Manny Being Manny + Javy Being Javy = ???
The Cubs really don’t know how this combustible mixture is going to work at Triple-A Iowa, one of the greatest hitters in baseball history mentoring one of the game’s hottest prospects.
Manny Ramirez and Javier Baez joined forces for Thursday’s doubleheader at Colorado Springs, with the new player/coach wearing No. 44 and having his name in the Game 2 lineup as the designated hitter. But in highlighting the potential risks – and this move comes with flashing red lights – you also have to admit the possible rewards for a franchise that needs this kid to be a star.
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“Somebody like Manny is the best thing you can put near somebody like Javy Baez,” Cubs catcher John Baker said at Wrigley Field. “Because you look at what those two guys have in common. They both have freakish power, an uncanny amount of hand-eye coordination and they’re both kind of different personalities.
“For somebody like Javy, it’s incredible. Somebody who’s young, can show signs of immaturity at times, and has a freakish amount of upside, (will now) have somebody there that can help him out.”
Baker spoke eloquently about Tony Gwynn when Mr. Padre died of cancer last week, remembering how he’d relay messages for younger players in San Diego, believing they’d rather hear it from a teammate. Baker also loved how the Marlins kept special assistants Andre Dawson and Tony Perez around the team in Florida.
“You see what Manny did with his career and how he was able to hone in his natural ability and develop the right hitting approach and mindset,” Baker said. “So much we talk about the mechanical aspect of baseball. (But) the gems you get from those Hall of Fame players and those extra veteran players are not necessarily about what to think about when you’re trying to make a swing. It’s what to think about as you’re stepping into the batter’s box.
“I remember Andre Dawson telling me that: The harder somebody threw, the easier he tried to swing. Little things like that seem cliché, or you hear them in Little League. But then when you talk to somebody like Tony Perez or Tony Gwynn or Andre Dawson, (you) realize that they had a mindset that made sense.
“That made them successful and allowed their natural gifts to take over. And for guys with natural gifts, sometimes that’s the only thing stopping them from getting to the big leagues – the wrong mindset.”
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Baez plays with an edge and a Major League Baseball tattoo on the back of his neck. Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect entered this season with enormous expectations and got off to a slow start in the Pacific Coast League, where he’s very young at age 21.
Baez is trying to channel all that aggressiveness, hitting .229 with 11 homers, 43 RBI and 91 strikeouts through 66 games. Ramirez knows what it’s like to carry a team on his shoulders, hitting 555 homers, getting on base 41 percent of the time and helping the Boston Red Sox win two World Series titles.
“He was brought on to share his experience,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We’ll probably follow it more to how some of the kids are responding, some of the conversations that are had, some of the aspects of how he prepares on a daily basis.
“He’s always been known for being a very prepared individual and having a very methodical routine, which is something he can share with the players there.
“From afar, we’ll just watch what’s going on.”
For the Chicago media, will this be like watching NASCAR for the crashes?
Ramirez says he found religion through getting arrested after a domestic dispute at his South Florida home in 2011. Ramirez convinced Cubs president Theo Epstein that he’s a changed man after forcing his way out of Boston in 2008. Ramirez cooperated with MLB officials after failing at least two drug tests.
To make room for Ramirez, the Cubs released Casper Wells, a 29-year-old outfielder who’s played for five different teams and doesn’t have more than $200 million in career earnings.
Baker got squeezed last season in San Diego, where Yasmani Grandal, a catcher linked to the Biogenesis scandal, returned from a 50-game suspension after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
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“It’s really sad for someone like Casper,” Baker said. “He loves the game of baseball. He’s been a grinder and then he gets bumped out. But because this is a business, I’m sure he understands. Just like I understood last year in San Diego what was going on.”
Baker was designated for assignment last June, claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers and played 40 games at Triple-A Albuquerque. All that made earning a roster spot out of spring training that much sweeter.
“We had to see what (Grandal) had,” Baker said. “They had made a financial commitment (to) Nick Hundley ($9 million). There wasn’t any room for me, no matter how much they like me. So I didn’t take it as a personal decision, and I hope Casper doesn’t take it as a personal decision. He knows that their biggest interests right now are getting Javy Baez right. And Manny Ramirez is probably the best avenue to do that.”