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Pedro Strop knows the score: He'll have a tough time accessing his locker at Wrigley Field often.

"That's what you get when you're right next to a superstar," Strop said, referencing his locker adjacent to Javy Baez's. 

"Javy being Javy" may have to start picking up steam as a slogan.

Baez has often been compared to Gary Sheffield for the lightning-quick batspeed, but the guy Joe Maddon keeps comparing Baez to is actually Manny Ramirez. (If you're keeping score at home, Baez has now been compared to Sheffield, Ramirez and Willie Mays — and that's just in the first month of the 2018 season.)

The Cubs manager believes the only thing that has kept Baez from being Ramirez at the plate is laying off pitches out of the zone, namely the slider low and away.

Ramirez was one of the game's best hitters for nearly two decades in the '90s and 2000s, a force in the middle of the Cleveland and Boston lineups during that time.

We may be witnessing a similar type of evolution for Baez right now, who hit .344 with 8 extra-base hits (including 5 homers), 12 RBI and 9 runs in 7 games on this homestand after Thursday's 8-5 win over the Cardinals

Baez also ranks third in baseball in barrels per plate appearance — trailing only Boston's J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts — and boasts a slugging percentage (.691) in the same neighborhood as Bryce Harper's (.712).

"You're seeing the ascension," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "I've talked about this for a bit — where the moment he starts laying off the down-and-away slider, he's Manny Ramirez.

 

"He's got that kind of abilities at the plate. It's just a matter of maturing as a hitter, which he will."

[PODCAST: Does Javy Baez have an MVP in his future?]

Ramirez has had a hand in helping Baez become the player he is now, as the former Red Sox great was hired by Theo Epstein as a hitting consultant with the Cubs and spent time in 2014 with Baez in Triple-A Iowa.

Baez is still just 25 years old and the maturation process has already started, as he is now looking to go the other way instead of trying to pull everything.

For a guy that's hit just 21.9 percent of his balls to right field in his career, Baez has seen a jump in 2018, with 28.9 percent of his balls in play going the other way, and that was before he lined a pair of 110 mph hits) to right to kick off Thursday's game.

He's locked in right now and it's still very early in the season, but everything Baez has shown thus far in 2018 has been encouraging.

"He's using the whole field — I can't emphasize that enough," Maddon said. "He might take that out-of-control swing, but then he comes right back to reality pretty quickly. Whereas that one [would] lead to the second one to the third one and then he comes walking back [to the dugout]. 

"So I think he's making in-at-bat adjustments. His approach has been entirely different. He's willing to use the other side."

Baez insists he's not consciously trying to hit the ball to right field, but he's seeing it really well right now.

"It started with Pittsburgh. I kinda put the ball where I wanted to," Baez said. "Now that I keep doing the same thing, I'm still hitting the ball good. I'm not actually trying to hit the ball that way, just trying to see the ball better."

Maddon and the Cubs have typically been slotting Baez in the eighth spot in the order this season, but as he's exploded offensively, he's seen a steady climb.

That culminated in a start in the 2-hole Thursday, the first time Baez has been there since 2016.

Maddon was looking for some "energy" from Baez atop the order and it worked to perfection as he tripled in the first inning and wound up scoring a few pitches later on Kris Bryant's single. Baez singled and scored in the second inning, too.

 

There will still be growing pains, like when Baez collided softly with Rizzo for a foul pop-up in the third inning Thursday, causing the ball to drop. And he still doesn't walk much and will be prone to the strikeout.

But Baez can help the Cubs win in a dozen different ways and it sure seems as if his bat is catching up to the rest of his game.