When Javier Baez walked into Joe Maddon's office before his reintroduction to the big leagues in 2015, the Cubs manager had some simple advice for the young player:
"Try not to suck."
Baez told that story Saturday to an uproar of laughter from the thousands of Cubs fans in attendance at the "Rock star rookie" panel during the 2016 Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.
That advice seemed to work out just fine, as Baez contributed maybe the biggest hit of the Cubs' 2015 season when he launched a three-run homer into the right-center field bleachers off Cardinals starter John Lackey in the clinching game of the NLDS.
Baez pointed to that moment as the highlight of what was an up-and-down season fraught with personal loss and growth.
After his sister died, Baez took a few weeks away from the game before returning to Triple-A Iowa, where he stayed until big league rosters expanded Sept. 1.
Heading into 2016, the Cubs are trying to make Baez into a Ben Zobrist 2.0 with defensive versatility.
Baez can already play second, third and shortstop, but now he's working in center field in winter ball and the Cubs will keep that experiment going in Arizona this spring.
"I feel really good," Baez said. "I'm looking forward to start playing center field and we'll see how it goes in spring training."
Baez said he's having fun playing in the outfield despite never moving beyond the infield in his professional career.
Baez may only have six games under his belt in center field, but the 23-year-old kid with the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck is already feeling that sense of swagger.
So much so that he already warned his peers on Twitter:
Just dont hit it to CF when im there.
— Javier Báez (@javy23baez) December 20, 2015
The backstory behind that, Baez said, was when nine balls were hit to him in center during a game in Puerto Rico and he tracked them all down, including a sliding stop to cut a hit off in the gap.
Maddon has been talking up Baez's baseball IQ and defensive prowess since last spring and he wants to see what the kid can do in center.
"I definitely think he can [play it at the big league level]," Maddon said. "He's one of the best on-field defenders I've seen, period. The way he plays the infield, he's never in trouble. He's very calm, he's got this really high baseball acumen - he sees things in advance.
"I could go on and on. And he's only 23 years of age and he's got all this goin' on."
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Maddon loves to move his players all around the field and Baez is on board with whatever will help him get some playing time.
"Obviously, I'm here to play," Baez said. "I'm ready to play. I want to play every day.
"It doesn't matter what position, I just want to be in the lineup."