ST. LOUIS – Javier Baez became The Man in spring training.
The national writers and Chicago reporters all wanted to talk to Baez at Cubs Park, at least when they weren’t stalking Kris Bryant. Starlin Castro’s hamstring injury only magnified Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect.
But it’s been Baez Watch for the wrong reasons, getting thrown out of a game for arguing a check-swing call, getting into it with a veteran teammate in the dugout and missing time with an ankle sprain. The guy with the Gary Sheffield bat speed is also hitting .147 with 43 strikeouts through 102 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa.
“He’s in a big slump,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at Busch Stadium. “He’s going to have to figure his way out of it. He’ll be stronger for having to go through this.”
Even if everyone involved understood Baez had zero chance to make the team out of camp – no matter what he did to Cactus League pitching – the trip to Des Moines still had to be anticlimactic.
Hoyer isn’t buying that excuse in the middle of May.
“A team almost expects a little bit of a lag at the end of spring training, and then early in the year,” Hoyer said, “because there probably is emotionally a little bit of a letdown after you sort of audition, if you will, in spring training. You have the adrenaline and then you go down. But I think we’re past that point.”
At the age of 21, Baez is very young for the Pacific Coast League. With all the hype, it became easy to forget that the shortstop had only played 54 games above the A-ball level. He still impressed team officials with his professional approach in spring training, showing a sharper focus, blending into the clubhouse and handling all the media obligations.
Baez could sense how close he was getting to Wrigley Field after a spectacular 37-homer, 111-RBI season. But the second player in the 94-year history of the Florida State League to have a four-homer game has hit only three home runs through his first 27 games with Iowa.
It’s up to Baez to make the adjustments to more experienced pitchers, control his aggressive nature and learn from the experience. Because once he gets to Clark and Addison, the Cubs hope there’s no turning back.
“Now it’s just a matter of Javy kind of figuring out what he needs to do to get through this,” Hoyer said.