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 Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.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.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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