If you only saw Javier Baez play defense at second base or run the bases, you’d be convinced he’s ready for the big leagues. But Baez still has work to do at the plate, and the young infielder was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Monday.
“He’s so close to getting it figured out in the batter’s box, we feel Triple-A is the right venue for him to continue to make those adjustments and get locked in,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “He does everything else so well on the baseball field. He’s a winning baseball player, and has to take that same mindset into the batter’s box. We feel he’s not far from making it.”
In 16 games this spring, Baez was batting .173 with 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats. Last season, he was promoted to the big leagues, and batted .169 with 95 Ks in 213 at-bats. Cubs hitting coach John Mallee and manager Joe Maddon both went to Puerto Rico to start working with Baez this winter.
“He knows he has to get better offensively,” Maddon said Monday. “I said, as a 22-year-old baseball player, you might be the most accomplished 22-year-old I’ve ever been on the field with as far as defense, base running. The part that has to get better is the offense and he agreed, he totally agreed.”
— Carrie Muskat
Joe Maddon has made it known he’s impressed with Javier Baez’s defensive play and the young infielder’s baseball acumen, but neither the manager nor anyone else in the front office has told Baez that he made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.
Maddon denied a report that Baez was on the final 25-man roster, and added that neither Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer gave the infieder the go-ahead either.
“I have no idea where that came from,” Maddon said. “That hasn’t been decided yet.”
Baez was called up to the big leagues last August, and batted .169 in 52 games with the Cubs, striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats. Baez has been slow to adjust at each level, and the Cubs wanted to give him a head start going into the 2015 season.
This spring, Baez was 5-for-39 with 14 strikeouts. Conventional wisdom, Maddon said, is to send a player still struggling to the Minor Leagues because they don’t want him to scuffle at the big league level, then have to demote him.
“There are the occasions where sometimes it works in reverse,” Maddon said. “A guy like him, to go back and accept going back in Triple-A and getting it done there, he might renege at that thought and maybe you’re not going to get the full adjustment you’re looking for and it might take longer.
“If a guy fails at the Major League level and thinks he belongs in the Major Leagues and then knows he failed, if he goes back, it might be easier to get the point across.”
Bottom line, they’re still deciding what to do.
“The conclusion will be as we get together, what is the best method to make him a better Major League player sooner, and that’s what the discussion is about right now,” Maddon said.
— Carrie Muskat
Starlin Castro sees Javier Baez struggle at the plate, and is trying to help the young infielder get on track so he’ll break with the Cubs for the regular season. On Thursday, Baez struck out four times against the Diamondbacks, and is now 3-for-30 in 10 games this spring with 11 strikeouts.
“I told him [Thursday], ‘You’re late, you’re really late,'” Castro said Friday. “[I told him] ‘You’re not going to hit the ball like that. Start early, be early, and you can recognize the ball right away.’ We’ll see. We keep talking, we keep working.”
Said Baez: “I feel like I’ve got it. I just have to get in the rhythm again. I was trying to get good [at-bats] and swinging at pitches,” he said. “The tension was on me, and I had good [at-bats] but didn’t make any contact. I feel good, and the second [at-bat] I had a great [at-bat] and got a walk. I just didn’t make contact.
“[Thursday], I was feeling really good and then everything went wrong. That happens. We’ll deal with it.”
Manager Joe Maddon made it clear players have to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster and that Baez has some work to do. Could that be in the back of Baez’s mind?
“Not really,” he said. “I’m just going to do my job and try to do my best.”
Castro keeps telling Baez not to worry.
“I talk to him all the time,” Castro said. “It’s tough. I try to tell him to try to get his confidence. No matter what, if you strike out every day, look for your confidence. When you’re confident, something good is going to happen because you trust yourself. I think he’s a little lost at the plate right now but that’s what I tell him, try to get your confidence back and you’ll be all right. And don’t think too much. It’s Spring Training, we’re here to learn.”
— Carrie Muskat
Javier Baez was projected as the Cubs starting second baseman this season, but manager Joe Maddon said the young infielder is not a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
“Of course, there’s a chance he doesn’t make the team,” Maddon said Thursday. “There’s no lock in regard to that. The entitlement program doesn’t exist — everything has to be earned.”
Entering Thursday’s game against the Diamondbacks, Baez was 3-for-26, hitting a home run and striking out seven times.
“He has things he has to learn how to do yet,” Maddon said of Baez. “He shows signs of brilliance at times. To this point, he’s had a lot of good at-bats and hit some balls hard. Then he’ll show the out of control swing that bothers him a little bit, and I think it bothers the fans more than it bothers me.
