Javier Baez getting ready for his Wrigley Field close-up

Javier Baez getting ready for his Wrigley Field close-up
September 20, 2013, 4:45 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

Javier Baez is getting ready for his Wrigley Field close-up.

Cubs fans want to know when Baez will be here after a monster season that saw him generate 37 homers and 111 RBI in 130 games split between advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. The short answer: Saturday for a pregame ceremony honoring him and Kyle Hendricks as the organization's minor-league player and pitcher of the year.

But Baez has forced his way into the 2014 plans, even if he needs to make a stop at Triple-A Iowa first. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development, understood why Baez decided to skip the Arizona Fall League.

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"I don't want to say one for the ages, but there are very few 20-year-olds who've done what he did this year," McLeod said. "He is probably worn down from all of it and almost the expectation every time he came up to the plate, even in road ballparks.

"Everyone kind of stopped to see what he was going to do and I'm sure that was a lot for him to deal with emotionally. He's just drained right now."

Baez raised his game at the Double-A level, putting up 20 homers and 54 RBI in 54 games before making a Southern League playoff run. He's ticketed to begin next season in Des Moines, playing shortstop alongside two well-regarded prospects - second baseman Arismendy Alcantara and third baseman Christian Villanueva.

Though team officials believe Baez has what it takes to play shortstop at the big-league level, they have also made a $60 million commitment to Starlin Castro.

"We have a shortstop now," team president Theo Epstein said. "So if we're fortunate enough to get to a point in time where Baez is pounding on that door and Castro is healthy, then we will look to move Baez around so that he can perform at other positions.

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"For a young kid, he has tremendous baseball instincts. Not that we would ever do this, but I wouldn't doubt that he could go out and play well in the outfield. And I've heard he could freaking catch he's got such a good head for the game."

The Cubs see benefits in getting a taste for the big market and handling media attention but also know prospects can get overexposed. Baez - a 2011 first-round pick who grew up in Puerto Rico and Florida - might be the most talked-about player in the entire organization and that includes any name on the major-league roster. The expectations are sky-high.

"I think he's learning to manage that and still be comfortable with the language," McLeod said. "Not that it's a barrier for him, but I think by nature Javy's a shyer guy when it comes to speaking with adults or in a (media) setting. I think he's still learning to deal with that and getting the attention he's getting."

All that comes with being a marquee attraction at Clark and Addison.

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