wOBA and wRC+ are still about league average before you consider positional value.

              Again, I’m not saying he’s pushing a promotion right now, but considering he is a tad young for AAA and this is his first month in the league, there’s nothing wrong with the way he’s played.

              • Kyle

                “”above league average in AAA” is code for “not good enough for the major leagues.”

                • Jason P

                  “Not ready for a big league promotion” and “playing poorly” are not the same thing.

                  • Kyle

                    When you’re in AAA, giving indications that you can play in the big leagues is the *only* standard against which you should be judged.

                    • Jason P

                      By that logic, Baez and Alcantara have performed equally well thus far because neither are ready for a big league promotion.

            • SenorGato

              I don’t disagree with this BUT the SLG heavy aspect of that comes from a guy who should be a middle infielder.

              Alcantara needed plenty of AAA appearances anyway, hot start or not. Check back in June if not July.

              • SenorGato

                Same with Christian Villanueva but Alcantara’s a better prospect.

            • Jason P

              Besides, undermining this whole debate is the fact that we’re talking about 113 plate appearances, and a 4-4 night could completely change the scope of how we’re viewing things.

              • Brocktoon

                People keep saying this like an 0 for 4 night never enters the equation.

                • Jason P

                  The point is, 80% of the season is yet to be played. The stats we see right now only will comprise one fifth of his final line.

                  • Kyle

                    Nobody implied it would.

                    • Jason P

                      When a player’s line is as bad as Baez’s, then fine, you can start at least talking about how poorly he’s playing after 100 PA’s.

                      For someone like Alcantara, where the line isn’t *that* far off of what you’d like to see, having this discussion at this point still seems silly.

                    • Kyle

                      It’s silly not to.

    • MightyBear

      Why Watkins?

      • baldtaxguy

        And why not Vitters?

        • Kyle

          Nobody’s hoping on Vitters.

          Watkins is also in that “not good enough to make him look like a major leaguer” category of bad.

          • baldtaxguy

            I believe there was hopeful chatter that he would return to hitting and making his way into a serviceable OF piece. If he’s not a member of “bad”, I’ll pencil him in as “hopeless.”

  • David

    LUKE: how is his defense at short? Better than 2013? How many errors?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Errors are not a good way to measure a prospects defense in the minors.

      I have not watched him enough myself this year yet to comment definitely, but the reports I have read indicate he’s doing fine. Not a great defensive SS, but good enough to get the job done. Long term, though, I still think he’s moving off of short.

      • Edwin

        I’ve heard Bryant hasn’t looked too good at 3B so far, defensively.

  • smackafilieyo

    Was Bryant pulled today?

    • Jon

      I heard he didn’t run out a ground ball.

    • Karl Groucho

      I heard his dog bit Theo.

      • Jon

        I thought that was George Kottares?

        • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

          Don’t you dare say a bad word about Leo!!

    • ChrisFChi

      Stomach virus. Should be back in lineup tomorrow

      • baldtaxguy

        “All employees must wash hands before returning to work”

  • Jason B

    I’ll draw my own parallel to Javier Baez. After my first softball game (10% of my season), I was hitting a terrible .000 (0-2). After 20% of the season, I am now hitting .714 (after going 5-5 last night).

    So, there you go. I went from .000 to .714 in just one game, so Baez can turn it around too.

    It’s obviously the exact same case we’re dealing with here.

  • Head and Heart

    “You were dead the moment you were born. If you can accept that, you can accept anything.”

    All of our prospects will fail. Now I don’t have to be concerned anymore.

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