“It’s a young guy trying to figure this all out,” Maddon said. “[He has] sterling bat speed, incredible bat speed. He just needs plate appearances.”
Baez struck out 95 times in 213 at-bats over 52 games with the Cubs last season after he was called up in August, and was initially playing second, then moved to shortstop when Starlin Castro was hurt. Baez not only has impressive bat speed, but can play solid defense, Maddon said.
“The thing nobody talks about is this guy is a really good baseball player,” Maddon said. “His defense is spectacular, baserunning is outstanding. His acumen on the field is well beyond his years. The thing that’s lagging is the adjustment at the plate. Of course, he needs to get better, of course he needs to make adjustments.”
— Carrie Muskat
One of the first things Dexter Fowler did when he arrived at the Cubs complex Wednesday was to take a selfie with Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, a day after their back to back to back home runs. Anthony Rizzo snuck into the picture as well.
“It’s great and they’re all handling it very well,” Rizzo said of the buzz generated by the trio of homers in the fourth inning Tuesday against the Indians’ Trevor Bauer. “It’s exciting — everyone’s excited about it and so are we.”
Rizzo saw a teaser on television about the consecutive blasts, then watched video later.
“They were impressive swings,” Rizzo said. “Nothing amazes me with anyone in this camp and the talent, to be honest.”
Fowler was watching the game on MLB-TV, and figured Bryant had to connect after Soler and Baez did.
“I said, ‘He’s got to go deep right now,'” Fowler said.
And Bryant did, hitting his second spring home run to the opposite field in right.
“We didn’t make that big of a deal of it,” Bryant said. “I’ve never been a part of a back to back to back home runs. It was like any other home run. It’s a shame we didn’t win that game, if we would’ve won, it would’ve made it that much better. It’s a work in progress and we’re getting there. Get all the losses out in Spring Training and get ready for the season.”
— Carrie Muskat
Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant hit back to back to back home runs Tuesday in the fourth inning but it wasn’t enough as the Cubs lost, 10-6, to the Indians to fall to 0-6-1 in Cactus League play. Welington Castillo also homered in the sixth.
“I know people are concerned with that — I’m not at all concerned,” manager Joe Maddon said about the Cubs’ record. “I’d like to see us win often to get that lovin’ feeling going on right here. If you’re getting some wins, you’re probably doing some good things.”
Travis Wood started and gave up four runs, two earned, on seven hits over three innings.
“It’s still early in spring,” Wood said. “If it was the season and we were 0-4, we’d start to press. It’s spring and everybody is starting to get their feet under them, especially the young guys. Everything’s going to fall into place.”
* Up next: Jon Lester makes his second spring start Wednesday, taking the mound against the Dodgers and Zack Greinke at Sloan Park in Mesa. In his first Cactus League start, Lester struck out three of the first four batters he faced, then served up a broken-bat single before getting the next batter to ground into an inning ending double play. The game will be broadcast on Cubs.com with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. MT/3:05 p.m. CT.
— Carrie Muskat
Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant put on a home run derby in the fourth inning Tuesday that Cubs fans are hoping to see a lot in the regular season. Soler led off the power show against the Indians’ Trevor Bauer with a mammoth shot to left that landed on the concourse behind the grassy berm. Two pitches later, Baez followed with his first home run and the ball landed in the same area as Soler’s. Bryant, who led the Minor Leagues with 43 homers last season, then connected on a monster opposite field shot to right field off a 1-1 pitch from Bauer to pull the Cubs within 4-3.
“You’ve got to let the hitters have some fun in Spring Training, too, right?” Bauer said.
The homers were the first for Soler and Baez, while Bryant hit his second this spring. Baez’s blast was his first hit this spring, ending an 0-for-9 start. It was an improvement after Sunday when the infielder said he felt “lost” after striking out three times.
“I feel great today, by the way,” Baez said, smiling.
After Bryant’s homer, Baez said the Cubs were able to smile in the dugout.
“I was just laughing, like, no way this is happening,” Baez said.
“I don’t know any other way to say it than just ‘Wow,’ especially those three guys,” Cubs starter Travis Wood said. “That’s what they’re here to do and they’ve made a name for themselves doing it coming up. To see it start happening is amazing.”
Bryant wasn’t trying to copy Soler and Baez after watching the first two homers.
“[I wanted to] get a good pitch to hit and hit it, and I did,” Bryant said. “That’s all I can really do in that situation. It was kind of cool seeing their homers and mine kind of just scraped over the wall but it gets the job done.”
Bryant’s homer was no cheap shot as it sailed to right.
