Cubs hope Baez can create sense of 'Puig-mania'

Cubs hope Baez can create sense of 'Puig-mania'

June 11, 2013, 12:15 am
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The Cubs talk a lot about the future, but it can be hard to see, like the iconic center-field scoreboard that almost disappeared in the fog on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Rooftop buildings became almost unrecognizable, with the bottom of the scoreboard only visible through the glow of advertisements. 

For Cubs fans, the light could be found almost 1,200 miles away, where top prospect Javier Baez drilled four home runs at advanced Class-A Daytona. As the Cubs staggered through a 6-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, Baez made history, becoming only the second player to do that in a single game in the Florida State League’s 94 years of existence.

Whether or not it becomes “Puig-mania 2.0,” the Cubs (25-36) hope to one day get the kind of bounce the Los Angeles Dodgers received with Yasiel Puig, the Cuban outfielder who was named the National League’s player of the week after hitting .464 with four homers and 10 RBI in his first seven games in “The Show.”

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Baez showed the explosiveness that made him a 2011 first-round pick in Monday’s 9-6 win over the Fort Myers Miracle, a Minnesota Twins affiliate. That ninth overall pick could be one of several building blocks left by the Jim Hendry administration.   

Theo Epstein’s front office has so much capital invested in a generation of prospects that includes Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

“Those are the guys that we’re counting on,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Those are the guys that you have to have hit. Otherwise, you’re back to the drawing board.”

That or-else threat usually isn’t part of the narrative. Baez is now hitting .291 with 13 home runs and 44 RBI through 57 games after that four-homer, seven-RBI outburst at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. The 20-year-old shortstop is on a fast track, but don’t expect to see him at Wrigley Field anytime soon.

“Organizations need (them) to come through when you do call them up,” Sveum said. “(But) whether it’s Baez or Soler or the Almoras – whenever they’re ready to get here - we’re still talking about a couple years away. We’re not talking about next year or anytime this year.” 

This is exactly what Cubs fans want to see, but Sveum essentially ruled out the idea of Baez or Soler or No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant getting promoted to the big leagues near the end of this season.  

Bryant, the University of San Diego third baseman, still has to sign his first pro contract after leading the nation in homers (31), runs scored (80), walks (66) and slugging percentage (.820) this season.

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Almora, last year’s first-round pick, is batting .423 through his first 17 games at Class-A Kane County. The Cubs aren’t going to rush Soler, the $30 million Cuban outfielder who’s hitting .278 with eight homers and 34 RBI at Daytona. 

“It’s not what we’re trying to do,” Sveum said. “They’re here to develop and stay at a level and produce. We’re still not getting the huge production at that level, so they still have to develop before they get here. You don’t call people up just because they’re supposed to be prospects. They still have to produce and put numbers up and be consistent.”

One game isn’t going to change the plan for Baez, even if he has shown flashes of the Puig potential to trend on Twitter, go viral on YouTube and make national headlines.

“It’s a pretty special night for anybody at any level to hit four home runs,” Sveum said. “That’s what we’re hoping for when it all gets developed and ready to go here – those kind of days and that kind of power that changes games around with one swing.”