If the actual potential to make a difference matched the buzz on Twitter, Javier Baez would have already been here before this September call-up.
Baez has been compared to too many transcendent hitters over the years – Gary Sheffield! Manny Ramirez! Giancarlo Stanton! – that people have lost perspective. And the Cubs have been doing just fine – now 19 games over .500 – without Javy Being Javy.
In a season where the Cubs aggressively fast-tracked Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and accelerated their youth movement, Baez had to wait until the rosters expanded on Tuesday for his first at-bat at Wrigley Field.
“I’ve been watching all the good things that’s been happening here and trying to get my mind right to be here,” Baez said before a 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Baez is still a fascinating talent for Cubs fans and the Chicago media – and an intriguing player for Joe Maddon’s coaching staff and Theo Epstein’s front office.
“That kid’s going to be an All-Star,” said Ramirez, the hitting consultant who recently spent time with Baez at Triple-A Iowa. “You just got to be patient, like with anybody who comes up in the big leagues. It’s going to take some players time to adjust. Some of them take longer. Some of them are just faster.
“But above all, that kid can hit. He can run. He can field. I haven’t seen guys like that often. We’re just happy to have him, because he’s going to be a special player.”
A crowd of 33,756 started cheering and clapping when Baez walked up to the plate in the second inning (and struck out swinging at Anthony DeSclafani’s slider).
Baez had a chance to break a tie game wipe open with two outs and runners on the corners in the sixth inning, but he hit a soft groundball up the first-base line. He also advanced a runner to third base with a flyball to the warning track in the eighth.
Maddon wouldn’t really say if Baez had a chance to become the everyday second baseman: “Yes and no. I’m going to try to utilize everybody.” The manager did double-switch Addison Russell out of the game and put Baez at shortstop. Baez said he even brought his outfielder’s glove “just in case.”
Back in spring training, Maddon thought the Cubs could carry Baez on the Opening Day roster because of his defense, speed and baseball IQ. Just when it looked like Baez might be playing his way into the team’s plans again, he fractured a finger while trying to steal a base in early June.
Physically, Baez looks much more like a streamlined middle infielder than the bulked-up player you saw last season.
Mentally, Baez is in a different place after taking an extended leave of absence following his sister’s death in April.
“It’s been a really tough year for me and my family,” Baez said. “That’s made me really patient.”
Baez said he got a different perspective while swinging with one hand during his time on the disabled list and the Cubs would love to unlock all that offensive potential.
“Javy’s put in a lot of work,” Epstein said. “He’s been really focused (on) keeping his approach under control, keeping his front foot down, limiting or even eliminating the leg kick.
“That’s been a process for him. It’s something that was gradual. He would embrace it, at times. Other times, he’d fall back into habits of a bigger leg kick and a bigger swing and a more violent approach. But gradually and over time, he’s become more consistent with it.”
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Baez has something to prove after striking out 95 times – with nine home runs – during last season’s 52-game audition.
Whether or not this is a new Javy – and there are times where it seems like the Cubs have a lot of voices around their hitters – Baez batted .324 with 13 homers, 61 RBI and a .911 OPS in 70 games for Iowa.
“It started to become second nature to him,” Epstein said. “When he can keep his front foot down and under control and limit that leg kick, everything gets more under control for him in the box.
“He tends to have a more reasonable swing, get better pitches to hit and it’s been really effective for him. He’s seeing results, too, which is huge.
“You can have coaches convince you something is the right way to approach a situation. But if you get results, that creates a real confidence that goes with it.
“We think he’s in a good place. He’s earned his way and worked his way into this position to come up and contribute to a winning team.”
Baez said he was so excited that he got to Wrigley Field around 1 p.m. for a 7:05 start.
“I think he’s ready,” Ramirez said. “Like everything in life, you’re going to go through some bumps, but you got to keep moving.”