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 Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.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

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon teased reporters when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona one week ago, promising the Cubs wouldn't tone down the gimmicks now that they're World Series champions: "We already have something planned for the first day that you might not want to miss."

A weekend of rain in Mesa postposed the first full-scale full-squad workout until Monday, and the wet grass meant the big reveal had to wait until Tuesday morning, when gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss drove a white Ferrari onto the field for the team's stretching session.

The bearded man they call "Bussy" rocked sunglasses, a gold chain around his neck, brown dress shoes and the same navy blue windowpane suit he wore to the White House. The overarching message as Buss blew kisses and Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar" and Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" blasted from the sound system: Humility.

"I hope everyone gets the sarcasm involved," Maddon said.

So, uh, no, the Cubs aren't going to dial it back or turn the zoo animals away or worry about the target they proudly wore on their chest last year.

"I don't know if the mime's coming back or not," Maddon said during the welcome-to-camp press conference. "Could you do a mime two years in a row? I don't know if that's permissible under MLB rules somewhere. I don't think you can bring a mime back two years in a row.

"Magicians are OK. You can anticipate a lot of the same, absolutely."

Before rolling your eyes at a star manager who loves the spotlight, it's important to note that the stunts are largely Buss productions.

"A lot of times, I'm not even aware," Maddon said. "He just knows he's got my blessings. He knows he does not have to clear it with me, unless it's absolutely insane. It works pretty well this way."

While every Maddon dress-up theme trip doesn't get universal love in the clubhouse, Buss has a unique way of getting millionaires to pay attention, almost tricking them into doing work.

"He's got several well-endowed players on the team that support his histrionics," Maddon said.

[MORE CUBS: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field]

Since taking over this job in 2001, Buss has survived multiple ownership structures (Tribune Co., Sam Zell, Ricketts family) and the Andy MacPhail/Jim Hendry/Theo Epstein transitions in the front office, working for managers Don Baylor, Rene Lachemann (interim), Bruce Kimm (interim), Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.

"He must have some good photographs, right?" Maddon said. "He's a different cat. He's a weapon."

Buss can clearly get along with almost any kind of personality. But it took Maddon – and the explosion of social media – to give him this kind of platform.

"No, nothing's changed, man," Maddon said. "It's all the same in regards to 'the same,' meaning the methods, the process. I just got aired out by one of our geek guys for not using the word ‘process.’ It’s true. Last year, I used the word ‘process’ often. I’m going to continue to use it a lot again this year.

"Why were we able to withstand the word 'pressure' and 'expectations' as well as we did last year? Because we weren't outcome-oriented. We were more oriented towards the process. Anybody in your job and your business – if you want to be outcome-oriented – you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble just focusing on that word.

"It's all about the process. Our process shall remain the same, absolutely it shall. Hopefully, we're going to add or augment it in some ways that can be even more interesting and entertaining."

The irony is that the Cubs have repeatedly used outcome-based thinking in defending Maddon's decisions during the World Series. But the manager obviously deserves so much credit for creating an environment where this team could play loose and relaxed and not collapse under the weight of franchise history.

"Our guys are pretty much in charge of the whole thing," Maddon said. "I love the empowerment of the players. I love that they feel the freedom to be themselves. If they didn't, maybe Jason (Heyward) would not have gotten the guys together in a weight room in Cleveland after a bad moment.

"All those things matter. And you can't understand exactly which is more important than the other. So you just continue to attempt to do a lot of the same things. Process is important, man, and we're going to continue along that path."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals.