Cubs taking it one step at a time with Javier Baez

Cubs taking it one step at a time with Javier Baez
August 9, 2014, 8:00 pm
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Tony Andracki

The Cubs don't want Javier Baez to do too much.

Theo Epstein's front office and manager Rick Renteria have done their best to try to quell the hype surrounding Baez's call-up to the big leagues, but the kid didn't help matters by crushing three homers in his first three games.

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Baez doesn't have to be the savior for the Cubs. It's not like this team is going to suddenly get back into the playoff race and make a run toward the 2014 World Series.

The 21-year-old slugger may profile more like a cleanup hitter, but Renteria has been penciling Baez in the two-hole through the first five games in an effort to take some of the weight off his shoulders and give him some protection with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro following in the order.

"As he continues to get more at-bats, he'll continue to settle down," Renteria said. "He wants to prove to the whole world that he belongs here.

"The conversations are simply, 'You don't have to carry the team on your back. You just have to be yourself. You have a lot of teammates.' I think he's gonna continue to make adjustments and he's gonna be fine."

Baez said he doesn't feel any added pressure and shrugs off any notion that he is already trying to carry the team despite it being only his first week in the majors.

"I think I really proved what I can do and I don't have to do stuff that I don't do," he said. "We're going to learn something every day. I hear people talk about being in the big leagues for 20 years and they're still learning something every day.

"I'm just gonna keep doing what I'm doing."

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The day after racking up four strikeouts, Baez still whiffed three times during Saturday's loss, but took some pitches and worked the count, including a double in the sixth inning as the culmination of a 10-pitch at-bat.

"His at-bats today were visibly more controlled," Renteria said. "I think he was trying to work the pitcher a little bit more.

"In terms of results, I take it one step at a time. I think his approaches today were much quieter than they were the previous couple days."

Baez now has 10 strikeouts in his first five big-league games, but he said he's not going to worry about changing his approach just based on his whiffs, instead focusing more on being patient and swinging at pitches in the zone.

The kid with the Gary Sheffield-like bat speed and light-tower power struck out 350 times in 319 minor-league games, but posted an .881 OPS and hit 76 homers. Despite the issues with contact so far in his big-league career, Baez still has a .957 OPS.

The Cubs wanted to give Baez roughly eight weeks in the majors to go through some of the ups and downs before taking a step back and reflecting on the season during the winter.

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He's already shown an ability to rise above adversity. Through the first six weeks of the season with Triple-A Iowa, Baez was hitting just .142 with a .484 OPS and 45 strikeouts in 28 games. But he turned things around, hitting .305 with a .964 OPS from that point forward before his promotion.

"It's a learning curve," said Cubs utilty guy Chris Valaika, who spent the first three months of the season with Baez in Triple-A. "I told him early, when he was struggling, 'Everybody knows who you are before you walk to the plate.' I think that kind of helped him calm down.

"It's like, 'They're going to pitch you differently than they pitch everybody else.' He started making adjustments and started taking his walks and swinging at pitches he can handle and he really took off the last two months.

"You have to have confidence in this game and he definitely has it. ... He's just a special player. He's just going to keep getting better and better at this level as he develops and matures here."

The Cubs know the attention and hype surrounding Baez may always be there, even with Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler knocking on the door from Triple-A Iowa and Rizzo, Castro and Arismendy Alcantara already in Chicago.

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"I think the attention is rough on him because he's obviously a very gifted player," Renteria said. "There's been a lot of expectations and excitement to his arrival. Finally getting that all out of the way is good.

"I don't think it'll ever cease because he's a young man that would potentially excited a lot of people for years to come, hopefully."