MIAMI – Javier Baez Watch is heating up.
The Cubs appear to be moving closer and closer to roster changes that could have far-reaching implications, shifting Baez to third base at Triple-A Iowa and planning for a possible promotion.
Of course, the Cubs already have a third baseman who just became the National League’s Rookie of the Month for May.
“I’m just here to help the team win,” Kris Bryant said Wednesday at Marlins Park. “And if that’s playing in the outfield, then that’s where I’ll be. If Javy’s swinging a great bat, then we could definitely use him. I’m willing to play anywhere to help the team win.”
Baez is trying to force the issue, hitting .391 with five homers and 16 RBI in his previous 12 games for Iowa. From afar, he seems to be getting over the disappointment in spring training and trying to move on from the death of his younger sister, which caused him to take an extended leave of absence in April.
Manager Joe Maddon already wanted Baez on his Opening Night roster, even taking into account those extreme contact issues we saw last season with the Cubs (95 strikeouts in 52 games).
Baez is a natural shortstop who wanted to win the second-base job in camp. If Baez gets exposed to third base, it doesn’t look like the Cubs would be ready to break up their double-play combination of Starlin Castro and Addison Russell.
“The biggest thing with any young player like (Baez) is: How are they hitting?” Maddon said. “Do you think that their bat can handle the major-league level? And once you deem that ‘yes,’ then, of course, you try to fit in the defensive part of it.
“I hear he’s doing a lot better at the plate, a more controlled swing, a greater amount of contact, less chase, those kinds of things. And I’ve talked about him before: I think he’s a great athlete. I think he has really high baseball acumen. I saw that defensively positioning. I saw that running the bases. I saw him in (winter ball). He’s a good baseball player.
“So with everything we got going on out here, why not open his mind to something else? You never know how it’s going to benefit you, as a group, or him, individually. I thought it was a great idea.”
It doesn’t bother Bryant, who already felt comfortable in the outfield after playing out there for the University of San Diego. Even before the Cubs made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, there were questions about whether or not his 6-foot-5 frame would ultimately push him off third base.
“They told me (Baez) was going to be moving all over the place,” Bryant said, “and not to worry about anything."
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Given his versatility, strong arm, defensive range and potentially explosive bat, it would make sense for the Cubs to give Baez a few more days with Iowa, allowing him to get acclimated at third base before next week’s interleague series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, where the designated hitter will be an X-factor.
“All those guys are in play,” Maddon said. “We’ve had like preliminary discussions. We haven’t decided on anything. Everything’s pretty much on the table. The fact that we have so many young, interesting players is good for conjecture.”