Baez's quick hands, bat speed makes future bright
Projecting the future of high school players is one of scouting's most challenging tasks. The risk is great, but the rewards can be greater.
Selecting a high school player in the First-Year Player Draft allows the club to shape the player's total professional baseball maturation, from his teenage years to the completion of his development.
The Chicago Cubs selected Javier Baez following his senior year at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, Fla.
Baez, born in Puerto Rico, hit an astounding .771 in his final year of high school. He had 22 home runs, 20 doubles and six triples among his 64 hits in 83 at-bats.
Even though the club already had the talented Starlin Castro, the Cubs selected Baez as a shortstop.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound, Baez may very well add additional strength and muscle to his frame. As he continues to develop, I feel his ultimate role will be as a third baseman.
For now, Baez is at the beginning of his journey to the Major Leagues. He has outstanding raw skills that must be refined.
In 2011, Baez began his career playing for two teams but received only 18 plate appearances. He hit .278 in the brief introduction.
Baez began 2012 working in extended Spring Training in Arizona. Following that, he played at Class A Peoria, hitting .333 in 235 plate appearances. He hit 12 home runs and had 33 RBIs. He also played at high Class A Daytona, where he scuffled a bit, hitting .188 in 86 trips to the plate.
Combined last season, Baez hit 16 home runs and stole 24 bases, two very significant statistics that provided a hint regarding his future. His composite .294 batting average included 13 doubles, six triples and 46 runs batted in. He showed he had the ability to hit with power. In addition, he also served notice he could steal bases.
The season illustrated the fact Baez needed some work on his plate discipline and patience. In a total of 321 plate appearances in 80 games, Baez had a rather low strikeout total of 69, but he walked only 14 times. With his speed and ability to steal bases, his on-base percentage, while good at .346, could have benefited from more free passes.
It must be remembered that Baez was only 19 years old when he was promoted to Daytona. What he showed in his first full season was a hint of the talent that could be unleashed with maturity.
I got to see Baez during this past season's Arizona Fall League.
The Fall League generally features players who have completed Double-A at a minimum, with many having just finished a season at Triple-A. Baez was young and inexperienced for the league -- but he held his own.
In the first game of the season, Baez powered a home run to serve notice of his lightning quick hands and remarkably fast bat. To me, he demonstrated similar bat speed to that of Justin Upton when Upton was first promoted to the Arizona Diamondbacks at age 19.
Baez attacked pitches with gusto and energy rarely seen in such a young player.
Mechanically, prior to meeting the ball, Baez has a whip type hitch in his swing. I believe it could become a problem if that amazing bat speed ever diminishes. The whip costs him a bit of time in his approach and it could hurt if he is jammed on the inside corner.
I observed Baez as an aggressive hitter. However, he can temper the approach if needed.
His swings prior to a two-strike count are high octane for sure, and at times even bordering on violent. He doesn't get cheated as he swings from the heels. However, when behind in the count with two strikes, I noticed a more measured and less aggressive approach. He just tried to meet the ball and take it where it was pitched.
I believe some of the excessive vigor and zest will disappear with experience.
Overall, Baez makes good contact. The sound when he barrels a pitch and "gets it all" is loud and distinct. His home runs leave little doubt, as each one I witnessed carried over the fence with plenty of room to spare.
During his time in the Fall League, Baez hit .211 with four home runs and 16 RBIs. Overall, his offense introduced his projectable power. But he walked only twice in 57 at-bats. His lack of patience was evident. He struck out 14 times, an average number for the strength of the league.
Baez left the league early after suffering a thumb injury off the field.
At this point of his early development, my concerns center more on Baez' defense than his offense.
Playing exclusively at shortstop last season, Baez made 17 errors. In the Arizona Fall League, he made an additional nine, as he also played some at third base.
My issues are not with regard to the balls he handles. My concern rests with the somewhat limited range I have seen from him at shortstop. I believe occasionally his footwork slows him.
Baez has a strong arm and easily makes throws from the hole. I just think he will feel less pressure and be more comfortable if he ultimately shifts to third base. He has the type of power that will be welcomed at that position. I also think he will physically grow out of the agility and quickness that is needed to play shortstop.
Baez, now 20, is the top-rated Cubs prospect in MLB.com's rankings. He has been invited to Spring Training by the club.
The Cubs have the luxury of allowing Baez time to fully develop his skills. He has shown rare power generated by his uncommon bat speed. Now he must gain experience and refine his impressive skills.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.