Javier Baez is going through a personal crisis at a time when his professional career is at a crossroads.
Manny Ramirez still sees so much potential in Baez, who took a leave of absence from Triple-A Iowa after his sister, Noely, died last week at the age of 21. The Cubs are giving Baez space as he mourns an inspirational figure in his life.
“When you lose part of your family, you get kind of down,” Ramirez said Monday at Wrigley Field. “But I told him: Leave everything to God.”
Ramirez found religion and rehabilitated his image to the point where Theo Epstein’s front office hired him to be a player/coach last season at Iowa, where he formed a strong bond with Baez. In their own ways, they are baseball gym rats, incredibly gifted hitters with a few personality quirks.
Ramirez enjoyed the experience enough to become a hitting consultant this year, with Baez being perhaps his biggest project.
Baez isn’t expected to return to the Iowa club until later this week. Noely had been born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair, but her death was described as sudden and unexpected – within the context of her medical condition – and not something that weighed on Baez throughout spring training.
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After a long debate in Arizona, there’s still a feeling inside the organization that Baez should be on the big-league team now. The thinking being the Cubs could use his speed on the bases and presence at second base, where he would almost function like a quarterback or point guard running the defense. It could also be a way to accelerate his learning curve at the plate after he struck out 95 times during a 52-game audition last season. There’s no doubt he plays the game hard.
“We got his support,” Ramirez said. “That’s all we can do. He’s going to come back and do his job. We need him here in Chicago. We need him at second base. The team will be better and he’s going to be fine.”
For all his Manny Being Manny moments – and questionable off-the-field decisions – Ramirez won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and became one of the best hitters of his generation with a surprisingly methodical, studious approach.
Ramirez recognizes talent and sees a bright future for Baez, a 2011 first-round pick who is only 22 years old and had been Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect heading into last season.
“It’s like I always tell Javy: He’s an unbelievable kid,” Ramirez said. “He can play. He can run. And his hitting is going to come along. I haven’t seen (anybody) with that kind of bat speed.”