PHOENIX – All these moments will keep adding up, but Javier Baez can’t change the plan with one swing.
Theo Epstein’s front office has promised to be patient with player development and cold-blooded in weighing the financial considerations before deciding when to let the service-time meter start running.
It’s easy to forget when your Twitter timeline starts spinning, but Baez has played only 54 games above the A-ball level. There’s also the enormous weight he will feel as the first of the “Core Four” expected to reach Wrigley Field. His success or failure will do a lot for the franchise’s public perception.
But Cubs fans will enjoy the highlights from Monday’s 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park. Baez blasted the first Marco Estrada pitch he saw over the fence in right-center field and onto the berm for his first home run this spring.
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“There’s lightning in that bat,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s going to be nice to put our eyes on him in the games now and see how he looks and see how he’s composed and how he compares to everybody else.”
Baez has gone 4-for-9 in the Cactus League, impressing veteran teammates with his attitude and picking up where he left off last season: 37 home runs and 111 RBI in 130 games at advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
There’s no need to rush Baez onto a last-place team when the Cubs are acting like a small-market club. Whether or not Starlin Castro (hamstring) gets healthy, the Cubs intend to go with utility guy Emilio Bonifacio and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney as the backup plan.
Baez showed off his defensive range in the first inning, running out toward the left-field line and making an over-the-shoulder catch. Daytona hitting coach Mariano Duncan – who mentored Derek Jeter on the 1996 New York Yankees team that built a dynasty – believes Baez has what it takes.
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“Jeter made 50-something errors in the minor leagues (in 1993),” Duncan said. “I know that Javy made 44 errors last year. But that kid has a chance to be a legit shortstop at the major-league level.”
The Cubs tried to kill the shortstop controversy when camp started, saying Castro is their guy and signaling Baez would be exposed to second base and third base before starting the season at Triple-A Iowa. The 21-year-old prospect will be only one phone call away in Des Moines.
“Javier Baez – that’s one of the best talents I’ve ever seen at the minor-league level,” Duncan said. “That guy has a great future ahead of him. He doesn’t even know how good he is.”