As Puig makes All-Star case, Cubs keeping Baez in perspective

As Puig makes All-Star case, Cubs keeping Baez in perspective
July 7, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Javier Baez stepped to the plate at the next level, and belted a home run on the first swing he took.

[MORE: Top Cubs prospect Baez promoted to Double-A]

Sure, Baez went hitless in his next three at-bats in his debut with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies on Saturday, as Cubs manager Dale Sveum pointed out Sunday morning. But with the Cubs in last place and in sell mode, there's a focus on the future. Baez is a big part of that.

"It's always nice for anybody to go to another league, and your first swing is a home run. But this guy's still gotta develop," Sveum said. "It's not just home runs we're talking about, it's getting ready and getting completely developed to play at this level."

[WATCH: Baez talks about his Double-A debut at SmokiesOnRadio.com]

Sveum pumped the brakes on the hope Baez could make his Wrigley Field debut sometime in 2013, as did general manager Jed Hoyer over the weekend. But as long as Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig continues to grab national headlines for his dynamic play in Los Angeles, it'll be difficult to completely mute discussion about whether or not Baez should make his major league debut later this year.

[RELATED: For Hoyer, deadline deals are a necessary evil]

Through his first 31 professional games, Puig has eight home runs, a .407 batting average, four stolen bases and 19 RBI. He had all of 262 minor league plate appearances to his name before being promoted to the majors, but his explosive swing, blazing speed and cannon arm eventually forced the Dodgers' hand.

That combination didn't do the same for Bruce Bochy, though, as the skipper of the National League All-Stars didn't name Puig to the squad he'll manage at Citi Field later this month.

"I would have a hard time picking somebody who has been here three weeks, to be honest," Bochy said in a radio interview in June. He later changed his tune, although still refrained from tabbing Puig to his squad.

Matt Guerrier had an up-close look at Puig before he was dealt to the Cubs from Los Angeles for Carlos Marmol last week. While Guerrier didn't get to know the 22-year-old Cuban all that well, he thought Puig certainly deserved All-Star consideration -- just as a pair of budding superstars did last year, despite spending some time in the minor leagues.

"Like (Mike) Trout and (Bryce) Harper a little bit last year, there's certain players that come up and make an impact," Guerrier said. "People want to see that kind of stuff. I think it'd be fun to see him -- he just enjoys the game. It's one of those things, it's fun to be around, it's fun to see it."

[MORE: Cubs still waiting on consistency from Rizzo, Castro]

The Dodgers are 41-45, 4 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West. But since Puig made his debut, the Dodgers are 18-13. Their high-priced roster is no longer in the basement of its division, and Puig has had plenty to do with it. It's why Bochy may not mind if Puig is voted in by the fans as part of MLB's final vote.

If the Cubs can dream, Baez will have a similar impact when he does make it to The Show. Maybe he'll be the next young star to force his way into an All-Star debate.

But for all of his theatrics, Baez remains a ways off from his major league debut. The same goes for the rest of the next wave of talent in the minor leagues, one that's headlined by Baez, Albert Almora (who's in Single-A), Jorge Soler (who's injured) and Kris Bryant (who has yet to sign with the organization). The 16-year-old prospects signed by the Cubs when international free agency opened last week are even farther away.

Until that wave begins to hit Clark and Addison, the Cubs may not generate the kind of All-Star buzz that's consumed this weekend. Travis Wood's 2.69 ERA and slew of quality starts earned him a trip to Citi Field based on merit, not necessarily just because the Cubs needed to send a representative to New York.

[RELATED: Wood earns All-Star invite as Cubs' lone representative]

"It's always nice when you have an elite starting pitcher that you have control over for a while," Sveum said. "Very durable, great athlete, he can hit in this league and do a lot of things. It's a huge asset to have."

The presence of Puig in the All-Star Game may draw more eyeballs to the contest, roping in those who want a glimpse of one of baseball's most exciting players. Baez could be that guy someday, or he could fizzle out against better competition. That's the nature of 20-year-old prospects.

The Cubs can wait to find out, and won't rush him. Sveum has a number in mind for when Baez will be considered for a promotion to the majors -- and while it's not a steadfast constraint, it's at least a rough benchmark.

"It's a big deal to get 1,500-2,000 at-bats in the minor leagues," Sveum explained. "You say at-bats, that doesn't mean hitting, that means you played enough games where you had a lot of defensive chances, you've seen a lot of different kind of pitching, you've been on the bases a lot. You go on and on about development, and it takes those kind of numbers to be fully developed. Sometimes it takes more, sometimes it can take less. I think 1,500-2,000 is the number."

Entering Sunday, Baez has 614 professional at-bats. So as Baez-mania continues to grow in Chicago -- and Puig-mania continues to sweep the nation -- Sveum and the Cubs are keeping things in perspective.