Javier Baez's Bat Attracts Cubs
CHICAGO—The clock may be ticking on the Jim Hendry regime, but the Cubs still refused to make the expedient move, which would have meant drafting for need.
A lack of pitching depth has been a major issue in 2011, but they nevertheless took the patient, aggressive approach, moving to add an impact hitter, not just a serviceable starting pitcher. They bypassed a number of highly regarded college pitchers—led by Texas righthander Taylor Jungmann and Vanderbilt righthander Sonny Gray—to select 18-year-old Javier Baez
, a shortstop from Arlington Country Day High in Jacksonville, Fla.
That's the way Tim Wilken, their highly respected scouting director, rolls.
"We went over a number of (college pitchers),'' Wilken said. "We did talk about that. We thought (Baez's talent) far outweighed (the pitching) available to us at No. 9. We were strong on Javier's ability.''
Baez is a high-ceiling prospect who has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez. Wilken says the Cubs had him rated as the second-best hitter in the draft—seemingly behind only Rice's Anthony Rondon—and were thrilled to get him, even though they'll have to wait years for him to reach the big leagues.
Baez, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, relocated to Florida in 2005. He wasn't being tracked as a top prospect until last summer but scouts fell in love with his bat speed and potential to develop more power from his 6-1, 190-pound build.
They saw a ton of talent and some raised questions about his makeup. He plays with a lot of flair and swagger but convinced the Cubs that he takes the game seriously and will be a solid teammate.
"He's a very quiet young man off the field, and very fiery on the field,'' Wilken said. "He's more of an astute type young man. He's confident but it's a silent confidence. He's got very good makeup off the field.''
A righthanded hitter, Baez dominated the same type of competition as had Chipper Jones before the Braves took him with the first pick in 1990. He hit .711 with 20 doubles, six triples and 22 home runs in 115 plate appearances this season, leading his team to the National Association of Christian Athletics championship.
Wilken says he's projected near the top of the 20-80 scouting scale (70) as a power hitter and just a tick lower in his ability to hit for average (60-70) and has a strong arm (70) that could play at shortstop, third base, the outfield or even catcher.
"I think he projects anywhere where his bat is going to take him,'' Wilken said. "We'll just have to let that take care of itself.''
Baez told the Florida Times-Union he looks forward to making improvements in all phases of his game.
"My bat is what will take me where I'm going," Baez said. "But I also need to become more consistent with the little things at the plate that really make a difference."
• The organization was dealt a blow when righthander Robert Whitenack suffered a torn ligament in his elbow, which will require Tommy John surgery. Whitenack had gone 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 11 starts between high Class A and Double-A.
• Lefthanded-hitting catcher Steve Clevenger is challenging for big-league consideration. He had hit .342 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 46 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Temporarily filling Welington Castillo's spot at Triple-A Iowa, he hit .412 with three homers and eight RBIs in 14 games before returning to Tennessee.