Javier Baez had himself one of those games last night. Well, most of the Iowa Cubs offense did, but, for the sake of brevity, let’s just focus on Baez.
In five at bats, Baez homered, tripled (which may as well have been a homer – more on that in a moment), singled, hit a sac fly, and struck out just one (16.67% K rate! Hooray!). He even stole a base for good measure.
In one June game, Baez bumped his line from .230/.292/.426 to .239/.298/.457, jumping his OPS 37 points, and his wOBA from .312 to .325. Although we’re going to want to see the strikeout rate come down (hopefully in tandem with tangible improvements in his approach at the plate, leading you to believe the drop in the rate is sustainable) from its present 34.1%, his overall numbers are starting to vaguely resemble numbers that would impress you if you knew that they were coming:
- From a shortstop.
- From the youngest player in AAA.
- From a guy who plays half his games in a pitcher-friendly park and hasn’t yet had many series in the crazy PCL parks out West.
Obviously there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but, since Baez finally heated up a little over three weeks ago, he’s hit a Kris-Bryant-like .372/.395/.744 with a strikeout rate that’s down at 30.2%. The latter number is still too high to sustain the former numbers (as suggested by the .469 BABIP), but Baez is showing the things that make him an incredibly valuable player, even if he’s got warts at the plate.
At this point, it’s still very hard to say whether we’ll see Baez get a cup of coffee at the big league level this year. On the balance, his season performance doesn’t scream “domination,” which is what the Cubs would like to see before calling a guy up short of a near full-season at AAA. As discussed, the strikeout rate remains a concern, and there are probably legitimate things he could be working on at AAA for some time yet. He’s not on the 40-man roster, so there’s a consideration there, too.
Most importantly, however, is whether calling Baez up later in the year will help or hinder his development. You can imagine scenarios that cut in all directions. Say the Cubs call Baez up in August, and, because he’s new to the pitchers he faces (and because many of the pitchers he’d see in September are AAA arms up as part of expanded rosters), he kills it. Sure, maybe he strikes out a lot, but his power shines through, and his overall numbers look good. Is that a positive or a negative for his long-term development if there are things the Cubs believe he needs to improve to succeed?*
*Look at Junior Lake’s early whiff struggles this year. Did his small-sample, late-season success last year make it more difficult to impart necessary lessons this year? I am not saying it did, because I have no idea. I’m simply saying: that’s the question.
Or maybe Baez comes up and struggles mightily, striking out 50% of the time, which forces him to reconsider his approach heading into the offseason. Maybe then he works out some kinks, dominates for a month or two at AAA, and is ready to come up and succeed at the big league level thereafter (similar to what happened with Anthony Rizzo).
Or maybe Baez comes up and struggles mightily, crushing his confidence, because he wasn’t yet ready to take on that next challenge. Maybe he never quite becomes what he could have been.
Or maybe the Cubs leave Baez at AAA for the rest of the year, and he continues an improvement process. And then, by early next year, he’s really ready to succeed at the big league level.
The point? The decision on when to call up a guy like Baez is a relatively complex one, and, even when it appears that the organization is making the “wrong” decision, it can prove to be the right decision in the long-term for developmental reasons. I can honestly convince myself that calling Baez up in August is the right move, regardless of how he performance. And I can honestly convince myself that calling Baez up in August is the wrong move, regardless of how he performs.
I suspect, though, that we’ll at least be in a slightly better position to evaluate these abstract issues with another couple months of AAA data, and eyes-on evaluations.
Ok. Enough heavy. On to the fun stuff:
We looked at Baez’s homer this morning, but because the timing of the full video coming out was wonky, you may not have yet seen it:
And here’s another, in-person view, which shows you the full at-bat, and, more sexily, allows you to really hear the crack:
That video comes courtesy of Stan Croussett, who is a lovely Twitter follow.
Stan also passed on video of Baez’s single last night:
And his triple:
You can see how deep that thing was, right off the top of the wall in dead center field. Here’s another video of the triple: