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First-rounders stand out over weekend

7/21/2014
Javier Baez is on a tear at Triple-A, going 8-for-20 with two home runs since the All-Star break. Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- While the major league team was getting swept in Phoenix, the Chicago Cubs' recent first-round prospects were cleaning up. The Cubs’ top picks over the last four drafts are a combined 28-for-78 (.359) since last Thursday when the Triple-A season resumed after the All-Star break.

Most meaningful, arguably, was the weekend of 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez. Not making the Triple-A All-Star team didn’t slow him down. Baez, who hit a home run in the Futures Game last Sunday, went 8-for-20 (.400) with two home runs this past weekend while playing second base for the first time since spring training. Baez could be feeling a promotion to the big leagues might be in the offing if he keeps it up. Both Junior Lake last season and Arismendy Alcantara this year started playing other positions in advance of getting promoted to the Cubs. Starlin Castro has Baez’s position in the majors, so to get promoted he’ll have to play elsewhere.

Baez has hit in 14 consecutive games, and while he accounted for exactly 10 hits in the first 10 games of that streak, now he’s stringing together multi-hit games. He had three singles on Sunday, for example. The one concern -- once again -- might be his strikeout-to-walk total. It was heading in the right direction, but over the last nine games he hasn’t earned a free pass while striking out seven times. But is that even a concern if a player is hot? For the season it’s 112 strikeouts to 28 walks for Baez but his batting average is “up” to .252.

Next in importance might be 2012 top pick Albert Almora's weekend for Single-A Daytona. If Baez is waiting on a call for a promotion so might be Almora. His would be to Double-A Tennessee, where many expected him to be playing by now. Almora is 7-for-19 (.368) since last Thursday, including a four-hit day on Sunday. And it wasn’t long before that he hit for the cycle as his slow start to the year seems a thing of the past. Almora also has a walks-to-strikeout issue as he’s only earned a free pass 12 times in 376 plate appearances. His 45 strikeouts are fine, but not if he’s only walking 12 times. So just like Baez, the Cubs will have to work that into the equation of a hot hitter.

Rounding out the positive weekend for top picks are 2013 and 2014 sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Both earned promotions relatively recently, so another one isn’t expected soon, but both continue to rake. Bryant was 6-for-19 (.316) with two home runs taking over sole possession of home run leader (33) in all of the minors. Schwarber is settling in nicely at Daytona after a 7-for-20 (.350) weekend (since Thursday), which included a home run.

If you’re keeping track at home then promotions for Baez and Almora should be the next order of business. It’s not a sexy phrase but you hear the Cubs use it all the time: plate discipline. Does either player have enough of it to warrant a step up in class?