“I got a good pitch, middle away,” he said. “I thought [Bauer] was going to throw me some sliders — he was throwing a lot of them. I saw Javy hit one off the slider, so I didn’t know if he had enough confidence in it to go with it again. He stuck with the fastball and I got a good one to hit.”
Bryant also gave Soler and Baez points because their homers traveled so far.
“They had the distance,” Bryant said. “I can’t hang with them in terms of distance but I’ll go right center. It was cool to watch them two hit some homers and me get in the action. It was fun.”
There was some good-natured razzing as Welington Castillo followed Bryant with a single in the fourth. He made up for it with a home run with one out in the top of the sixth.
“He might have been a little bit late, but we got the fourth one,” Wood said.
— Carrie Muskat
Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant put on a home run derby in the Cubs fourth inning Tuesday.
Soler led off against the Indians’ Trevor Bauer with a mammoth shot to left that landed on the concourse behind the grassy berm. Two pitches later, Baez followed with his first home run and the ball landed in the same area as Soler’s.
Bryant, who led the Minor Leagues with 43 homers last season, then connected on a monster opposite field shot to right field off a 1-1 pitch from Bauer to pull the Cubs within 4-3.
The blasts were the first for Soler and Baez, and Bryant’s second this spring. Baez’s homer was his first hit this spring, ending an 0-for-9 start.
— Carrie Muskat
Joe Maddon has the same message for Javier Baez this spring that he delivered in Puerto Rico when he watched the infielder play: Relax.
“He’s thinking too much,” Maddon said Monday of Baez, who struck out three times Sunday in a loss to the Rangers. “He’s getting a lot of information from all of us. I think sometimes it’s our fault. I want us to leave him alone and let him play.
“I’m not concerned,” Maddon said of Baez, who batted .169 in 52 games last season with the Cubs, striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats. “The guy cares so much. As we continue along, you’ll see him make adjustments and become more comfortable.”
Maddon makes a point of chatting with Baez daily.
“I think he’s applying pressure on himself,” Maddon said. “I’m really not worried.”
The new Cubs manager traveled to Puerto Rico in January to introduce himself to Baez, 22, and is repeating the message he gave Baez at that time.
“Smile and relax a little bit, use the middle of the field,” Maddon said. “I think sometimes when a hitter is struggling, they go up to the plate and they see everything as opposed to ‘Let’s get this ball and take it right back to where it came from.’ Those are better thoughts as opposed to ‘Are my feet OK? Are my hands OK?’ That’s the stuff that gets you in trouble.”
Baez was projected as the Cubs starting second baseman this season. Is he a lock for the job?
“I can’t tell you that specifically,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely a very very strong candidate for that position.”
— Carrie Muskat
* How happy was Javier Baez to see Manny Ramirez in Cubs camp?
“I grabbed Manny’s stuff and put everything in my locker and told him he was going to be here with me,” Baez said Friday. “The next day, he moved all his stuff back.”
Friday was Day 2 for Ramirez, who has been hired as a hitting consultant and was to work with both the Major League and Minor League players. Baez and Ramirez got to know each other last year at Triple-A Iowa when Ramirez signed as a player/coach.
What did Baez learn from Ramirez?
“The way they will pitch to you, the way they know how to pitch to you, and they know you have to make that adjustment,” Baez said.
The Cubs are trying to get Baez to shorten his swing to lower his strikeout numbers and have him experimenting with lowering his hands. He dropped more than 15 pounds this offseason and fortunately hasn’t noticed a difference in batting practice.
“I haven’t lost any power,” he said. “I’m driving the ball everywhere. I haven’t seen any difference.”
* C.J. Edwards needs to find a nail salon fast. He had a bandage on his right index finger Friday.
“What I heard was he had a nail problem,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to send him to a manicurist. I think his nail was too long and they have to trim his nails up.”
* Zac Rosscup took a ball off his right wrist during his live BP session Friday. It’s a good thing Rosscup is left-handed. Jorge Soler was the batter, and he and one of the athletic trainers checked on Rosscup, who was able to finish his session. Maddon said the reliever was fine.
* The Cubs were not expected to play an intrasquad game prior to the start of Cactus League games on March 5. The Cubs begin their Spring Training schedule with split squad games, playing host to the Athletics and also sending a squad to Scottsdale to face the Giants.
* Jason Hammel and Travis Wood are among the Cubs pitchers scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday. Others on the schedule include Tsuyoshi Wada, who was slowed for a couple days because of a tight left hamstring, plus Dallas Beeler, Justin Grimm, Hunter Cervenka, Armando Rivero and Jorge De Leon.
— Carrie Muskat