MILWAUKEE — The Cubs could be showcasing Javier Baez, getting his timing down for a promotion and/or making him work on the swing-and-miss issues that have held him back.
So whether it’s preparing for a blockbuster trade, hoping he’s a spark for the stretch run or checking the player-development boxes, Baez is a wild card in the plans carefully designed by Theo Epstein’s front office.
Since Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber are essentially untouchable, Baez is the next man up in terms of higher-profile, ready-for-impact young players within the farm system.
The San Diego Padres have pitching to trade — the Cubs are targeting Tyson Ross in particular — and need a building-block shortstop. If things had worked out differently, Baez might already be that major-league contributor who’s off the table.
But Baez didn’t make the team out of spring training, took an extended leave of absence after his sister died in April and fractured his finger in early June, when it looked like his hot bat and up-the-middle defense might help the Cubs.
Baez homered twice during his first game back with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, just in time to put his name back on Twitter and in trade rumors.
“From everything I’m hearing, it’s just him getting back mentally and physically,” manager Joe Maddon said before Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “He went through a lot this year with his sister and then an actual injury, so I think we’re just trying to be overly cautious, in a sense. Just making sure everything’s good, because you don’t want to add anything negative on his plate right now.”
Maddon lobbied for Baez, 22, to make the Opening Day roster, raving about his speed, strong arm and baseball IQ, believing he would help the Cubs win games in other ways while figuring out how to hit big-league pitching.
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“I said it all spring training: I really like this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I think he’s a good player. I think he’s going to keep getting better.”
Baez has world-class bat speed and a first-round pedigree, but he’s still a high-risk, high-reward player (95 strikeouts in 52 games with the Cubs last season).
Whether or not there have been major adjustments, overall Baez is hitting .309 with 10 homers, 31 RBI, a .938 OPS and 44 strikeouts through 39 games at Iowa.
“That’s the sense I’m getting — he’s doing well,” Maddon said. “I don’t think he’s far off being really ready and possibly coming back here. But I don’t know when that’s going to be.”