Javier Baez | SS, Cubs | Born: 12/1/1992
I realize I’ve been a little Javier Baez-centric lately (see here and here), but I’m not going to apologize for that. I’m also not going to apologize for the fact that I already wrote one of these posts on Baez around this time last year. No, I’m actually going to take this time to write a few hundred more words on him because he’s pretty much the hottest thing going in Minor League Baseball, and y’all need to take note. Baez is beasting right now. There’s no gentle way to put it. For the past month the 20-year-old has been drilling lasers all over Southern League ballparks, and in many cases, out of said ballparks. Since being promoted to Double-A Tennessee in early July, Baez has posted 28 XBH (14 HR) in 185 PA for a slugging average of .631, which is an insane figure for a middle infielder.
It’s probably worth noting, though, the High-A-to-Double-A transition wasn’t exactly a smooth one for Baez. The jump to Double-A is rarely smooth for any minor leaguer, but the first couple weeks in Tennessee were particularly rough on the Cubs’ young shortstop. An extremely aggressive approach at the plate leaves Baez susceptible to the whiff, and he was whiffing quite often as he adjusted to upper levels pitching last month — he struck out 13 times in his first 34 at-bats (38%). To be clear: he’s still whiffing too much (28% K-rate on the year at Double-A), but that’s simply his nature — swing-and-miss troubles will likely follow him throughout his career. When he makes contact, his elite bat speed ensures that that contact is loud. Baez’s .364 BABIP is more a product of the fact that he’s crushing line drives than it is a red flag for regression. Perhaps the most encouraging nugget to draw from this smallish sample of Double-A baseball is the growing walk rate. The 6.2% BB-rate Baez posted at High-A during this first half of the season was his best figure in that department to date. His walk rate at Double-A? 9.4%. That’s a huge leap in the right direction for a guy who’s trying to escape the stigma of a poor approach.
Given his recent performance, I think it’s safe to tone down the risk associated with Javier Baez. Since the day he was drafted 9th overall in June of 2011, no one denied the upside. It’s rare to find an athlete that can pair otherworldly bat speed with equally impressive hand-eye coordination. Baez is that athlete, and he’s going to be special in the bigs. I have little doubt at this point that he’ll be a major fantasy asset, but the enormity of his impact depends largely on whether or not he can stick at shortstop. This number is going to alarm you, but Baez has 41 errors (!!!) at shortstop on the season. Still, word from Chicago is that the Cubs are content to continue his development at short. Scouts are increasingly optimistic regarding his hands, range, and instincts, and no one has ever questioned his arm strength. If he can stick at short, the fantasy ceiling is absurdly high, with upside in every category from a premium position. If he moves to third base or to the outfield, he’ll still be among the league’s best. Suffice to say, you’re going to want Javier Baez on your team come 2015.