Shortstop prospect Javy Baez already on Cubs’ radar
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org February 23, 2013 6:57PM
The Chicago Cubs Javier Baez, right, practices rundowns before an intersquad game at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa, AZ on Thursday, February 21, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:48AM
MESA, Ariz. — The story is nearing legendary status as it circulates among scouts and Cubs officials — and as Javy Baez rises in prominence with every new list of prospect rankings that gets published.
It seems that during an event honoring a group of elite high school players a couple of years ago, players took turns introducing themselves, each naming the college where he planned to play.
They say when the brash, young shortstop took his turn, he said, ‘‘I’m Javier Baez,’’ then turned his head, pointed at the Major League Baseball logo tattooed on the back of his neck and added, ‘‘University of Major League Baseball.’’
‘‘Nooo,’’ Baez said from the lofty confines of the Cubs’ spring-training clubhouse. ‘‘I heard that [story], too. But I would never say that.’’
Still, some in the organization swear it’s true. And the story even is told with a clear hint of pride.
As far as the Cubs are concerned, the veracity of the story isn’t nearly as important as the drive and ferocity it represents. Baez, 20, is so highly regarded in the system that he’s the youngest player in big-league camp this spring, with all of 85 pro games to his name.
Confidence or cockiness, it’s part of the personality the Cubs knew came with the abundant talent when they selected Baez with the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
And while the brashness will need some refining as Baez
develops, it’s also the kind of
innate swagger other gifted players have carried all the way to the Hall of Fame.
‘‘That’s my game; that’s how I play the game,’’ Baez said earnestly of that confidence. ‘‘Now I’ve got to still learn more. That’s why I’m going to keep working.’’
That might be the only thing he has in as much abundance as
‘‘He works incredibly hard; that’s probably first and foremost what we care about,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘He loves the game, and he works at it every day.’’
And if it takes occasionally reining in the expression of that confidence, it’s a fair trade-off for a trait that can’t be taught if it’s not there from the start.
‘‘You don’t want to take that away from a player,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘You also never want to show up your opponent and things like that. At the same time, he plays with an edge and a chip on his shoulder. And you want that. You want players like that.’’
Even if it sometimes comes out like it did during a game last year in extended spring training, when he hit a mammoth home run against a Los Angeles Angels prospect and watched the ball
‘‘I didn’t really do that because I want to,’’ he said of the first-instinct bad habit. ‘‘Sometimes I just hit the ball hard and watch it.’’
When he had a chance afterward, Baez’s manager, former big-league catcher Mark Johnson, gathered the team and told Baez: ‘‘You see these guys? You’re going to get one of them hurt doing that [stuff]. Next time you hit a ball that far, run as hard as you can.’’
The next time was the same week, against the same team. This time, Baez sprinted around the bases. That angered the opposing manager, who thought he was
being shown up again and yelled at Baez.
Baez responded by getting to the plate, stopping cold and staring down the other manager.
‘‘I was like: ‘You don’t have to talk to me like that. I’ve got a manager who can talk to me,’ ’’ Baez said — although other versions of the story include more colorful language.
Johnson took up the argument with the other team on behalf of Baez, who said his intent in that case was to do what Johnson had told him to do.
To his credit, Baez has carried himself respectfully and modestly with teammates and media this spring. His locker is in the same row as those of shortstop Starlin Castro and outfield prospect Jorge Soler, forming a virtual
alley of projected franchise players. Veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano is a few feet farther away.
Baez said he has spent a lot of time this spring listening to Castro and Soriano, as well as first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Darwin Barney and outfielder David DeJesus.
‘‘He’s a good guy,’’ Castro said of Baez. ‘‘I just try to tell him: ‘Be humble. You see Sori. He’s got a lot of years in the big leagues and a big contract, and you don’t see him talking. He’s always helping younger players. That’s how you should be. That’s like I try to be.’ ’’
Soriano has stressed working hard and ignoring things such as the just-released Baseball America list of top prospects that ranks Baez 16th.
‘‘Being a prospect means nothing,’’ Soriano said of his message. ‘‘You’ve got to work to get to the big leagues. And then you’ve got to work harder to stay there.’’
Baez, who figures to start the season at Class A Daytona, won’t get caught up in the going-after-Castro’s-job hype and said he’s fine with switching positions at some point.
He figures there’s room for both in the same infield, and he said his job this spring is to make an impression on the big-league staff before he gets sent out.
‘‘I’m going to show I can do it as soon as possible,’’ he said.