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Cubs' Javier Baez on 2014: 'I was really confused'

CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez looked like a different person at Friday night’s opening of the team's annual fan convention. After dropping 15 pounds, he’s slimmer and fitter. And he hopes his swing is starting to come around after he struck out 225 times between the minors and majors last season. A lot of those swings and misses saw him flailing.

“I was really confused,” Baez said Friday. “I had a lot of people talking and trying to fix my swing. I can’t just hear what everyone has to say. I was waiting for the season to be over to work on it.”

Baez showed up to winter ball in great condition and, under the watchful eye of new hitting coach John Mallee, went to work on his swing. They concluded Baez was “late to everything.”

“We saw a lot of video,” Baez said. “I was doing my timing really late. That was why I wasn’t getting to the fastball and other pitches.”

Mallee explains more: “Pre-swing movements. Cut down or time it up so he can do his bat tip sooner and get started earlier. That will help him more on time.”

When Baez connects, there’s no doubting how hard he’ll hit it. That’s his natural gift. But he needs to learn the strike zone and adjust his mechanics before anyone can say he’s arrived at the big league level.

“It’s not a binary thing with Javy,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “He’s not going to show up and be a fully formed hitter and reach his ceiling right away. It’s a process.

“He played a little bigger last season than was ideal. He took his conditioning seriously this winter. When he showed up to winter ball, everyone was impressed.”

Now all that hard work on his body and his swing needs to pay off this spring and summer. He hit .233 with two walks and 21 strikeouts in Puerto Rico this winter, but he “looked better” in the playoffs, according to Epstein. His .169 batting average and .227 on-base percentage for the Cubs in 2014 don’t exactly scream danger. But it’s still early for the 22-year-old.

“He understands what it takes now to shorten up his swing and do those kinds of things,” Mallee said. “I know he will try to make those adjustments.”

But can he? Time will tell.