PHOENIX, Ariz. -- If Javier Baez was getting a pass/fail grade for his first day at second base since freshman year in high school, then he passed with flying colors.
His letter grade may not be an A-plus just yet. But his instincts and skill were more than capable on the few plays he was involved in during a 6-2 Chicago Cubs spring loss to the Oakland Athletics on Monday.
His best effort came on a double-play grounder off Josh Reddick’s bat in the fifth inning that Darwin Barney -- the man Baez might someday replace at second -- snagged going up the middle. Barney, playing shortstop, tossed it to a moving Baez, who threw back across his body with ease for the inning-ender.
“It carried him through the middle, ended up coming across the bag towards the shortstop side and a long throw back to first,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “Pretty impressive. Nice job.”
Baez also caught an easy popup and assisted on a routine grounder. His one slight “mistake” came on a ground ball to his left with a runner on first base. Baez scooped it up and bounced the throw into Barney at second, who still was able to make the pickup for the out.
“The ball that took him to his left, he did an inside turn, he probably should have done a reverse turn to give him a better chance to throw the ball firmly,” Renteria explained. “That’s one of the things he’ll have to work on, get a feel for the angles.”
But the instincts were there. If and when the Cubs want to call Baez up from Triple-A Iowa, there’s a good chance it will be to play second base because Starlin Castro is the incumbent at shortstop. He’ll get another start there Tuesday, then move over to third before spring training is over. If an injury or lack of production occurs at the hot corner, Baez might debut there instead.
It’s a fluid situation that keeps improving the odds of the Cubs’ top pick of 2011 making it to Wrigley Field before the season is out. How soon depends on his play and the Cubs monetary concerns for future control of the slugger.
At the plate Monday, Baez went 1-for-3 with a couple of strikeouts. But it was his play in the field -- for once -- that should keep the Cubs faithful’s optimism high.