Javy Baez Carries Cubs Back To Top Of NL Central (Three Up, Three Down)
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs
At this time last month, the North Side was in a panic with the Cubs off to a 5-9 start. How quickly things change. The Cubs own the National League’s highest winning percentage (.632) through roughly one-quarter of the season, with Baez orchestrating the turnaround. The electrifying 26-year-old is making a convincing case that last year’s MVP runner-up finish was no fluke, batting .323 with 14 doubles, 11 home runs and 29 RBIs through 38 games. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever with a career-high 93.3 mph average exit velocity, per Statcast, while also whiffing less and walking more than last year’s brilliant season. From the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft to No. 5 prospect in baseball two years later to present-day superstar, Baez continues to raise his game every step of the way.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
The major league leaders in average exit velocity are Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo and Gary Sanchez. Christian Yelich is tied for fourth—with Bell. The longtime Pirates top prospect is coming into his own in his third full season, batting .324/.395/.655 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 38 games. He’s in the midst of a 13-game hit streak—during which he’s notched seven multi-hit games—and has almost single-handedly carried a Pirates offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the National League. Bell projected as an offensive cornerstone when he was a four-time Top 100 Prospect, and he’s starting to become just that in his age-26 season.
Caleb Smith, LHP, Marlins
The Marlins are a major-league worst 10-29 and have had to suffer the indignity of watching former prospects Chris Paddack, Luis Castillo and Domingo German excel for other teams. The good news is they may have found a building block in Smith. Acquired in a low-profile trade with the Yankees in 2017, the 27-year-old lefthander has quietly been one of the majors’ best starters to start the season. Entering Tuesday, Smith ranks third in the majors in WHIP (0.89), fifth in opponent average (.176), sixth in opponent’s OPS (.574) and seventh in ERA (2.11). His plus changeup was considered his best pitch as a prospect and has played in the majors (.188 opponent average this year), but the emergence of his slider has fueled Smith’s rise. Opponents his just .136 with a 37 percent whiff rate against Smith’s slider last year, and it’s been even more effective so far this year. Per Statcast, opponents are batting just .130 with a 41.7 percent whiff rate against Smith’s slider through seven starts.
Jurickson Profar, 2B, Athletics
After appearing to finally break out last year, baseball's one-time No. 1 prospect has fallen back into his light-hitting ways with a .184/.252/.312 mark through 38 games with Oakland. Even more concerning has been his defense. Profar has come down with an alarming case of the yips at second base, resulting in eight errors in 38 games. With Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo leading a solid group of middle infielders in the upper levels of the A’s system, Profar’s struggles are becoming amplified and may be reaching a breaking point even though it’s still early.
Chris Owings, 2B/OF, Royals
The Royals opted to give Owings a one-year, $3 million contract in the offseason despite a steady decline in performance the last three years, and now they are paying the price. Owings, 27, has the lowest batting average (.143) and on-base percentage (.209) of all qualified major league players through roughly one-quarter of the season, and he has the second-lowest slugging percentage (.244). The Royals own the American League’s worst record at 14-27, and the promotion of infield prospect of Nicky Lopez figures to be the first of many prospect promotions that squeezes out underperforming veterans.
Collin McHugh, RHP, Astros
The worst ERA in the majors at the one-quarter mark of the season belongs to McHugh, who posted a 6.33 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) and was recently demoted to the bullpen in favor of top pitching prospect Corbin Martin. McHugh’s main problem has been an ineffective fastball that has been destroyed by hitters to the tune of a .389 average and .833 slugging percentage. Without an effective fastball, McHugh has already allowed nine home runs in 42.2 innings this year after allowing six homers in 72. 1 innings last season. Now, the Astros hope a return to the bullpen will help him find himself.