Javier Baez is a wild card in Cubs plans


Javier Baez is a wild card in Cubs plans

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. 

[MORE: What Joe Maddon’s no-trade message means for Cubs and Starlin Castro]

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.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]     

“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.”


Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.