The Javier Baez Watch has already begun, with grainy video clips and Twitter updates after each home run.
As much as Cubs fans would love to see the 20-year-old kid with Gary Sheffield bat speed try to hit bombs onto Waveland Avenue right now, there’s no chance of a September call-up.
“I don’t see that happening,” manager Dale Sveum said Thursday at Wrigley Field.
You can’t blame Cubs fans for dreaming near the end of another lost season, even though the front office doesn’t want to put Baez on the 40-man roster yet or crank up the hype to another level.
But even Sveum had to admit: “The numbers (sometimes) put you in situations where you do start thinking about it.”
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Baez has piled up 33 homers and 100 RBI through 119 games split between advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. A two-homer, five-RBI game on Wednesday with Tennessee pushed his OPS to 1.025 in 43 Southern League games. He’s definitely someone who plays with swagger and a hard edge, showing that he can accelerate the learning curve.
As Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod finished up their first Wrigley Field press conference in the fall of 2011, the new scouting/player development chief told a story from their time together with the San Diego Padres.
Leading up to the 2011 draft, McLeod remembered seeing Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, but later attended Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that had withdrawn from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The team barnstormed around the state and through the Southeast. The competition was so uneven – and Baez had such a big, wild, aggressive swing – that McLeod reported back to Hoyer: “I don’t know if this kid is going to be Manny Ramirez or not get to Double-A. I don’t know what I just saw today.”
The Cubs selected Baez ninth overall – one spot ahead of the Padres – and general manager Jim Hendry closed the deal weeks after chairman Tom Ricketts told him he was fired.
It’s unclear how long Baez will stay at shortstop, and there will be some “Javy Being Javy” moments. He’s already committed 41 errors this season. But he’s not the same high-risk, high-reward player anymore.
“The defense is coming to where it seems like most of the errors are just things that come with experience,” Sveum said. “It’s not like he’s booting balls. It’s a lot more mistakes on (plays where) he shouldn’t even throw.
“It’s a lot of errors like that – which we all did at that age. But at least he’s making routine plays (and) it’s just cleaning some other stuff up.
“We’re talking about an incredible, impressive year, especially what he’s done at Double-A, because that’s where (you see) a lot of really good prospects and a lot of good pitching.”
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Here’s another measure of how far Baez has come in his development: Back in spring training 2012, he was playing so out of control that the Cubs had to pull him out of lower-level scrimmages at Fitch Park so he could concentrate and work on the side with a hitting coordinator.
One year later, Baez was putting on a laser show in the Cactus League, homering six times in spring training, including a walk-off shot against Team Japan.
Baez hasn’t even spent two full months at the Double-A level. He’s going to cool off eventually and there will be service-time considerations whenever the time is right. But he’s also forcing the issue to the point where you can already predict one of the biggest questions for Camp Sveum in 2014.
When is Baez going to Chicago?