Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

javier baez defenseToday, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke with reporters, and, among his comments, he said that infielder Javy Baez would be playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Most notably, while there, he would be working with Cubs outfield coordinator Doug Dascenzo and playing some center field (Gonzales, Muskat).

I love it.

To be sure, I don’t think this is necessarily an indicator that the Cubs are planning on filling their center field hole in-house with Baez, although he probably does have the athletic ability to play quality defensive center field in time (and his bat could eventually carry the position, too).

Instead, I think the Cubs are simply covering their bases, and utilizing a versatile talent that is already available to them to do so.

Even if the Cubs do acquire a full-time center fielder – which I’d imagine is very much still on the docket – having Baez able and available to play center field if there’s a need is huge. Consider that last year, that guy was pretty much Kris Bryant. And although Bryant acquitted himself just fine out there, you’d probably rather not have to throw him out there when his bat is so critical to the lineup. Contrast that with Baez, who very well might be developed as a super utility player – in which case, sending him to center field for a stretch doesn’t have the same “throwing him out there” feel. It’s just something he’s prepared to do on a daily basis.

We’ve already seen that Baez has the ability to play above-average defense at second and third base, neither of which was his natural defensive home (shortstop). Knowing that he can also play shortstop well, and in the outfield, makes him all the more valuable to carry on the big league roster, even if the bat isn’t quite there.

And, on that front, as Michael recently pointed out, there were signs of life in that bat last year. Given that Baez just turned 23, there’s plenty of time for him to continue improving.

Of course, if the Cubs should happen not to land an ideal, every-day center fielder this offseason, then getting a better sense of how Baez could handle the position if necessary is a good thing, too.

I look forward to hearing how Baez is playing in winter ball.

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