CHICAGO – After hitting his 31st home run of the season on Friday -– a walk-off shot for Double-A Tennessee -– Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez was once again the pregame talk before the major league team took on the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.
Baez has 14 home runs in 172 plate appearances in Double-A after hitting 17 for Class A Daytona in 337 plate appearances. Those numbers brought on the question about next season. Baez is targeted for Triple-A Iowa, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum left the door open for more.
“You don’t count any of that out because we’ve seen it happen before,” Sveum said. “When you do have those kinds of numbers and power, sometimes you do force the issue, but it’s not in the plans right now. But we’ve all seen it happen.”
Though his home run rate has increased -– presumably against better pitching at Double-A -– it’s his walk rate that has the Cubs and Sveum excited. In Class A, he walked once every 16 plate appearances; at Double-A, he’s doing it once every 11 times. That’s a huge jump, and one the Cubs want him to continue.
“Sounds like he’s laying off a lot more stuff,” Sveum said. “A lot more calmer and in control. The numbers off this past week are pretty impressive. Watching him now -- he’s toned down a lot of his movement. His leg lift is a lot more slow and calmer.”
Baez is 10 for 22 over the past six games with three home runs and seven RBI to go along with two stolen bases and three walks. Sveum says laying off the “strike-the-ball sliders” are what will make the difference.
“That’s the million-dollar pitch,” he said. “It’s not about hitting it; it’s about learning how to lay off it and recognize it early enough not to swing.”
The Cubs' top pick of 2011 is turning heads wherever he goes, and his bat speed continues to be compared to Gary Sheffield's. But his fielding might keep him in the minors for a while longer. The Cubs' director of scouting said recently he’ll probably “take some ground balls” at other positions besides shortstop, but either way, he’ll need to cut down on the mistakes. He’s made 41 errors combined between Class A and Double-A this season.
“That’s the development part that comes with the hitting,” Sveum said. “Obviously, we can’t have 40 errors or a lot of mistakes at the big league level because mistakes here are magnified. Pitch counts get up because of them and those kinds of things.”
But at the end of the day, his bat will get him to the majors and potentially turn him into a star. Thirty-one home runs and 94 runs batted in create a stir at any level of baseball.
“How quick you can swing your bat with just your hands, the guys that can do that are the more successful ones,” Sveum said of Baez's swing. “You can’t teach that.”