It’s hard not to be caught up in the excitement of spring training. For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve seen live baseball on our televisions after a dreary winter offseason.
Twitter and baseball-related boards all over the internet are set ablaze with discussions, ranging from the most basic predictions all the way down to the finite intricacies of player makeup and scouting future prospects. Truly, it is democracy in baseball at its finest.
Being a Cubs fan, I tend to keep a close watch on the popular opinion of fans. This is both a blessing and a curse.
Naturally, a fan base as large as the Cubs’ means that you’re more likely to stumble across half-baked opinions about the already highly scrutinized team.
The majority of Cubs fans seem elated by the spring training results and for good reason. The Cubs have their future prospect pieces working closely with their elite coaching staff while the core starters are getting fielding reps and showing consistency.
With everything seemingly going to plan, Cubs fans are left with very little to shout about, except for maybe how to manage Kris Bryant’s service time. And while this topic seemed to keep many of the armchair online baseball warriors occupied for a while, another theme in Cubs land is emerging: the seemingly uncanny lack of production from Javier Baez.
Fans are upset at the number of Ks that Baez is producing in spring training while having his approach and swing mechanics brought in to question. The once touted “savior” of the Cubs is now on the receiving end of the wrath of the casual fan. Welcome to the bigs, Javy.
Now these accusations aren’t exactly unwarranted but the logic behind them is flat out wrong. Baez had struggled after his mid season call-up in 2014 (posting a face-melting 41.5 K%) but this does not make him a prospect “bust.” In fact, he’s far from it.
Baez is face deep in his development plan, as scheduled and expected, and the proof is in the math. He almost always had a sharp decline in performance after being promoted to the next minor league level, except for Double-A to Triple-A, where his decline and adjustment period was shorter than his usual trend. At every level, his power numbers would also shrink before sharply skyrocketing to their regular levels. Noticing a trend here? There’s a sharp learning curve for Baez — always has been.
This trend is certainly a byproduct of his unconventional swing and adjusting to the median skill level of pitching at whichever level he was playing at. It’s not wrong to assume that transitioning to MLB pitching will be his biggest challenge yet, as the bigs boast some pretty skilled pitchers who will have the scouting report on Baez memorized. It seems easy to project vast improvements in 2015, as he only received 229 PA in 2014, posting a meager .169 AVG but still for hit a surprisingly robust .324 SLG considering how few balls he actually hit.
Striking out will forever be Baez’s ultimate challenge. He’s a free swinger who feasts on fastballs and has yet to learn how to control MLB caliber offspeed pitching. His “unconventional” swing mechanics, which seem to be more suited for a football offensive lineman than a baseball player, will be his demise if he cannot learn to shorten up his stride on two strikes, let alone learn to take a few pitches.
All things considered, Baez is still a toss up to make the 25-man roster out of spring training largely on his surprisingly strong defensive game. Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara make for suitable platoon options at 2B should Joe Maddon decide to shake things up.
He has the tools to be one of the strongest middle infield hitters in MLB history, if he can display the same ability to learn and adapt as he’s shown in the minors. Only thing left to do now is watch and see if the kid can pull it off.