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Progress for Javier Baez? Lay off high stuff

There seems to be two camps of thought when it comes to Chicago Cubs rookie Javier Baez. One believes he'll eventually learn how to hit in the big leagues because he's struggled and adjusted at every level of baseball; the other simply thinks there's no hope for that violent swing.

ESPN Insider Keith Law writes here why the concern over Baez is premature. Baez is following a long-established pattern. First he struggles, then he adujsts and starts to succeed.

But this is baseball, and a good or bad pattern one day can be broken the next. Remember the obvious: In the minor leagues Baez is facing some major league-quality pitchers, especially at the higher levels, but many are not going to make it.

By definition, when he gets to the majors he's playing against all major leaguers. The numbers in the minors should be great for top picks, but it's why we always think of them with an asterisk. That even goes for minor league stud Kris Bryant. Until you prove it in the majors, there's always doubt. See many of the former highly touted Cubs prospects for proof.

No one knows what Baez will do over the course of his career. He might follow his previous pattern or he might just continue to struggle. By all indications he's more than willing to put in the time, and it's evident he's going to need to. He's hitting .171 with 65 strikeouts in 36 games.

What can he do to improve his batting average and cut down on the strikeouts? For starters, he can lay off the high fastballs. That alone should help.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baez swings at 45 percent of fastballs up and out of the strike zone. That would rank fifth in the league if he qualified with enough at-bats. The league average is 27.7 percent. Of those swings, he misses the ball 64.7 percent of the time. The league average is 27.8 percent.

As fast and powerful as his swing is, Baez misses high fastballs nearly 65 percent of the time, almost 40 percent more than the average. And if you watch him, you know why. Pitchers just don't nibble at the letters, they go way upstairs. And he misses.

The numbers aren't pretty on the other tough pitch for him: outside the zone and away. When he swings at a pitch off the plate, he misses it 74.2 percent of the time. That would rank first in the league if he qualified.

Both these struggles, on out-of-the-zone pitches both up and away, are nothing new. This is what Baez did in the minors and then figured it out. He wouldn't be the first hitter to struggle on nasty sliders or curveballs that end up in the left-handed batter's box, so given his rookie status that's understandable.

But climbing the ladder for pitches the way Baez continues to do is disturbing. That would seem to be the easier fix. It's a fastball, with little movement, coming at his eyes or even above. If he can simply identify and lay off, pitchers will have to come down to him or find another weakness.

As for missing on outside stuff, Baez actually doesn't offer at it as much as you might think, just 32.7 percent of the time. That's 17th in the league. But the lack of contact -- even just the ability to foul off that pitch -- is going to keep pitchers throwing out there.

High or outside. Those have been the weak spots for Baez so far. The numbers detail it, as does simply watching him at the plate.

If he can start to lay off balls coming at his eyes, he'll take another step. Maybe that's what 2014 is all about.