Javier Baez creates buzz with long HRs

MESA, Ariz. – Chicago Cubs top prospect Javier Baez has a reputation for prodigious home runs – both in games and during batting practice.

On Friday at spring training he put on another show by hitting several balls over the fence, including one that hit a parked car.

To be fair, others in his hitting group were belting long balls in coach-pitched batting practice, but it was Baez who created the buzz.

“That’s fine,” third baseman Mike Olt joked. “He can get the publicity because he can pay for the damage to the car too.”

Olt was part of a group that included Baez and Josh Vitters in batting practice off of reliever Pedro Strop and then against one of the Cubs coaches. The home runs started to come when the coach took over.

“He was pretty tough,” Baez said of Strop. “He throws hard and has good breaking stuff.”

Vitters added: “We’re still feeling out the live BP thing. That’s more for the pitchers. The BP with coaches is more for us.”

Vitters said it’ll be a few more days before hitters catch up, so for now the confidence boost comes when the coaches take the mound.

“In BP it’s not about hitting home runs, it's about working your hands through the zone and stuff like that," No. 2 Cubs prospect Kris Bryant said. "But yeah, it’s a little easier to hit them in BP off a coach than off a guy like Jeff Samardzija.”

Bryant led all collegiate players by a wide margin in long balls last season. He reluctantly admitted to putting on a show in batting practice at the University of San Diego but said it was “easier with metal bats, of course.”

“I usually save a round here or there to let it loose because I do believe if you want to hit home runs in a game you have to hit them in practice,” Bryant said.

So while the hitters have struggled against Cubs pitchers so far in spring training, they’ve gained some confidence against Cubs coaches. Does that pay off or give a false sense of progress for a hitter?

“You can get a lot out of it as long as you're doing the right thing,” Vitters said.

Though Bryant likes letting loose when a coach is on the mound, he knows he gets more out of it when a real pitcher is throwing to him.

“That’s what you’re seeing in a game,” he said.

The funny thing about Baez hitting home runs Friday was what he was actually trying to do.

“There’s good days and bad days of BP too,” he said. “These couple days I’ve been trying to hit the ball to the right side, and I’m not doing it.”

Instead, he’s hitting them out to center and left. It can be hard not get caught up in putting on a show.

“The competitive nature comes out and you want to, but at the same time you have to fight that urge and do what’s best for you,” Vitters said.

Pitchers are often asked if they know how they’ll perform in a game while warming up in the bullpen beforehand. Many say they pitch their best after just a “so-so” warm-up. It can be the same for hitters.

“Usually the days you have a terrible BP are the days you have good games,” Bryant said. “Baseball is a funny game that way.”

Plenty of players can hit long home runs in batting practice, both at the minor and major league levels. They’re all that good. But some have a knack for it more than others. Another Cubs prospect, Jorge Soler, did a lot of a damage last year during spring training. Baez is another with that ability.

“I didn’t have to play on his (Baez's) team in the minors to know he can absolutely rake,” Vitters said. “I didn’t know he hit a car, but I know he hit every ball about 50 feet over the fence.”