One of the best power prospects in the minors is headed to the big leagues, as the Cubs have called up second baseman/shortstop Javier Baez just three seasons after selecting him with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft.
After a slow start this season, Baez heated up in July, hitting 10 home runs that month to go with a .300/.344/.600 slash line. He hit a pair of home runs in his (for now) final Triple-A game for a fitting send-off against Omaha. In 319 minor league games, Baez has hit 73 home runs, an impressive ratio of one every 16 at-bats.
The Cubs' decision to promote Baez to the big leagues is interesting because they were not required to add him to the 40-man roster this offseason. His promotion starts his clock towards arbitration and free agency with a team that is currently 16 games under .500. But it does give Baez time to acclimate to the big leagues this season in a relatively low-pressure environment. The Cubs have already brought up Arismendy Alcantara, so now two of the team's bounty of position prospects have arrived in Wrigley, with Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell not far behind.
Scouts who have seen Baez this year are not so sure that he's ready to help out at the big league level just yet. He has the quickest bat in the minors. Much like Gary Sheffield, he has to busy his hands early in his swing with a bat point just to slow his bat down to ensure he's not too quick to the ball. He uses his legs well, generating excellent torque with a pronounced hip rotation. He can turn on any fastball, and as he demonstrated at the Futures Game, he has top of the scale raw power.
What he doesn't have yet is a consistent understanding as to how to handle pitchers who can locate quality secondary stuff in the zone. Baez's power comes with a lot of swing and miss. His 30 percent strikeout rate this season is the third worst in the Pacific Coast League.
|PCL K-RATE LEADERS|
|Carlos Peguero (Royals)||32.7%|
|Bryan Peterson (Rangers)||30.1%|
|Javier Baez (Cubs)||30.0%|
|Matt Fields (Royals)||29.1%|
|Cody Decker (Padres)||29.1%|
Baez does not tone down his swing when he gets behind in the count, and his aggressiveness ensures that crafty pitchers can get him to expand his zone and chase. He's dead last among PCL qualifiers in swinging-strike percentage (source: Minor League Central) and also dead last in swing-and-miss percentage (37 percent of all swings).
Baez wants to face a hard-throwing pitcher whose best pitch is his fastball. This season, he's homered off of Jimmy Nelson, Neftali Feliz, Jorge Rondon and Sugar Ray Marimon, all hard-throwers who like to challenge hitters with a plus fastball. On the other hand, of the 12 games where Baez has struck out three times this season, only two of the starting pitchers he faced had above-average fastballs. Much more often, Baez was tied up by a pitcher with an average or below-average fastball, but who pitched off of an above-average slider, change or curve (such as Brad Mills, Nick Tepesch, Ryan Feierabend, Yohan Flande and Mike Kickham).
Long-term, Baez should be one of the best power hitters in the majors. But he'll have to learn to handle quality breaking balls at the big league level, something he's yet to master as a minor leaguer.