The Cubs think Javier Baez is in a good place right now.
Of course, Baez would rather be in The Show than Triple-A Iowa. The guy has the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck.
But Baez is a very important piece of the puzzle, either as a potential trade chip, so Theo Epstein’s front office can get a frontline pitcher, or a midseason shot of adrenaline for this team.
That’s why Baez still moves the needle at Wrigley Field, even on a Tuesday night where the Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 after Addison Russell’s walk-off double.
Baez is responding to the adversity after failing to make the team out of spring training, and taking an extended leave of absence to mourn the death of his younger sister.
“He’s having a really good run right now,” said Jason McLeod, the head of scouting and player development. “The mindset is there. He had to deal with a lot in the offseason from a professional level – and certainly personally with what took place with his family.
“(Farm director) Jaron Madison’s down there with him right now. And just talking with Jaron every day, you can see that sparkle there. He’s happy with how things are going.”
Baez is hitting .311 with five homers, 17 RBI and a .911 OPS through 24 games at Iowa. He’s struck out 25 times and worked nine walks, trying to evolve as a hitter, make more contact and smooth out those extreme swing-and-miss issues.
Baez has also committed 11 errors. But manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly called Baez one of the finest young middle infielders he’s ever seen.
To stabilize a shaky defense, one scenario kicked around would have Kris Bryant shifting to left field and Baez taking over at third base. But McLeod said the Cubs aren’t looking to move Baez anywhere except shortstop and second base.
“No immediate plans for it right now,” McLeod said. “He does kid around sometimes and go take flyballs in the outfield. We might start having him do some of those types of things, but it wouldn’t be predicated on anything that’s happening up here, necessarily.”
The Cubs already have an All-Star shortstop (Starlin Castro) and an emerging second baseman (Russell). If Baez has such a great feel for the game, why not see what he can do in the outfield?
“Who knows?” McLeod said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if we did see him out there. No plans are in the works to do that. I want to make that clear.
“But because he does have the athleticism and the ability – like I said, he’s a baseball player – I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go out there and be pretty darn good if that’s the way we go.”
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Baez is also 22 years old and looked lost at times during last year’s 52-game audition (95 strikeouts). The Cubs don’t want to mess up his rhythm. He’s still only one phone call away.
“All we’re concerned about right now is him maintaining this,” McLeod said. “Certainly, he’s someone who wants to come up here and help the team win. And Joe, Theo, we’re all looking at that every single day. Those are conversations that take place internally every day.”