MESA, Ariz. – It only seems like it’s all Javier Baez all the time at Cubs Park.
Baez got mentioned 11 times during a Rick Renteria media session that lasted nine-plus minutes. Reporters had direct questions, follow-ups and morning-after observations on Thursday, with the Cubs manager saying he is comfortable with all the attention the organization’s top prospect is getting now.
“It’s great,” Renteria said. “It’s great for Javy. Great for the Cubs. Great for the organization. Obviously, he’s an exciting player, as you guys all have seen. It’s not like you can hide it.”
Ideally, a 21-year-old kid who played about two months above A-ball last season wouldn’t be getting the Sammy Sosa coverage. But that is where the franchise is at in this long, slow, budget-conscious rebuild.
Privately, Cubs officials are already bracing for the backlash. Imagine the all Hot Sports Takes if a young Ryne Sandberg had gone 0-for-20 and 1-for-32 in April 2014 instead of April 1982.
You can’t fit all this into 140 characters on Twitter, so here it goes: Baez has spin-o-rama swings where it looks like he’s about to fall down in the batter’s box. It’s totally different hitting in Arizona’s thin desert air in front of 10,000 fans. As Allen Iverson might say: We talkin’ about practice.
But Baez definitely puts on a good show with that easy confidence and vicious swing. Renteria said Baez felt fine after fouling a ball off his leg during Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Baez dropped to the dirt for a few moments, quieting the modd at Cubs Park.
Renteria told Baez “if the ball came off the bat like a normal human being,” you’d assume everything would be OK. But “since yours comes out like a bullet train…”
Baez stayed in the game and in the sixth inning lifted a flyball over the right-field fence for a home run off Chris Martin, a 27-year-old Rockies reliever who hasn’t made it to the big leagues yet.
The Cubs are locked into sending Baez to Triple-A Iowa to start the season. He will be the Opening Day shortstop in Des Moines. But he’s about to be exposed to second base and third base in the Cactus League.
“He’s been working over there quite a bit actually, so it will be here soon,” Renteria said. “We want to have him work at those positions before we actually put him there. So right now, we’ll concentrate on second and then we’ll move over to third and kind of make sure he’s got some work before he gets in there.”
The Cubs are preparing for the day Baez will be playing next to Starlin Castro at Wrigley Field. Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect will bring some swagger to Clark and Addison.
“I’ve seen enough of Baez to really enjoy watching him play,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “My thing about teammates is I like guys that go out and put everything out on the field and leave it all out there.
“Controlled reckless abandon, I guess you could say, is what I like. And I think you can see that in Baez. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he has something to prove, which I love watching. I love watching him swing, too.”
It helps that Baez is driven and has a sense of purpose. The kids who should be seen and not heard have made an impression on new pitcher Jason Hammel, who has watched young cores quickly mature into surprise playoff teams with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, 2009 Colorado Rockies and 2012 Baltimore Orioles.
“(They) want to go out and play hard and take every at-bat or every inning they have and put something together and work on (it),” Hammel said. “Not just go out there and roll the balls out and kind of give it an act where: Hey, you look like you care. But then 10 minutes later you’re out of the clubhouse and you’re off playing golf or something like that.
“The guys stick around and they work hard and they work on their craft. I’ve seen a ton of guys in the video room. That’s impressive. It shows that the guys care.”
So get used to Baez Watch. Coming off a 37-homer, 111-RBI season in the minors, the spotlight will be on Iowa. And once Baez arrives on the North Side, then everyone can really focus on Kris Bryant.