OMAHA, Neb. -- Though it might seem like Triple-A shortstop Javier Baez took off at the plate only with the arrival in Iowa of top prospect Kris Bryant or even Manny Ramirez, the real progress in his season came well before either of them had an effect.
Baez was struggling through the first two months of the season, but his blunt-talking manager never saw him give up. He saw him go to work.
"He needed to start swinging at strikes," Iowa skipper Marty Pevey said Monday. "Just swing at strikes and keep working. He did that."
Baez tells it a little different. He and Triple-A hitting coach Brian Harper found some flaws after studying video. The result has been steady progress.
"I feel really great," Baez said. "I started really slow, and I started listening to everybody and I had a lot of stuff on my mind. Trying to do a lot at the plate. Now I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit."
Baez was hitless in 13 of Iowa's first 23 games and the home runs weren't coming as easily as they did last year when he hit 37. A slow start turned into a slow first half.
"I couldn't get to the outside fastball," he said. "I was leaning back. We saw some video and I fixed it. My mind was looking fastballs in, which I don't have to do. I can just react to that."
He has three home runs in his past four games, including a three-run bomb in Monday's 7-3 loss -- and 14 for the season. He may not get to 37 this season but it doesn't mean he won't get to Wrigley Field. Promotions aren't based on what a player did in April or May, it's based on how far he's come and if he's ready. Eight weeks ago, seeing Baez at Wrigley Field was unthinkable. Now he may have a chance.
"Hopefully I get up there this year and will stay up there," Baez said. "I'm being patient for now. I'm still getting better and learning something different every day."
It can't hurt him to have Bryant hitting two spots behind him and Arismendy Alcantara two spots in front. It's made for a dangerous Iowa lineup, one that's vaulted the team into first place.
"We have Mendy (Alcantara) leading off, then one batter later they got me then after a another batter they have Kris Bryant," Baez said. "They're going to have to pitch to one of us. I'm pretty sure one of us three is going to have a good game every day."
The statistics have proven that out. Alcantara is hitting .405 since Bryant's arrival and Bryant himself has eight home runs and a .357 batting average. Baez has three home runs, 15 RBIs, 13 walks and 21 strikeouts while batting .324 since June 19.
And another video session helped him see the ball better.
"I wasn't looking at the ball all the way through the zone," Baez said. "We started working on that with the (pitching) machine. I've been swinging the bat good and to the whole field. Everything is back to normal."
It might be better than normal for him as that strikeout-to-walk ratio is more what the Cubs want to see out of him. For the season he has 105 strikeouts to 28 walks, but the ratio has been trending in the right direction. And the addition of Ramirez as a player/coach has already paid off as well.
"He's teaching me what to look for ahead of time from a pitcher," Baez said. "He knows how they are going to pitch me."
Ramirez added: "His power is better than mine at that age, and he's a really good fielder. Wow."
After committing 44 errors last season combined between Single-A and Double-A, Baez has just 11, putting him on pace for 17 in the same amount of games. That's a huge improvement.
Pevey says his defense never suffered as he struggled at the plate early in the season.
"I feel I'm much better now than last year," Baez said.
Baez is seeing his improvement and so are the Cubs. It took a while, offensively, but the numbers are heading in the right direction. He's just hopeful he gets his chance.
"That's my goal," Baez said. "The big leagues."