Already in just six games since returning from a disabled list stint to start the season, Javier Baez has appeared at second base, shortstop, and third base, looking very good in all three places. No surprise there, as, even though he’s young, he’s very defensively gifted.
Baez has also been something of a terror on the basepaths, running well and creating offense there. Again, not a surprise, as we’ve always known that about him.
The prevailing question when it comes to Baez’s future utility with the Cubs – either as a role player or a starter – is whether he’ll make enough consistent contact to take advantage of his offensive gifts. Being that he’s just 23, and hasn’t yet had consistent, long-term exposure to big league pitching, we won’t know for a while whether he’ll turn that corner. I’m optimistic, primarily because he hits the ball so hard and does everything else so well that if he just cuts the strikeout rate a little bit, consistently, he’ll be a starting-caliber player (even if he “starts” as a super utility player).
In the meantime, Baez made the most of a start last night at third base, looking good defensively, disrupting on the basepaths, knocking a single the other way, and doing this:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 23, 2016
Although that one just barely got out of the park, Baez absolutely ripped it: 109.6 mph on a line. And that wasn’t even a particularly hard swing for Baez!
Not too many players could pull that pitch so hard, let alone yank it out of the park. Baez is perfectly comfortable going the other way with authority, especially with outer half fastballs, but I feel like we’ve seen him do this before: offspeed, low and away (but not TOO low and away), and he goes down and rips it very hard to the pull side. I think it’s a good sign of a pitch recognized, but, hey, it’s just one pitch.
Anytime I start talking about Baez, I immediately think about how the Cubs can find ways to get him more starts, but it remains tricky, because there isn’t anyone in the regular lineup that you obviously want to try and get out of there on a given day (for example, Jorge Soler needs his at bats, too, and might even have higher offensive upside, if he can be permitted to reach it). That reminds me of Kyle Schwarber’s injury, which, although so disappointing in its own right, did afford the Cubs the opportunity to give Baez and Soler more starts.
[Normally in these posts, I check in with a player’s season numbers, but I’m not going to do that with Baez, although I’ll link his FanGraphs page here if you want to check it out. The only relevant number for now is 17. That’s how many plate appearances he’s had. Once that ticks up closer to 50, we can start glancing at the batted ball and plate discipline info to see how things are coming along. Until then, we’ll just use our eyes.]