As we mentioned on Tuesday, Bruce Levine has continued to report the Cubs and Rays mutual interest for a deal this off-season. We looked at Wilson Contreras on Tuesday being a potential target and we're shifting efforts to Javier Baez today.
Who is Javier?
Javier Baez is from Bayamon, Puerto Rico and then attended high school in Jacksonville, Florida. After performing at a very high level he was chosen in the first round with the ninth overall pick. He was the last pick of the Jim Hendry regime before Theo Epstein took the reigns. He followed the path of most high draft picks for the Cubs and spent time at short season Boise (now the Eugene Emeralds) and the Arizona League to knock off rust. He continued to follow a natural progression moving up either one or two levels per year.
His breakout campaign was in 2013 where he split time at the Cubs High-A and Double-A affiliates, where he combined to hit 37 home runs and drive in 111 runs while stealing 20 bases. He also had 75 extra base hits which showcases his extreme power to all fields.
After hearing about the above stats you would be sold on Baez, with his incredible bat speed and 65 power tool; however, with great power comes
great responsibility the problem of strikeouts and a low contact rate.
In that 2013 season, Baez struck out 140 times in 577 plate appearances, 25.5% of the time.
Scouting the Cubs phenom
In 2014, I had the opportunity to take in the Tiple-A Iowa Cubs for the first time in the press box, and I was treated to Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant all in the same lineup for the first time, and Baez still stood out.
In one of the games I attended I saw Baez hit a 440-foot homer to deep left that showcased immense bat speed and power. Here's one such example:
Before the end of the season, Baseball America would slap a 75-grade rating on his power, projecting more than 35 home runs at the major league level.
Jason Parks, current Cubs Pro and International Scout and former Baseball Prospectus lead prospect writer, ranked Baez skills at 80-power potential, which is thrown out very rarely in the scouting world. He also gave him high marks on a potential 65-hit, 70-arm and 60-glove.
It's a dream profile and it seems very hard to live up to but you can definitely see the great upside with Baez. If you're interested in reading more about his write-up in 2014 feel free to read the full write up here.
After playing 104 games in 2014, Baez then got his first cup of coffee with the Cubs, and replicated that power in Coors field.
Although he had many ups and down's through the rest of the year, Baez still belted nine homers within his first 36 hits. He also struck out 95 times, good for a 41.5% K-rate.
For more on his wild 2014 season, check out this extensive piece by Ben Lindbergh for Grantland on Baez's first 100 plate appearances.
Just a game
It was obvious at the end of the 2014 season his swing needed refining, and the Cubs wanted to see a bit more controlled approach at the plate, and Baez was likely slated to start the year in the minors, but life intervened.
In what would be one of the toughest seasons on a player, Baez had an incredible turn to start the season. The Jacksonville, FL native went .324/.385/.527 for a .911 OPS (an All-Star level) and showed more consistent contact than ever before.
The season was, however, a tale of two stories. Mid-season Baez received word of his sister Noely passing away. Noely played a special role within Baez's life, something Carrie Muskat highlighted in this amazing piece.
After returning from bereavement, Baez would finish his minor league season with a 144 wRC+ and eventually be promoted to the major league level on September 1st. Over 80 plate appearances, Baez would contribute just a 98 wRC+ with a .289/.325/.408 batting line and one home run during the Cubs playoff push.
The Rays seemed to have latched on to Baez not only for his bat, but his defensive versatility. The infielder has experience playing second base, short stop, and third base, and even played some center field in the Arizona Fall League.
Baez may not have a defensive home with the Cubs, but that does not mean he lacks for ability. He has the glove and the arm to roam around the field.
Some might shy away from the comparison, but there is an honest parallel here between Baez and the Cubs' recently signed second baseman Ben Zobrist. To the Rays advantage, that same signing is what makes Baez available for trade.
Entering his age-23 season. if Baez can limit the strikeouts and continually improve his contact rates across his six remaining years of team control, he's an amazing asset. With all his upside on a low cost rookie contract, he could be a mainstay with the Rays, and an immediate contributor going forward on both sides of the ball.