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javier baez defenseIt’s a reveal that I suspect many of you have been waiting for: yes, Javier Baez is going to get some playing time at third base.

We mentioned it a little bit this morning in the hey-holy-crap-Baez-hit-two-more-homers piece, but now there’s a little more confirmation, a little more detail, and a little bit more worth discussing.

First and foremost, you can and should read this MiLB.com article on Baez’s approach changes at the plate, which are designed to limit unnecessary movement and effort (most of which he’s taken to, but some are still an adjustment). That’s the most important story right now with Baez, who is raking at AAA, and could be back up with the big league team within the next few weeks.

Within that article, however, there is another very important discussion: Baez has been working on grounders at third base, and he could see some starts there at some point soon. Jaron Madison, via Tommy Birch, confirms:

And then Birch follows up with just how soon Baez will play at third. Like, you know, TONIGHT:

In the MiLB.com article, you should note, Pevey explains that we shouldn’t read too much into this, and it’s just about versatility. While that’s technically true, it could be true in the same way that Baez’s move to second base last year and Arismendy Alcantara’s move to center field last year and Addison Russell’s move to second base this year were also about versatility. They weren’t necessarily full-on position changes at the time – at least they weren’t termed as such – but they very clearly pre-saged a call-up to the big league team at a position that was available.

Is that what’s happening with Baez now? In this case, I wouldn’t be quite as sure.

For one thing, Baez’s path to coming up to be the starter at third base isn’t nearly as clear as it was in those previous cases. Kris Bryant is already the starter at third base, and, while he could move to the outfield if that was the ideal alignment of the Cubs’ bats, I’ve got to believe the preference is still to keep Bryant at third as long as possible (it’s a lot easier for the Cubs to go outside of the organization to add a big bat in the outfield this offseason than at third base). Even if Bryant wasn’t clearly the guy at third base, there’s still the possibility that another infielder could wind up there. The Cubs have many theoretical options for the position.

For another thing, Baez demonstrating that he can successfully play each of shortstop, second base, and third base could simply provide the Cubs a wide range of options going forward, including Baez as the starter at third, as a utility infielder, and as a trade piece.

For a final thing, while it’s safe to assume Baez can be a good defender at third – he’s got the glove, the quickness and the arm – we would actually have to see him do it before concluding that, yeah, he’s a guy the Cubs are going to bring up and move Bryant to the outfield. Let’s not forget: Chris Coghlan is hitting very well lately. Unless Jorge Soler is about to be out for a very long time (knock on wood), it’s possible that all of the shuffling involving Baez at third base could wind up a lateral move in the near-term, offensively. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, of course. It’s just another layer to keep in mind.

That is all to say, in this instance, while I am very happy to see Baez getting time at third base – having more options is better than having fewer – I’m not ready to say that this one is a precursor to a full-time position switch and a call-up. Baez’s highest and best value remains in the middle infield.

If having a little versatility right now helps the Cubs, though, then all the better. Mostly I just hope the bat is what forces the Cubs to figure out somewhere to play him on the big league team in the coming weeks.

We’ll see how consistent Baez’s playing time is at third. As it was with Russell earlier this year, if Baez suddenly starts at third multiple days in a row, you might be better able to suspect that something is coming.

UPDATE:

While I have you, you should play in Friday’s $250,000 fantasy contest. I doubt Baez will be up by then to insert in your starting lineup, but, hey, you never know!

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