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MESA, Ariz. – Getting his first taste of the big leagues, although it’s only spring training, has already helped Cubs prospect Javier Baez.
The opportunity to work and compete alongside Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro is paying off for the 20-year-old shortstop, who credits his teammates for pointing out and correcting any mistakes he’s made during spring training. But one piece of advice has stood out among the rest.
“Try not to show off because everyone here knows what you can do and what you do,” Baez said. “So I’m just doing my own thing.”
Baez, the ninth overall draft pick by the Cubs in 2011, has plenty of talent on display any time he steps onto the field or in the batter’s box. Baseball America lists Baez as the 16th-best minor league prospect, and the publication rated him as the Cubs’ best defensive minor league infielder after the 2012 season.
Despite the accolades, it’s a bit foolish to believe Baez will supplant Castro, a two-time All-Star at shortstop, any time soon. Baez, who has never played above Class A Daytona during his two minor league seasons, has drawn plenty of attention after receiving an invitation to the Cubs’ big league spring training camp. The opportunity even surprised Baez.
“I didn’t expect it,” Baez said. “It is exciting.”
The Cubs have ruled out Baez making the team out of camp, and when manager Dale Sveum was asked if Baez is pushing Castro at shortstop, he provided a one-word answer: "No." The speculation regarding Baez’s arrival to the majors has begun prompting questions about his big league position, with Castro blocking him at shortstop. Baez, though, displays maturity through his willingness to move to another position if it means playing for the Cubs.
“For me, it don’t really matter,” Baez said. “I can play shortstop, I can play third, I can play second. I can play outfield if they want me to. I can play anywhere.
“My goal is to get there and stay there.”
Cubs vice president of scouting and development Jason McLeod expects Baez to start the year at Daytona, though he said that plan could change. As the Cubs have proved with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, they have a development plan for each player that they want to see through.
“That’s one thing about spring training, you never try to let the performance dictate too much,” McLeod told the Northwest Herald. “It’s more about sticking to their individual development plan and how they go about their business every day. It’s more the process with it. Every now and then a guy might force his way into a level higher than maybe we thought, but for the most part we have a plan already in place and it’s been communicated to the players. Now it’s just about getting their work in.”
Baez has shown flashes of the talent that's made him one of baseball's top prospects, but even he admitted there are areas of his game that still need improvement. The idea that Baez, a talented though still raw player who's learning the game, is threatening Castro's starting job is a far-fetched idea that no one within the organization. including Baez and Castro, is worried about right now.
“I need to prove I can make all the plays, all the routine plays and hit the ball to the right side,” Baez said.