Cubs putting Javier Baez on the fast track

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Cubs putting Javier Baez on the fast track

For his first tattoo, Javier Baez went with the Major League Baseball logo on the back of his neck.
That gives you an idea of the confidence and swagger Baez had as a teenager, even before the Cubs made him the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Baez, who turned 20 last month, is definitely on the fast track now, the youngest of the 12 players the Cubs invited to Chicago for their rookie development program. Baseball America rated him as the organizations No. 1 prospect now and the Midwest Leagues top prospect last season.
The scouting report from manager Dale Sveum is that Baez has Gary Sheffield bat speed. A gifted shortstop, Baez was also strong enough and tough enough as a high school kid to play catcher sometimes. One talent evaluator believes Baez can be moved wherever the Cubs need him once hes ready.
It really doesnt matter where I play, Baez said Thursday after a workout at Northwestern Universitys athletic complex in Evanston. Im going to do my job.
The Cubs already have an All-Star shortstop in Starlin Castro, who will turn 23 in March and remains under club control through 2020. But vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod isnt prepared to move Baez yet.
Related: Cubs have no concerns over Baez's thumb injury
All of us who saw him play last year (felt) the same way: Wow, this kid can really play short, McLeod said. He plays the game really easy out there. He slows it down. He anticipates. (He has) very good instincts. Right now, hes a shortstop until he shows us that he cant be. But hes a very good shortstop and I see no reason why he wont be playing there for a really long time.
Last winter, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer traded away Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, two first-round picks from the Jim Hendry administration. But Baez has become viewed as a core piece, someone who should one day be playing alongside Castro.
McLeod remembered scouting Baez before the 2011 draft, when he worked with Hoyer for the San Diego Padres, and had no idea what to think. Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
(His team) started barnstorming all around Florida and around the Southeast, McLeod recalled. They were playing some really bad competition at times. When I saw Javy (at a) doubleheader, I think he hit four or five home runs. You also saw this really big, aggressive at times really wild, out-of-control swing.
I also saw him swing-and-miss quite a few times that day, (but) the bat speed and the power were just ridiculous. Youre like: Wow, what did I just see here?
When I left that game, Im thinking about my report and I call Jed and he was like: How did Baez look? I (told him): I dont know if this kid is going to be Manny Ramirez or not get to Double-A. I dont know what I just saw today.
More: Baez ranked Cubs' top prospect by Baseball America
You got those looks on the amateur circuit, especially when theyre playing Our Sisters of the Poor junior high school sometimes.
McLeod was joking at that point, but Baez should be fun to watch.
Baez left the Arizona Fall League with a non-displaced fracture on the tip of his right thumb, which Hoyer said was caused by a celebratory high-fivehe didnt punch a wall or anything. Baez said the other guy wasnt looking when he went to shake hands and he jammed his thumb.
Baez finished last season at Class-A Daytona, where he hit .188 in 23 games, so its not as if hes a finished product, no matter how much hes hyped in the prospect rankings. But the Cubs see so much potential that they wanted him to a get a taste for Wrigley Field now.
It was pretty cool, Baez said. I would love to be here as soon as possible.

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

Three days before Election Day, Alec Baldwin walked into a dressing room on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to meet the Cubs in New York. Dressed in a full Donald Trump costume – but still talking in his normal voice – Baldwin chatted with Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler and David Ross while they rehearsed with Bill Murray before "Saturday Night Live."     

That scene sums up the surreal nature of two seismic events colliding, the joyous victory tour that saw Kris Bryant appear on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" set with a goat and a bitter presidential election that pitted sides of the Ricketts family against each other.

President Barack Obama called Cubs manager Joe Maddon from Air Force One after the team ended the 108-year drought in early November, winning the franchise's first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Obama amplified the message he posted on Twitter: "Want to come to the White House before I leave?"

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will happen on Monday after about two months of scheduling and discussions, with chairman Tom Ricketts downplaying the idea that the Cubs might have stalled for his brothers Todd (Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary) and Pete (Nebraska's Republican governor). 

