Raise your hand if – in, oh let’s say, the past year and a half – you’ve said something along the lines of, “Player X or Player Y is the next Ben Zobrist”. And be honest.
The truth is, most baseball fans have probably been guilty of committing this crime at least once, but Cubs fans have been especially susceptible, of late.
It’s not too hard to understand why, either.
Not only do the Cubs have the actual Ben Zobrist on the roster, they have his former manager, Joe Maddon, the guy who is somewhat responsible for the Zobrist-super-utility-player-model in the first place. In addition, the team has an abundance of young positional talent that the fans would love to keep around. So, in that respect, desiring a true super-utility position on the roster, is more than understandable.
Of course, that won’t make Cubs fans stop itching for a super utility player, and in Javier Baez, the they may already have their guy. Although he struggled with a few balls in center field early yesterday (Cubs.com), there’s little reason to believe Baez can’t handle many defensive positions with aplomb – he’s starting at first base today. And Baez playing some center field or first base is about much more than just trying to have a back-up-back-up at a few positions.
In a report at CSN Chicago, Tony Andracki spoke with Joe Maddon on this very subject and it’s well worth your time. Although this isn’t the first this arrangement has been proposed, the discussion is starting to take on quite a different shape. What was once the classic fallback, “we’ll there’s no where else for him to play, so he can be a super utility player,” is slowly becoming an actually dedicated developmental and strategic plan for Javier Baez and the Cubs.
“I like when a young guy comes up like that and plays multiple positions.” Joe Maddon said per Tony Andracki, “I think it takes emphasis off of his offense. So a guy like him might actually relax offensively knowing, ‘I gotta come to the park today and catch some grounders at third, some at short, I gotta take flyballs.'”
Maddon went on to say that Baez can play defense at any position as good as anyone and that he believes Baez truly enjoys his new role.
And why shouldn’t he? It’s not just a bench job. It’s a true-to-life position on the team. After all, in the past, Maddon has explicitly said “I actually believe [super utility player] is a position just like shortstop or second base.”And Maddon can back up that assertion. From 2009-2014, Ben Zobrist received a minimum of 599 plate appearances in each and every season under Joe Maddon. During that time, he played at every single position other than pitcher or catcher, moving between multiple position in the same game. It is in this way, that Javier Baez can see legitimate playing time throughout the 2016 season – even with quality players at every spot.
And, if it helps Baez’s development in the meantime, that would be a double win. It’s not as though this is an easy task. Playing multiple positions in one season (or even in one’s entire career) requires a special skill-set, excellent defense and extraordinary baseball knowledge and acumen. Luckily, all three things have been said about Javier Baez before.
So, you see, this could be more than just Baez helping out wherever or whenever he’s needed, just because the lineup is otherwise full. This could be grooming, sincerely, for him to become an actual Ben Zobrist type player for many years.