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 Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.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 show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs in a game that lasted almost four hours.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured an insurance run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save before summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t protect a five-run lead in the ninth inning.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Ryan Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “In a perverse way, it may benefit us in the long run.”

Jason Heyward: Banged-up Cubs ready to be tested vs. Nationals

Jason Heyward: Banged-up Cubs ready to be tested vs. Nationals

WASHINGTON – The cut on Jason Heyward’s left hand has been compared to a third-degree burn, an injury that would have required stiches if the skin had not ripped off already.

The Cubs can’t count on their Gold Glove outfielder – or their World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) or ERA titleholder (Kyle Hendricks) – for this four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell didn’t start Monday night while dealing with a sore right shoulder, taking more juice out of this potential playoff preview at Nationals Park.

“Every day’s a test, regardless of whether we’re healthy or not,” Heyward said after taking about 15 swings off a tee. “Bottom line, every team goes through tests. Every single season, guys get hurt. And whoever’s there at the end of the year in the playoffs, they handled that the best and was able to weather that storm the best. 

“This team’s no different. Every single day, you’re expected to win. We expect each other to win and go out there and try to find a way to get it done every day. There’s going to be more tests, but that’s what you want.”

The next step for Heyward would be getting cleared to take a full batting practice.

“It’s getting better every day,” Heyward said, “but until it gets to the point where I can swing every day and take BP, I just got to do a little more waiting and healing.”

Heyward – who sliced open his hand while trying to make a sliding catch in foul territory on June 18 – is eligible to be activated from the 10-day disabled list on Thursday but would probably need some at-bats in the minors first.  

“We’ll let you know,” Heyward said. “I don’t do ‘probablys.’ I probably wouldn’t have wanted to be on the DL, either, but we’ll see what happens.”