It’s a big few weeks here at Baseball America. Today is July 2, one of the best talent acquisition days of the year as international prospects can begin signing with clubs. Ben Badler leads our ever-expanding July 2 coverage. Already, he’s posted team-by-team forecasts, predictions of where the Top 30 prospects will sign, scouting reports on the Top 30 Prospects and much more at Baseball America’s international section.
We won’t have a Prospect Hot Sheet on Friday because of Independence Day, but we will have our midseason minor league all-stars.
Then on Monday, July 7, Baseball America will unveil its midseason Top 50 Prospects, plus a look at some players who are fast rising up the prospect ranks, some who are slipping and some deep sleepers.
But before we get to that, let’s answer a prospects question.
BA: Coming out of spring training, Baez looked like the sure bet to beat Bryant to the big leagues. He had an excellent spring training with the big league club, hitting five home runs while playing shortstop and second base. He was good enough that the Cubs had to make proclamations that no matter how good he looked, he wasn’t heading north when the season began.
But when the season began, Baez’s excellent spring faded into a blur of 0-for-4s with too many strikeouts. Baez has started to pull out of his two-month long slump, helped maybe in part by the motivating effect that came with Bryant’s arrival in Iowa. In June, Baez hit .275/.345/.471. He’s hit for power all year (a .194 isolated power), but Baez has showed extremely poor contact skills this year, as his always high swing-and-miss rates have reached astronomical levels.
It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time that Baez has struggled after moving up. Last year, he was sensational in high Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, hitting 37 home runs between the two stops. But in 2012, Baez hit .188/.244/.400 in 80 late-season at-bats after a promotion to Daytona. Some poor luck and small sample sizes come into play, but Baez’s swing-and-miss rates and his strikeout rate keeps climbing as he faces better pitching.
Baez has exceptional bat speed and solid hand-eye coordination, so there’s nothing that should prevent him from making more contact, but his approach is too simplistic right now for Triple-A pitchers. The Cubs have worried that Baez’s attempts to draw more walks (his walk rate has ticked up at every step up the ladder) have led him to let too many early-count hittable pitches go by, putting him in too many two-strike situations. Scouts who have seen him this year note that he’s still swinging from his heels when he gets to two-strike counts and he chases too many pitches outside of the zone, making life easy for more experienced pitchers.
On the positive side, Baez has improved his consistency at shortstop. There are still questions about where he’ll eventually play in Chicago, as Starlin Castro has had a very nice bounce back year at shortstop, but Baez is showing enough improvement that shortstop is still a viable option for him.
Baez is currently the second-youngest player in the Pacific Coast League. He’s got plenty of time to make improvements and in the long term, this is likely to be more of a character-building setback than a roadblock to future big league success. But right now, he’s shown he still needs more Triple-A time.
Now, it’s apparent that Bryant should beat Baez to the big leagues. Although he started the season in Double-A, a level behind Baez, Bryant’s monstrous start in the Southern League has allowed him to reach Triple-A in less than 400 pro at-bats. In his first 12 games with Iowa, he’s hit six home runs, while Baez has hit 11 in Iowa over the first half of the season.
Bryant’s defense has also been a revelation. There was some thought that Bryant would be able to stick at third base, at least in the short term, but might need to move to the outfield before too long. The reviews of his defense this season are much better than that. He looks to be a solid long-term presence at third base with excellent agility with some scouts saying he may have gold glove ability there. He’s committed more errors than one would like this year (14 in 62 games in Double-A), but scouts see no long-term problems and he’s been flawless since his promotion to Triple-A.
Bryant has some swing-and-miss tendencies like Baez, but that’s to be expected from a 6-foot-5 hitter, especially when he produces the kind of power numbers that Bryant has. It’s hard to see the Cubs calling Bryant up this year because their 2014 season is already a lost cause. But come the start of the 2015 season, it’s going to take some creative excuses (also known as the Super Two flu) to keep him off the Opening Day roster.