MESA, Ariz. - With the TV cameras rolling and his time in big-league camp running out, Javier Baez put on a show at HoHoKam Stadium.
Several press-box observers couldn't tell where one landed - over the left-field scoreboard and into the parking lot? - as the balls carried on Saturday through the warm Arizona air. But Baez definitely homered twice off Royals veteran left-hander Bruce Chen in an 8-3 win, giving the Cubs prospect four in the last two days.
"Bombs," Alfonso Soriano said.
The day before, Baez drilled two home runs off Team Japan, including a walk-off shot he called, essentially telling Welington Castillo that he wouldn't be leaving the on-deck circle. ("He heard about it today," bench coach Jamie Quirk said.) As much as the 2011 first-round pick tries to stay on message with short, clipped answers to the media, there's no denying he has a lot of swagger.
"Two days in a row?" Baez said. "That's amazing. Great feeling."
Showing the bat speed that has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield, Baez homered on three consecutive pitches between Friday and Saturday in Mesa. David DeJesus, Soriano and Baez each homered in the first inning, and that was good timing.
Theo Epstein already happened to be scheduled to drop by the WGN booth in the second inning. The team president chatted with play-by-play man Len Kasper and new color analyst Jim Deshaies, mentioning how everyone in the minor-league system has an individualized player plan that outlines strengths and weaknesses: physically, mentally and fundamentally.
"Most players look to buy into it," Epstein said on the WGN broadcast. "They ask when they're moving up and when they're going to get to the big leagues. And we tell them it's not about time. It's about when you take those weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
"Javy had a great development year last year, but part of (that was) the struggles that he underwent (during) his debut in the Florida State League. And then he went to the (Arizona) Fall League and saw some great pitching. (But) he's got that ability to take a really big cut and still center up the baseball. Tremendous raw power for a 20-year-old. We're excited about him, but he has a lot of work ahead of him still."
The Cubs are understandably trying to pump the brakes and slow down the hype while labeling Baez as a future core player. Last season, he hit .188 in 23 games at Class-A Daytona. He's walked 14 times in 311 professional at-bats.
Epstein referenced Sheffield's advanced feel and track record in the minors (81 walks in 129 games at Milwaukee's Class-A affiliate during his age-18 season). There's no doubt Baez still has a lot to learn, and the Cubs already have a twenty-something All-Star shortstop in Starlin Castro for the foreseeable future.
But when it's 82 degrees and sunny in the middle of March, Cubs fans can dream. That shot in the fifth inning disappeared fast.
"The way he handles the bat, it reminds me of Gary Sheffield," Soriano said. "It's the same kind of swing. He's got quick hands and very good power."
This is the final weekend for Baez and Jorge Soler before they're supposed to be sent down the street to minor-league camp. Baez will be batting second on Sunday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, in another WGN game against the A's. You might be able to see the future.