USA TODAY Sports
Javier Baez has put up impressive numbers this spring, but is he ready to make his major league debut for the Cubs in 2013?
The emergence of young stars Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in 2012 seems to have corrupted the fan's expectations of the development timeline of prospects. Trout and Harper, who were 20 and 19 last season, respectively, are rare, once (or twice in this case) in a generation talents and their development timelines should not be viewed as normal. The fact is average the average age at which a player makes his major league debut is around 24. The overwhelming majority of prospects simply aren't polished enough to make the jump the big leagues at such a young age. Cubs SS prospect Javier Baez, 20, has put up impressive numbers this spring and some Cubs fans have begun to clamor for his arrival in Chicago at some point this season.
Javier Baez, rated the #16 prospect by Baseball America for 2013, is an athletic SS with a powerful bat that possesses the strong arm and fielding skills to play both 2B and 3B. Because he is blocked at his natural position by the Cubs' All-Star SS Starlin Castro, Baez will probably be asked to switch positions. Last season, Baez abused pitchers at Low-A Peoria to the tune of .333/.383/.596 in 235 PA. However, he struggled to adjust to the challenge of a new level upon promotion to High-A Daytona, hitting .188/.244/.400 in 86 PA.
The Cubs lack depth in the infield, and some Cubs fans feel that Javier Baez could be the solution to that problem at some point in the 2013 Season. Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue recently discussed the possibility of Javier Baez making his MLB debut and contributing to the Cubs this season.
"It's been assumed, I think, that Baez is going to be sent to Daytona to play a full year in the High-A Florida State League. But why do that? Why not put him on the fast track and see if he can hit Double-A pitching? (Hint: I think he can.) If he can do that, promote him to Iowa after a short time in Double-A and maybe he can be on the Santo Plan, being a big-league third baseman by later this year -- and at that point, if he's good enough, I wouldn't even think about the 40-man roster spot or future arb years. If he belongs in the big leagues, he should be there."
Cubs GM Theo Epstein recently said the organization will place a greater emphasis on plate discipline going forward. Plate discipline has been a major weakness for Javier Baez during his minor league career. Last season, in 321 PA between Low-A Peoria and High-A Daytona, Baez posted a 21 K% compared to a 4.3 BB%. Baez needs to significantly improve his patience at the plate to meet Epstein's standards.
It's also worth noting that Epstein and others in the Cubs front office have considered implementing a policy that would require prospects to accumulate 500 AB in Triple-A before being called up the major league club. This policy would benefit both Javier Baez and the Cubs organization. Spending a significant amount of time in Triple-A would allow Baez to polish his approach at the plate and adjust to a more competitive level of opposition. An extra year or two of minor league development for Baez would give the Cubs the ability to maximize the value they get out of him before he becomes arbitration eligible after 3 years of MLB service.
There isn't really a need to rush Javier Baez up to the major leagues in 2013. The Cubs aren't projected to contend for a playoff spot this season and any value that Baez could potentially add wouldn't change that. In addition to Javier Baez, the Cubs possess a number of talented young prospects in a farm system that was recently ranked #11 in baseball by John Sickels at Minor League Ball. Cubs fans should trust the development process and look forward to seeing Javier Baez when he's ready in 2014 or 2015.