If you follow Bleacher Nation regularly, you’ll know that we’ve been completely overwhelmed by the number of insanely amazing, but ridiculously consistent (like every other night (no seriously (there’s a ton))) defensive plays from Cubs super utility man Javier Baez.
And those are just some of the ones we wrote up … in the past two months.
Baez is simply one of the most exciting players to watch on defense, and that’s on a team that features a multiple Gold Glove winner in right field and a sure-to-be multiple Gold Glove winner at shortstop. Even more impressive, Baez makes his mark on defense from multiple positions on the field – primarily shortstop, third base, and second base. At just 23 years old, Baez is more than just an interesting player; he’s a special, unique athlete with as bright of a future as anyone.
And he’s being sufficiently recognized for it.
For example, at CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney asks how soon before Javy Baez becomes an everyday player with the Cubs? Which is a valid question, but a tricky one, as well, because while Baez doesn’t have a set positional home, he certainly plays regularly. After all, Baez has appeared in 109 of the Cubs 126 games this season, and that’s after missing the first 10 games of the year. So really, he’s appeared in 109 out of the 116 games he was eligible. He certainly didn’t start in that many games (he has just 347 PAs to Anthony Rizzo’s 536, for example), but he’s been in there nearly every day for at least a little action, even if he moves around.
According to manager Joe Maddon that may be the key to his breakout both on the field and at the plate.
“I like the fact that [Baez is] getting rested [and] not playing every day,” said Maddon, per the Chicago Tribune. “Look at his at-bats — they have gotten better, too. He is making adjustments or adaptations during the at-bat …. You’re seeing a lot of progress. Who knows if by playing sporadically this is becoming more part of who he is?”
Progress and development aside, Maddon later suggested that there’s “no question” he’ll be an everyday player in a couple years, implying that he serves the current roster (and himself) better by moving around right now – which feels about right.
But make no mistake, Baez has Maddon’s attention and adoration. So much so, in fact, that Maddon went as far as to suggest that he wants Baez in the spot where the ball is most likely to be hit. There’s not much more of a glowing review than that. I mean, the only logical next step …
Joe Maddon's theory on where to play Javier Baez on his days: "put him at the spot the ball is most likely to be hit in the infield."
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) August 24, 2016
Pretty much. Next evolution: he changes spots based on hitter and count.
Mostly being facetious, but not entirely. https://t.co/Vw0582Qt6E
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) August 24, 2016
Baez is clearly good enough to have a set position. But maybe he’s also too good to have a set position on this team.
At the Chicago Tribune, Mark Gonzales also addressed Baez’s playing time and position, landing on many of the same conclusions. Remember, though, Maddon isn’t just trying to find a way to sneak Baez in there, he’s deploying him as a legitimate weapon. We may have tossed the comparison around too liberally in Spring Training, but Javy Baez really has become Maddon’s Ben Zobrist from his time with the Rays.
During those years, Zobrist never settled into any one role/position, but no one would discount his importance to the team. Not having any one dedicated spot might be difficult for fans (or even Baez), but his contributions to the team, in that manner, actually exceed what we can write on a stat sheet. One tiny, limited example of that is the Cubs’ ability to rest any single position player (besides catcher), just by popping Baez into the lineup. He can cover all four infield positions exceedingly well, which can push Kris Bryant or Ben Zobrist into the outfield (and thus Jason Heyward in to center field, if needed). How can a player offer much more value than that?
Teammate Kris Bryant agrees, telling the Chicago Tribune: “He’s unbelievable. Any ball hit his way — whether it’s in the air, on the ground, on line — you kind of just expect him to make the play and make it look good. That’s what he’s been doing all year. I certainly think he’s Gold Glove worthy, but he plays all over. I feel like there should be a utility man Gold Glove, because he definitely [deserves it].”
Deserving, absolutely. Baez will not be taking home a Gold Glove this year – there just isn’t an award yet for his position – but as he continues to play all over the field, we’ll make sure his efforts never go unnoticed. After all, he’s one of the most important contributors to this team.