Credit the "Fuzz Machine" for helping Chicago Cubs top prospect Javier Baez get in a groove. Baez has been on fire for Triple-A Iowa after a horrendously slow start to the season.
He was 4-for-5 in Thursday's game against Round Rock, which included his sixth home run of the season. On Wednesday, he hit a hanging 0-2 curveball for his fifth home run before that huge blast on a 2-2 pitch Thursday. And now he's on a seven-game hitting streak with his batting average rising from .160 to .201 going into Friday's game.
"He was in pull mode," Iowa manager Marty Pevey said of Baez's struggles. "I'm sure he wanted to impress himself and his teammates. He was swinging uphill. His front side was opening. That's what happens when you try and pull."
So Pevey and hitting coach Brian Harper took a pitching machine, set it for the high 80s, and went to work on Baez's swing.
"'The Fuzz Machine,'" Pevey said. "You think it's throwing harder than it actually is. It's actually throwing about 87 mph. We took him out there several days in a row. He must have taken 150-200 swings a day, working on staying on the ball and driving the ball to right-center."
Pevey was in Arizona in spring training and witnessed Baez going to right field more often than left, but that changed when the regular season started. And opponents saw what he was doing.
"They quit throwing him strikes," Pevey said. "He was chasing out of the zone. If you don't have to throw a strike, why would you?"
And so Baez struggled, but all that changed recently, and Pevey hopes this hot streak lasts for a while. Baez has three of his six home runs over the last six games. Still, he has 50 strikeouts, and it was only a couple of nights ago he whiffed three times in four plate appearances.
"He's been working his butt off," Pevey said. "His attitude has been great."
The Cubs need some good news from their top prospects besides Double-A sensation Kris Bryant. Tennessee outfielder Jorge Soler has been plagued by a hamstring injury all season after foot problems hampered him last year. And besides infielder Arismendy Alcantara, there really aren't any other position players knocking on the major league door, although the Cubs are seeing progress in their pitching prospects.
Either way, it was a fun argument to be had during the spring: Should Baez start the season with the Cubs or in the minors? Now the question is if he can make it to the major leagues this season at all. It's only mid-May, so there's plenty of time. And the Cubs would prefer their prospects to experience some struggles before they are promoted.
Baez has done just that, now let's see how far his hot streak can take him.
"We're going to be there for him," Pevey said. "We're going to make sure he has the tools to succeed."