Chicago Cubs

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 Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.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

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”