As you should know by now, today is the first official Spring Training game for the 2016 Chicago Cubs! The wait is over (except for me, I don’t get there until tomorrow).
I have to say, I was plenty excited, just knowing that today was the day, but yesterday, Jesse Rogers tweeted a picture of the lineup card, and everything became far more real. Moreover, with Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo and Soler leading everything off, what more can you ask for in an opening spring day lineup:
Pitcher: Travis Wood
- Kyle Schwarber – LF
- Kris Bryant – 3B
- Anthony Rizzo – 1B
- Jorge Soler – RF
- Miguel Montero – C
- Javier Baez – CF
- Tommy La Stella – 2B
- Dan Vogelach – DH
- Munenori Kawasaki – SS
The Cubs have been promising that Javy Baez would get time in center field when spring rolled around, and, even with many more well-seasoned center fielders on the roster, he gets the nod here on the Cactus League opener.
Of course, he’s not starting ahead of either Dexter Fowler or Jason Heyward – he’s certainly third on the depth chart, there – but it’s good to see him get reps there right away, because it means the Cubs have not abandoned that plan, even with Fowler now in the fold. More importantly, we continue to get word from camp that Baez looks excellent out in center:
“We were watching him on the main field the other day during batting practice, and he looks like he’s done it forever,” Maddon said of Baez’s outfield play, per Cubs.com. “He did it in winter ball and we heard nothing but wonderful things about his work in winter ball. If he makes a couple, three great plays, don’t be surprised. He’s a really good athlete and good baseball player.”
Baez made his center field debut about three months ago in Puerto Rico, and now he’s making his MLB (spring) debut in center today in Arizona. For what it’s worth, Baez, himself, believes he’s ready for the challenge. “I’ve been getting better and better since winter ball,” Baez told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “I’m reading the ball very well, working in the outfield everyday with (coach) Dave Martinez….”
After all of the hype, confidence and potential positional flexibility created by this move, I can’t wait to see it actually play out. Not many people would bet against Baez’s athleticism and natural baseball abilities, and I’m certainly not going to be the first.
But even if Baez doesn’t make a ton of starts – or even appearances – in center field, it would still be nice to know if Baez can be a good or very good defensive outfielder from any spot. If, throughout the Spring, the Cubs find that to be the case, he can quickly become a late-inning defensive upgrade in the outfield, as well. While he could conceivably take over second base and push Ben Zobrist out to left or right field, it’s becoming clear that Baez may have some actual, legitimate defensive upside from all three outfield spots that Zobrist may not be able to match at nearly 35 years old.
Among the many, many interesting story lines this Spring, Jesse Rogers calls out Javier Baez and his play for center field one-to-watch. With a successful transition to the outfield, Baez will have opened so many more doors to his future. He may yet supplant a starter at one position, but his best value may still come from being a guy that can do it all. Only time will tell, and, fortunately, time starts today in center field.