Ask BA: Is Javier Baez Ready For The Big Leagues?

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With the exception of a couple of short-season and Rookie leagues, the 2013 minor league regular season wrapped up on Monday, which makes today  a perfect time to look at who finished among the minor league leaders.

Joey Gallo

Joey Gallo (Photo by Tony Farlow)

Rangers’ third base prospect Joey Gallo led the minors in home runs with 40. The 19-year-old became the first teenager to hit 40 home runs in a minor league season since Dick Simpson did it with the Class C California League’s San Bernardino club in 1962. Gallo’s power is even more impressive when you consider he missed nearly 30 games because of a groin injury. Gallo’s one home run every 10.3 at-bats was in a different realm than the rest of the minor league home run leaders. Of the top 50 minor league home run leaders this year, Miguel Sano’s one home run every 12.5 at-bats was second best. Third was George Springer at one every 13.3 at-bats.

Yes, Gallo has way too many strikeouts (172 this year), but it’s very hard to give up on top-of-the-scale power like this. Gallo will get plenty of chances to figure out the strike zone and try to shorten up his swing.

Rochester’s Chris Colabello (Twins) led the minors in batting average (.352), slugging percentage (.639) and on-base-plus-slugging (1.066). Salem/Portland third baseman Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) led the minors with a .443 on-base percentage, although Rookie-level Orem third baseman Cal Towey (Angels) also needs to be acknowledged for his other-worldly .490 on-base percentage in a full-season with the short-season club.

On the pitching side, Rays’ righthander Dylan Floro’s steady-diet of well-placed 88-92 mph sinkers down in the zone baffled Midwest and Florida State League hitters. Floro’s 1.77 ERA edged Rockies’ righthander Eddie Butler (1.80) for the ERA crown.

Rockies righthander Daniel Winkler won the strikeout title with 175 punchouts, though scouting reports on Winkler remain modest (fringe-average fastball, slider and change). Red Sox lefthander Henry Owens led the minors in average against (.177). Butler was again among the leaders as he finished second (.180). Because the Pirates were conservative with his pitch counts, righthander Tyler Glasnow fell one inning short of qualifying among pitching leaders, but if he had his .142 average against would have lapped the rest of the field.

I understand the Cubs wanting to ignore Javier Baez’s extreme numbers in his age 20 year this year, but why not give him time in September in the bigs?  Nowadays, the arbitration clock/super 2 status do not seem to matter with prospects of Baez’s caliber, since long-term extensions happen regularly with top-tier guys, buying out those arbitration years anyway. Mike Trout is one of many examples of 20 year old phenoms being called up and having success, so why not give Baez a shot?

Robert T. George

Arlington Heights, IL

It’s interesting you cite Trout as he’s an example of a player who has not signed a long-term extension. And if Trout doesn’t sign an extension after next season, he’ll begin to likely set arbitration records year after year. Yes, more players are signing long-term extensions early in their careers, but it’s still a significant financial investment to start a young player’s clock early.

Javier Baez

Javier Baez (Photo Mike Janes)

Baez, the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2011, had an outstanding 2013 season and it got even better after a midseason promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Baez hit .274/.338/.535 at high Class A Daytona, then followed that up by hitting .294/.346/.638 at Tennessee. His 37 home runs tied for second most in the minors, trailing only Rangers third base prospect Joey Gallo’s 40. With 20 home runs at Double-A, Baez finished fourth in the league despite playing only 54 games with the Smokies. That made enough impression to earn him a spot on the league’s postseason all-star team even though he had only 218 at-bats.

But as great as Baez’s season was, there are valid reasons to not call him up that go beyond service time considerations. His aggressiveness at the plate has worked for him so far, but he still has work to do on recognizing breaking balls, leading managers and scouts to say that he can be pitched to by a pitcher with good offspeed stuff. “He’s the most aggressive kid I’ve ever seen,” said one pro scout who saw him this year.

Baez also has plenty of work to do defensively. His range has proven to be better than what was projected when he came out of the 2011 draft, but he still has to work on his consistency at shortstop. He committed 31 errors in only 73 games at Daytona, showing poor throwing accuracy. He tended to make errors in bunches, as he had seven errors in one five-game stretch and another five-error, three-game stretch. The 20-year-old did settle down somewhat after his promotion to Tennessee, but he still made 13 errors in only 50 games at shortstop with the Smokies. In comparison, current Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro leads all National League shortstops in errors committed with 16 in 134 games.

Baez is one of the best prospects in baseball, and he’s a key part of the Cubs’ slow climb back to respectability. But as great as season was, there’s reasons to think he could still use some more refinement before he arrives in Chicago. The Cubs pushed Castro to the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2010. He’s regressed in his four years in Chicago, a further reminder that sometimes a little patience can be a good thing.

How real of a prospect is Mookie Betts?  He’s had an amazing year, hitting for good power for a second baseman, walking, stealing bases without getting caught?  Is he a breakthrough prospect along the lines of Alen Hanson from last year, or is he not in that category?

Ben Hall

Providence, RI

Betts is a very real prospect and one of the breakout stars of the 2013 season. Scouts who have seen him this year have been impressed with his excellent batting eye, solid defense, plus running ability and surprising power. Betts hit .314/.417/.506 with 15 home runs, 36 doubles and 38 steals this year between low Class A Greenville and high Class A Salem.

Mookie BettsBetts is one of a number of prospects the Red Sox went well above-slot for in the final year of the old draft rules in 2011. The fifth-round pick signed for $750,000 (more than the Red Sox spent on their second, third or fourth-rounders) as the Red Sox convinced him to turn down a scholarship to Tennessee.

Betts’ wiry strength and pitch recognition have stood out most this year. Betts showed an inside-out singles-oriented swing in his first significant pro action in 2012, but this year he’s pulling the ball with much more authority. He has strong wrists and a whippy bat that provides surprising pop. That power is aided by how quickly he seems to recognize pitches. Betts has 81 walks this year compared to only 57 strikeouts. While those numbers will likely flip when he faces more advanced pitchers, he has a knack to getting on-base.

Betts also stole 38 bags in 42 attempts this year. Betts is an above-average runner and most importantly he gets to full speed very quickly. Defensively, Betts has looked much better since sliding over to second base (like most second baseman he was originally a shortstop).

Long term, he projects as a top-of-the-order hitter thanks to his on-base skills, and unlike many top-of-the-order speedsters, he has enough power to force pitchers to treat him gingerly if they fall behind in the count.