A first round selection in the 2011 MLB Entry Draft, Javier Baez is one of the most exciting prospects in baseball. That might actually be underselling things a tad. Words like – elite, dynamic, generational – terms such as these are often thrown around when the name Baez is brought up. The Cubs, who have stubbornly refuse to call up Kris Bryant, decided it was time to bring Baez to the show (probably to see how he handles the big leagues since they have three SS in their organization in Baez, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell). Javier will play every day for the Cubs (you have to figure), and with that you should be excited to add Baez to roster if he's available in your fantasy baseball league. What should you expect from Baez over the last two months of the regular season? That's the line of thought we will follow in the following Player Profile.
Javier Baez is 21 years old. He stands 6'0” and weighs about 190 lbs. The shortstop, who has played some second base this season (a position he will likely fill in the big leagues), is a supremely gifted ball player. So much so that the Big-3 of talent evaluators all have him inside their top-10 talents in minor league baseball.
2012: 61st best prospect in baseball
2013: 16th best
2014: 5th best
2012: 66th best prospect in baseball
2013: 20th best
2014: 4th best
2012: 62nd best prospect in baseball
2014: 7th best
Wow is right. I wasn't kidding when I said he was an elite talent.
Let's look at the numbers.
2011: Five games played at Rookie and Low-A ball. 18 at-bats. Yippee.
2012: Appeared in 80 games at Low-A and High-A. Flashed significant power over half a season with 16 homers and 46 RBIs with a .543 SLG. He also hit .294 and stole 24 bases.
2013: Finally played a full season, well almost, with 130 games played at High-A and Double-A ball. Check out the massive numbers: .282-37-111-98-20. A 30/20 season with a .920 OPS... from a shortstop.
2014: It's been an uneven effort for Baez. He started out extremely slowly before going nuts of late. In the month of July he hit .300 with 10 homers over 29 games. Check out that .655 SLG too. Overall he's appeared in 104 games and blasted 23 homers with 80 RBIs at Triple-A. He also swiped 16 bases putting him on pace for yet another 30/20 season.
"He has some holes in his swing, but they've gotten a lot smaller," said one longtime National League scout. Duh. Let's tackle this head on. Baez is a free swinger. In this day and age that is acceptable, people really don't care about the strikeout, but it should at least be a little concerning that Baez has struck out 350 times in 319 minor league games. It should also cause you even more pause when you note that he's whiffed 199 times in 158 games at Double and Triple-A. Don't forget that Baez was batting .260 at Triple-A this season too, so it's not he hasn't paid a price for all the whiffs. Unless he cuts down the strikeouts he may not hit that well in the short term in the bigs.
It should also be noted that he's displayed some issues with righties. He's still smoking the ball to the tune of a .528 minor league SLG against righties (897 ABs) but he's also hit only .266 with a .328 OBP (compared to .310/.358 against lefties). He's going to have to pick things up against righties.
What do I always say about hitters? I always tell people to pay close attention to contact rates and BB/K ratios. Baez fails in this respect. The big league average is about 0.39 for the ole' BB/K ratio. For his minor league career the number is 0.25. That's terrible. His contact rate, the big league average is about 0.78, has been 0.71. Again, not good. Do either of his walk or strikeout numbers figure to improve as a 21 year old rookie in the majors? Not likely, a point that is also made in this article at Baseball America (as of Monday he was last in the PCL in swinging strike percentage). If you can't handle breaking pitches you are in trouble at the big league level, and that's something that has plagued the talented infielder. Big league hurlers will attack his weakness. Will he be able to adapt quickly, or will the learning curve be painful?
Now when the pitcher throws a heater it's cowabunga time. Baez has tremendous bat speed and can take the ball deep to any part of the yard despite not looking anything like Adam Dunn. You can't teach bat speed (well you can work on it, but you get the point). It's a gift from the gods, and Baez was touched. There is every reason to believe the power will show itself right off the hop. Baez has a HR/F ratio of 24 percent for his career, and the mark has yet to dip below 20 percent at any stop he's made during his minor league tour.
As for his speed, well, if he gets on base he should run. His minor league steal percentage is better than 78 percent, well above the 70 percent baseline most teams expect. The issue he might come up against in terms of contributing on the base paths is two fold. One, a lot of his hits are likely to be for extra bases. Second, with all the strikeouts and no understanding of how to take a walk, he'll be lucky if his OBP is even league average the rest of the way.
Jeff Mans gave his thoughts before the season began with his 2014 Fantasy Baseball Prospect Report: Javier Baez.
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
Darwin Barney is gone so it certainly appears that Baez will play second base on a daily basis. There is simply no reason for the Cubs to call him up unless that was the plan. Hence, that is what they will do, play Baez every day. Look for Arismendy Alcantara to be moved to center field.
It's not that easy, the game of baseball I mean. Barry Bonds hit .223 as a rookie. As a rookie Mike Trout hit .220 in 40 games. Oscar Taveras has hit .220 with a .580 OPS over his first 36 big league games and Gregory Polanco went .214/.269/.327 in the month of July for the Pirates. As I said, the game just isn't that easy. Make sure you aren't doing something stupid to add Baez to your club. Even the best of the best don't always hit the ground running as rookies.
10 team lg: You can add him here, but it's a bit of a tall order. His talent is undoubtedly immense, but be careful, or perhaps a better way to say it is be sure that you are willing to take the risk that comes along with a rookie.
12 team lg: No reason no to add him unless you're sporting a middle infield of Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez and Daniel Murphy.
15 team lg: A must add. He could be, could be, a difference maker as a middle infield option with his massive power and base stealing exploits.
NL-only: He's already owned so don't worry about whether you should add him or not.
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