Disclaimer: I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan about to praise a Chicago Cubs player. It feels so wrong, and yet, I feel confident that I’m right here. Javier Baez is considered a mid-low tier fantasy option on the middle infield, but I think he is on the verge of a breakout into the upper echelon. When he was a prospect, all that was raved about was Javy’s bat, with not much mention of the eye-popping things he can do with the glove. Now, after less than 1,000 career plate appearances, everyone seems to have given up on him developing further, despite only being 24 years old.
Back in 2013, Baez hit .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in the minors between High-A and Double-A. Now, I know minor-league stats are not always indicative of future major-league performance, but 37 home runs are not a fluke. The next year, between the minor leagues and his big-league call-up, he still hit 36 bombs between the two levels. Keep in mind that this is before the current offensive environment even took off. In 2015, Baez was sent back to the minor leagues to improve his plate discipline, and while this may have changed his swing, the ability for power should still be there. Last year, his first full season in Chicago, Baez was able to hit 14 homers, but struggled to the tune of a .273/.314/.423 slash line.
The results have been much of the same this year. The strikeout rate is up, the batting average and OBP are both down, and Baez is sometimes struggling to find consistent playing time. However, one number sticks out: 10 home runs. I know that the current offensive environment across the league makes home runs much more plentiful, but a 25-homer pace is valuable for a middle infielder. Last year, only five shortstops and five second basemen hit more than 25 bombs, with most of these players being heralded as high-level fantasy options. If Baez can improve beyond his current pace, he could even get to 30 home runs in only his age-24 season.
At this point, it costs virtually nothing to acquire Baez as you may even be able to find him on your waiver wire. He is currently only owned in 68.8 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. In addition, between CBS Sports and ESPN, no analyst has him valued within their top 20 at either middle infield position. I may be wrong here, but it’s a small price to pay for the potential upside that Baez could give your fantasy team.