Javier Baez, SS
Age 21 (12/1/1992)
2013 Team: Daytona Cubs, Florida State League (A+); Tennessee Smokies, Southern League (AA)
Northsiders Report 2014 Ranking—# 1
How acquired:—Cubs first-round pick in 2011 (ninth overall)
Prior to Cubs
Baez arrived in the U.S. from Bahaman, Puerto Rico in 2005 so his sister, who has spina bifida, could receive better medical care. He was no stranger to pro ball as his brother, Rolando Agosto, was a 2002 15th-round pick of the San Diego Padres and played two minor league seasons. Baez played his high school ball at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida, a private school that played its game all over the southeast and not part of the Florida High School Association. Baez hit .771 with 22 homers and 28 stolen bases his senior year, and showed off his quick bat and power at several showcases his senior year, projecting as a first-round pick. Based on recommendations from area scout Tom Clark (still with Cubs) and scouting director Tim Wilken, the Cubs used the ninth overall pick to nab Baez.
Baez didn't sign his $2.65 million bonus until late August and only played five games in his first pro season, three at Mesa and two at Boise. He had hits in four of the five games but committed six errors. With a new front office, Baez's 2012 season included a stay at extended spring training and he finally joined Peoria on May 28. He blasted his first pro homer June 2 at Kane County, one of 12 he hit in the MWL. In 57 games for Peoria, Baez batted .333/.383/.596 with 20 stolen bases and 41 runs.
Baez was promoted to Daytona on Aug. 4 and spent the final month of the season in the Florida Sate League. Baez struggled at High A, batting .188/.244/.400 with four homers and 21 strikeouts in 23 games. He committed 17 errors between the two levels, finishing with a fielding percentage of .950 in his first full season. Baez continued his season at the Arizona Fall League but injured his hand ‘high-fiving' a teammate and only played in 16 games (.211/.250/.456).
Baez made his mark early at Cubs' camp in spring training as he appeared in 17 games, hitting .298 with 4 HR and 10 RBI. He also hit two homers against Japan, including a walk-off, in an exhibition game that didn't count in the stats. Baez broke camp with Daytona and continued to hit the ball out of the park, including a four-homer game on June 10. In 78 games, Baez hit .24/.338/.535 and smacked 17 homers with 57 RBI and 59 runs. His game wasn't without flaws with a 23.1% K-rate and 31 errors for a .922 fielding percentage. He was named to the mid-season and post season all-star teams, earned two player of the week honors, and was Cubs player of the month for June.
On July 6, Baez made his AA debut in impressive fashion, blasting a homer in his first at-bat off fellow 2011 first-rounder Taylor Jungmann. By the time he was done with AA pitching, Baez had compiled a slash line of .294/.346/.638 with 20 homers and 54 RBI in 54 games. He also increased his fielding percentage to .948 and made a diving grab of a liner up the middle to preserve Eric Jokisch's no-hitter on Aug. 6. Baez finished the year leading minors with 111 RBI and 75 extra base hits, and was tied for second with 37 homers. Baez was named to the Souther League post-season all-star team and was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.
While at Tennessee, Baez worked with hitting coach Desi Wilson to refine his approach at the plate, working on pitch recognition and learning to identify curve balls. "When I had him in the second half (Daytona), he was vulnerable to off-speed early in the counts, swinging at it early in the count and getting himself out," Wilson told Smokies Radio this summer. "This year, you can see the difference. He's not attempting to swing at those pitches early in the count. He's looking for his pitch."
And what did the Cubs front office think of Baez's 2013 performance:
"I think he has a lot going forward for him, because for a young kid, he has tremendous baseball instincts," Cubs President of Operations Theo Epstein told reporters. "Not just shortstop instincts. Not that we would ever do this, but I don't doubt he could go out and play well in the outfield. I think he could catch. I think second and third base will be positions that he can handle if and when the time is right to do that. There is a chance in spring training we look at that."
"He's getting a lot of well-deserved attention coming off the monstrous season that he had," Jason McLeod said this winter. "We're going to try our best to make sure he stays on his development plan and works on things that we've laid out for him. With that in mind, the plan for Javy is going to be to start the season playing shortstop in Iowa."
"It's as good a minor league season as I've seen," Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said of Baez's performance after the season. "He's got some things he needs to work on but guys that do that at his age normally go on to have really good careers."
Baez has established himself as one of the top prospects in baseball and with AAA Iowa his starting point, its almost a lock he makes his major league debut in 2014. It may not be at shortstop but he'll be hitting balls out of Wrigley by summer's end. He still has work to do at Iowa as he hones his skills at shortstop and works on improving his plate discipline. Baez has great range at short and a plus arm to play the position. Baez gets to a lot of balls but needs to learn to eat some throws and not try to make every play. While everyone raves about the bat speed and the way the ball jumps off his bat, Baez's baseball IQ is overlooked as well as his base running skills. He has the flair for the dramatic and isn't afraid to step into the box when the game is on the line.