This is part of the family business. Laura – their sister and another Cubs board member – has clout in Democratic circles as a superdelegate/fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. The patriarch is Joe, the billionaire TD Ameritrade founder who's heavily involved in right-wing politics. 

"There's no big conspiracy here," said team president Theo Epstein, who attended Obama's farewell address at McCormick Place last week. "Tom is a very reasonable guy. And in the end, the president invited us, and then they followed up with a real invitation. Once there was a real invitation, we figured out if we could make it work. We could, and we were happy to go."

Cubs Convention – where last year Todd made headlines by describing New York Mets fans as "really, really obnoxious" and dismissing All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey as a wannabe "tough guy" – would be the only logical offseason staging ground.

Todd did not participate in this weekend's ownership Q&A session with fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. The Cubs will also be in Washington this summer for a four-game series at Nationals Park, not far from Todd's nominated Cabinet position. 

Epstein paused four seconds after hearing the question: Would you have gone to the White House in June?

"Uh…" Epstein said. "Yeah, if the whole team was going, I probably would have gone.

"I'm not going to tell you what I would have been wearing. But I would have gone." 

Epstein campaigned for John Kerry in New Hampshire after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and then shook hands with George W. Bush during that White House visit. Epstein missed the ceremonial trip with Boston's 2007 World Series team because his young son had been hospitalized and recovering from an illness at the time: "People took it as a protest, but it wasn't."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs benched Jorge Soler several times in 2016 for lack of hustle]

Jake Arrieta doesn't want to be misinterpreted, either. The Cy Young Award winner explained his anticipated absence on Monday has nothing to do with his post-election "#beatit" tweet.  

Arrieta – who is dealing with family medical issues back home in Texas – said his "#illhelpyoupack" message wasn't an explicit endorsement of Trump's agenda. Arrieta said he didn't vote and aimed the tweet at Hollywood celebrities who talked about leaving the country if Trump won. 

"People view us as athletes as being Republican and only caring about lower taxes, which isn't the case," Arrieta said. "If paying higher taxes is going to benefit the majority of society, I'm fine with that. 

"It's tough when people start talking politics. But I'll be open and honest: I just want somebody to lead our country and do a good job. Whether it's Obama – whether it's Trump or Hillary – I just want to see somebody do a good job for the benefit of everybody."

Fowler will be there on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to meet the nation's first African-American president and reconnect with his old teammates after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The Cubs had waited so long for this – winning their last National League pennant two years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 – that Fowler became the franchise's first African-American player in the World Series.

"I'm most happy for our players," Epstein said. "It's just a really special part of winning the World Series. You feel like you've finally made it. You're in the most precious building in the country, really, and you get to strut around as world champs and meet the president. 

"It doesn't get any better than that. It's very fitting that we're seeing a Chicagoan, and in his last week in office makes it even more special."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon met Obama while managing the 2009 American League All-Star team at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the president wore a White Sox jacket while throwing out the first pitch. 

Maddon already went to the White House for a ceremony honoring the 2002 Anaheim Angels. Maddon and his wife, Jaye, also attended a small group dinner Bush's staff organized during the final days of his presidency in January 2009.  

"No matter your politics, you get invited to the White House, you go," said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. "I'm like giddy to be able to get invited on the trip." 

The Cubs are also expected to tour the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Rizzo hopes to present the nation's 44th president with his No. 44 jersey. It will be a day in the life of the 2016 Cubs. 

"It's going to be amazing," Rizzo said. "I think everyone except the true diehard White Sox fans have a little spot for the North Side in their hearts, just because of how long it's taken to get to where we've been."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Recapping the Cubs Convention

Cubs Talk Podcast: Recapping the Cubs Convention

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Cubs Double A broadcaster Mick Gillispie and CSN's Tony Andracki recap the 2017 Cubs Convention and how the World Series championship changed everything about the Opening Ceremonies, the panels and the overall buzz and positivity surrounding CubsCon.

Gillispie also provides a unique perspective on some of the young, homegrown heroes that helped lead the Cubs to glory as well as his experience watching the Cubs' run while making his way through the SEC with Alabama football, including turning a bar into "Wrigley South."

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below.