CHICAGO -- As Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez continues to find his groove at Triple-A Iowa, you might be wondering where he fits on the major league roster now that Addison Russell is seemingly entrenched at second base. Baez hit two home runs on Sunday against Tacoma, raising his batting average to .322, and now has five long balls since rejoining Iowa after the passing of his sister.
For the moment, Baez simply doesn’t have a place on the big league team -- not that the Cubs have even determined he’s ready. After all, it’s only been 23 games in the minors this season and while the numbers look promising -- his on-base percentage is hovering around .400 -- by all accounts Baez might still need some polish. He’s definitely getting closer though.
Baez has 24 strikeouts to nine walks, so that ratio has crept up to about 3-to-1. Let’s see if that’s a trend going the wrong way or if it stabilizes.
More interesting might be Baez in the field. After a season of talking about his swing, the Cubs didn’t stop talking about his defense -- and for good reason. He was sharp when he came up last year and impressed new manager Joe Maddon in spring training. After a three-error game by the Cubs infield on Tuesday night in San Diego, Maddon was asked if Baez could help a defense that has put up some below-average numbers.
“Javier can make any defense better,” Maddon said. “But I’m not displeased with anyone out there. Sometimes you have to wait for your opportunity or your turn. I hear he is doing well.”
The irony is Baez is doing well at the plate, but not in the field. He has 11 errors in 22 games plus a few of the mental variety as well. Baez has been alternating between shortstop and second base, having played 11 games at each position. The Cubs aren’t saying it, but besides being ready to fill in at either spot, that allows other teams to see him at both positions. Yes, trade talks are going to start heating up next month and we’re finally at the point where the Cubs could deal from their young talent base -- and that includes Baez.
The team has said all along they could fit all their major prospects on the field at the same time, but that’s probably not the case. It would only work if Kris Bryant moves to left field. There is no indication the Cubs are ready to do that, nor is Baez or anyone else getting reps at third base. Plus, Bryant deserves to stay where he is, at least for the moment. And an even more rounded bat is getting ready for advancement at Double-A in catcher Kyle Schwarber.
“Baseball has a cruel way of answering its own questions,” Maddon said. “Right now, Javier has to stay ready.”
An injury -- or a trade -- could pop up at any moment. The Cubs have done well striking early during past trade seasons, so don’t be surprised if it happens again. A lot depends on where they are in the standings, but not everything is based on that. An early deal would almost surely be about today and the future. A rental would come closer to the deadline.
If a middle infielder is going to be moved, then it’s likely to be either Baez or Starlin Castro -- or even both if we’re talking about a blockbuster or two. League sources have repeatedly indicated the Cubs have no interest in moving Addison Russell.
But here’s one thing to remember: The Cubs are in no rush. They’re dealing from a position of strength and can wait it out or do nothing. The team is pretty good as is. Major decisions could come in the offseason or even after next year. No contracts are up, no core players are going anywhere.
For now, Baez has to concentrate on one thing: getting consistently good at-bats and getting his defense together. Maddon often has said if a player has “shown it” before, he’ll show it again. We know Baez has good defensive instincts, so as his offense smooths out maybe his defense will as well.
Either an opening will appear for a promotion with the Cubs or another team will come calling. The one thing we know with the members of this front office is they won’t rush either scenario but will consider anything.