MESA, Ariz. -- By all accounts, it’s a more mature Javier Baez going down to the minor leagues this year. The Chicago Cubs are covering all their bases with their top prospect, and as much as he might already be able to put on a show at Wrigley Field right now the Cubs want him ready -- both mentally and physically.
And he knows that.
“It was better than last year,” Baez said of spring training. “Hopefully next year I’ll be here and stay here.”
Baez didn’t say why it was better, but he simply seemed more comfortable. It was just last spring that he “chirped” during a team meeting and the veterans had to put him in his place by dressing up his car with a sign saying “Rookie on Board.” Plus, he was shy with the media. But this Baez was more mature in all aspects of the game.
“It’s not everything about you," Baez said, "it’s everything about the team and winning.”
That’s not necessarily a statement he would have made a year ago.
So Baez goes down to Triple-A looking to improve his game, both on defense and at the plate. He made 44 errors last year and didn’t take a walk this spring. There is room for progress.
“We talked about everything,” Baez said of his discussion with manager Rick Renteria when he was told he was being sent down. “I just have to keep doing it ... A lot of times we don’t need home runs, we just need an RBI or a bunt. So it’s not all about home runs and hitting the ball hard.”
Whether Baez is ready for the big leagues is a moot point. With his potential, the Cubs can keep him longer and potentially save a lot of money if he doesn’t start the season with them. By waiting to call him up until July, the club can avoid an early arbitration date for him. Baez is learning those aspects of the game, as well.
Not once did he seem perturbed by being cut, not once did he shy away from the attention. And not once in spring was he dishonest about what he needs to do. He even revealed what his problems were last year in committing all those errors.
“I’m just trying to make my throws to first base from short because a lot of time my hands are sweaty, so I’m kind of scared to throw over,” he said. “But this year I’ve been doing it pretty good.”
Some rosin might do the trick for him or maybe a position change when he gets to the majors will ease the pressure. After all, it has to be enticing for the Cubs to have him play somewhere besides shortstop and just let him hit. Third base would be an option, but the Cubs are loaded there.
In any case, they can cross that bridge when they come to it. Right now, Baez has one job to do as he heads back to the minors -- get better.
“There’s a lot of people here, veteran guys,” Baez said while discussing being sent down. “I understand.”