While Kris Bryant was winning home run derbies and playing in all-star games, and while Kyle Schwarber was so thoroughly humbling Northwest League pitching that he was promoted after just five games, Javier Baez was still playing baseball. At AAA. As the youngest player at the level.
And he can still do things like this:
That’s a monster, get-off-me shot to deep center field, on which the El Paso outfielders barely took three steps.
Baez is clearly going through an adjustment phase – Theo Epstein spoke about it, broadly, on the radio yesterday – and it’s probably going to last for a while yet. But the latest installment of adjusting has Baez striking out just five times in his last six games (20% K rate). It’s a small sample, and it’s highly unlikely his K rate will ever be that low long-term, but Baez need get it only down to about 26% or so (currently, it’s at about 34%) to be an elite player, in terms of the damage he could do on the balls he would then be putting in play (plus homers).
Right now, however, the concern about strikeouts isn’t so much about whether Baez is putting the ball in play enough to do damage (a la our Mike Olt discussion). Instead, it’s the other concern you have when you see a huge strikeout rate with a young player: does he have obvious holes in his game/swing/approach that experienced pitchers will always be able to exploit, sapping him of not only balls in play, but also of hard contact?
I think we know that Baez is still working on pitch recognition, and on taming his swing when necessary. Over a tiny stretch here, he’s done well at not striking out. We’ll see if it continues, and if his offensive numbers follow in tandem.
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