I’m concerned, you’re concerned. We all have concerns. This is a post concerning Javier Baez and our concerns. More specifically, this is about how concerned we should be if we own him in keeper or dynasty formats. If you’re looking for just the 2015 value Baez brings to the table, check out Grey’s Top 20 2nd basemen. Honestly, if you’re not reading all of his rankings you’re doing it wrong. In recent Cubs news, general manager Jed Hoyer came out and said that while Baez is still projected to be the starting second baseman, he’ll “have to earn it” and “make more contact to stay in the big leagues.” Cue air-raid sirens and flashing red lights. The sky is falling but I’m just sittin’ here sippin’ on some tea. Let me explain why I’m still in on Javier Baez in keeper formats despite the nasty strikeout numbers and recent questions over playing time.
The struggle is real. Prospects – even the best ones – have to adjust to the best pitchers in the world. Pitchers who not only have incredible stuff, but also a plan of attack that is going to exploit any of their weaknesses. Oh, and they have enough data and advanced scouting to know what your favorite color is and how much milk you put on your cereal before you even step into the box. This is why you get a hype balloon that expands to it’s absolute fullest point just before a player is called-up. They’ve likely had success in the minors against inferior pitching, which leads them to the lofty prospect status, but they also haven’t failed against the big boys in MLB yet to tarnish any of that pretty ceiling. They get called up, they suck, and then the pendulum swings completely in the other direction. Now they are “busts”?. Now our projections for their ceilings suddenly change? Now we sell them in fantasy leagues for pennies on the dollar? I don’t think that’s fair. I want to see at least 600 plate appearances from a player before I make a decision about them on my roster. More than that if I can afford it. But this is all general. What about Baez specifically?
Baez struck out too much. His strikeout percentage was 41.5%. We know this. But that’s in 229 plate appearances as a 21-year-old. And oh yeah he also hit nine bombs. Baez is always going to strike out too much. But he’s not always going to do it 42 percent of the time. In a lot of the reports you read on him, his biggest obstacle is the approach with two strikes. Basically, don’t try to go yard with two strikes, make contact instead. This wasn’t his style and maybe he got away with it in the minors. He’s likely aware of this and attempting to make some changes. I don’t take the winter league numbers to heart for this reason. He was there to work on things in game action. It’s not going to be pretty. He may need to continue to work on it this spring and early summer in Triple-A. I’m asking that you see him through the first couple months of the season before doing anything rash.
There are two examples on Baez’s own team we can look at. Arismendy Alcantara, who a lot of people seem to be way more confident in, struck out in 41% of his plate appearances in September. He hit .188 in 275 second half plate appearances. The jury is still out on Alcantara, who’s also a year older than Baez. And then there’s Anthony Rizzo. He’s one of the top fantasy first basemen right now, but in his first taste of the majors with the Padres four seasons ago he hit .141 with one homer and a strikeout percentage north of 30. The Padres gave up, shipping him to Chicago for Andrew Cashner. I’m probably not the only person on this site who would rather have Rizzo than Cashner in real life or fantasy. I’m not comping Baez to Rizzo, just saying those first few months in the bigs aren’t always rosy. Keeper/dynasty league owners always have to keep the big picture in mind.
But Mike, where will he play? What if he starts the season in Triple-A? Long-term, I’m okay with him starting the year in Triple-A. Like Maikel Franco, it could be good for his development and there is no rush. But even if he doesn’t start in the minors there can still be a spot for him. The acquisition of Dexter Fowler may not just bump Alcantara to second by default. It could mean Alcantara plays center, with Fowler in left, Baez at second, and Olt/eventually Bryant at 3rd. There is also the possibility that Baez plays second even if Fowler stays in center. Maddon may choose to use Alcantara as his new Zobrist super-utility type. Whatever it ends up looking like, the Cubs have been smart this offseason by at least giving themselves a lot of flexibility if they feel any of their young players are not ready for a full time position. Even Tommy La Stella enters this picture as a capable backup, but while La Stella may be “safer”, Baez crushes him in offensive upside.
Just how confident am I that Baez will be okay? I have him ranked in the top 50 on my Top 100 keepers post coming out soon. I’m going down with the ship so to speak, and I’ll be wearing my Golden Sombrero as we ease into the ice-cold waters of prospect oblivion.