Javier Baez, ss, Cubs: The owner of the minors' only four home run game this season likes to go on power binges.
Baez went 4-for-4 with two home runs on Wednesday night, giving him his fourth multi-home run game of the season and his third since joining Double-A Tennessee at the end of June.
Both of Baez's home runs on Wednesday were pulled to left-center field. The first was a long drive that landed at the back of the Birmingham Barons' picnic area behind the bullpen. With the two home runs, Baez is now second in all the minors with 33, three behind leader George Springer.
Few shortstops anywhere in baseball have Baez's power and bat speed. But as important as that will be to Baez's long-term success, what has been equally impressive about Baez's 2013 season is his steady improvement.
Scouts are less skeptical about Baez's ability to stick at shortstop than they were when he was drafted because he's shown improvement in his first-step quickness and range. He's also slowly becoming a steadier defender.
Baez was prone to making errors in bunches when he was in high Class A Daytona for the first half of the season. He made 33 errors overall in 73 games at short for an ugly .922 fielding percentage. Since being promoted to Tennessee, Baez has cut down on the defensive mistakes—he has a .951 fielding percentage in 40 games at shortstop with the Smokies.
At the plate, Baez still is a little too aggressive for his own good at times, but he has shown signs of improved patience. His strikeout rate has gone up with the jump to Double-A, which can be expected because of the tougher competition he's facing, but his walk rate has also increased from 6.2 percent of his plate appearances in high Class A to 8.8 percent of his plate appearances in Double-A.
When the Cubs promoted Baez to Double-A at the end of June, it looked like an aggressive move for a still very young (20-year-old) prospect. But with his excellent finish to the 2013 season, it's not unrealistic to think he could be contending for a big league job in 2014.
Edwin Escobar, lhp, Giants: It's been a very good season for Escobar, but it was a very bad Wednesday night.
Pitching for Double-A Richmond, Escobar was lifted after recording only one out. He walked three and gave up one hit before bumping up against the Giants' limit of 35 pitches in any one inning. Some teams have a rule that a pitcher will not be allowed to pitch another inning after hitting a pitch threshold (usually 30). The Giants' rule is that a pitcher cannot pitch more than 35 pitches in an inning. Escobar had thrown 34 pitches and still needed two more outs to get out of the inning.
“Anybody who was out there, we wouldn’t continue to pitch him with 34 or 35 pitches (in an inning),” Dave Machemer told the Richmond Times-Dispatch after the game.
The Flying Squirrels bullpen helped get out of the inning with Escobar only responsible for two runs allowed. Richmond then rallied as Jarrett Parker hit a walk-off home run in the ninth for a 4-3 win.
Enny Romero, lhp, Rays: Romero's dominance of the Southern League continued on Wednesday as he threw seven shutout innings against Mississippi while striking out seven. It's the latest excellent start in what's been a very impressive second half of the season for the 22-year-old.
Romero struggled in April, giving up 16 earned runs (a 5.82 ERA) and a 1.43 WHIP that month. Since July 1, Romero has given up 12 earned runs (a 2.00 ERA) and a 1.24 WHIP. With a 95+ mph fastball, Romero has the stuff to get both righthanders and lefthanders out, but this year, thanks in part to an improved changeup, he's had an interesting reverse split. Righthanders have a microscopic .566 OPS against him while lefties have a .781 OPS.
Maikel Franco, 3b, Phillies: Franco's breakout year continued on Wednesday with his 27th home run of the season and his 33rd double as part of a three-hit night. Franco now ranks 11th in the minors in home runs, 10th in RBIs (93), 10th in hits (154) and 10th in slugging percentage (.560).
Cody Asche is getting his chance to prove he can handle third base for the Phillies in an extended big league tryout at the end of this already lost season for Philadelphia. But before long, it's more likely we'll see Franco and his plus power handling the position in Philly.
Brett Jackson, of, Cubs: In the same game that Baez's bat went bonkers, Jackson had two hits including a double which was his first extra-base hit since he was sent back down to Double-A Tennessee 19 games ago. Those two hits raised Jackson's Double-A average to .200. It doesn't do much to sugarcoat what has largely been a lost year for the 2009 first-round pick. The Cubs tried to retool Jackson's swing over the offseason to cut down on his massive amount of strikeouts (he struck out in 59 of his 120 big league at-bats last year). The change hasn't appeared to help. Jackson is still striking out in 36 percent of his at-bats this year, but he's also seen his power disappear. Jackson, who has missed time with a calf injury. came into the year with a .488 career slugging percentage in the minors. This year he's slugged only .315. As we wrote before the season, the track record for hitters with Jackson’s strikeout rate doesn’t offer many encouraging examples.
The Cubs currently have eight players on the 60-day disabled list, so they already have an overstuffed 40-man roster for the offseason before they start adding 2013 Rule 5 eligible players like Arismendy Alcantara. Jackson's rough season will give the Cubs plenty to think about when making offseason 40-man roster choices.