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Cubs Javier Baez taking the ups and downs in stride

"He'll be surrounded by some good uncles," manager Joe Maddon said of Javier Baez. "Everybody is going to be on top of his mistakes." AP Photo/Morry Gash

MESA, Ariz. -- Trying to find his way in the big leagues -- and on the Chicago Cubs -- former first-round pick Javier Baez is still a work in progress. Though it's good he can be honest about both the good and bad in his game, he has work to do in becoming a trusted member of a playoff contender.

"He'll be surrounded by some good uncles," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday morning. "Everybody is going to be on top of his mistakes."

It's rare to have a memorable game during the spring -- for good reasons or bad -- but Baez managed to do just that against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday when he had some positive moments, but admittedly made some mistakes as well.

"First at-bat, it sounds stupid but I was just trying to crush the ball," Baez said of facing Clayton Kershaw. "Instead of having a good at-bat I was trying to get a good fastball, to hit it hard. He made some nasty pitches, but I made some adjustments in the next at-bat."

Baez singled off Kershaw two innings later, then went first-to-third on a play -- much to the delight of his manager and coaches. He also had a throwing error and showed a lack of hustle on a ground ball he thought was going foul, though, and both plays left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

"There is no part for mental mistakes in the game," Maddon said. "These are the kinds of things we have to get across during camp. We're on top of it. Things like that (fixing them) don't happen overnight."

The irony here is that Maddon fell for Baez last spring mostly because of his baseball instincts. Baez didn't deny he needed to run out the ground ball even if he thought it was foul and couldn't see where it went. But it's not like this has been a pattern with the 23 year old. Mostly, he's been pretty good.

"There are no excuses not to run a ground ball," he said. "You have to hit the ball and run."

What does this all mean for the super utility player who's already started three spring games at three different positions? It means he's not quite to the point of being completely trusted but it's the Cubs goal to get him there, especially at the plate. Baez alternates from a player who made changes to his swing and approach to one who just goes for it, no matter the situation.

"You could be a player and hear the same message for 162 days and it doesn't sink in," Maddon stated. "You can come back (next year) maybe on the 37th day all of a sudden you say 'Oh, that's what they meant.'"

Maddon speaks from experience so he's not going to make any snap judgments with Baez. He's always been a fan, but when the focus wanes for any player it doesn't matter how good his baseball instincts are. Baez smiled in admitting he was swinging for the fences in his first at-bat on Tuesday but during the regular season that kind of thinking won't be a laughing matter.

"That first at-bat was a little hairy," Maddon said. "The second 'AB' was more to his liking. I want to see him make adjustments. ... When to cut it (swing) down and how to cut it down is also important. Not playing every day is going to lead into that also. You have to have more self-awareness."

Maddon admits Baez is in a tough spot playing all around the diamond without a starting position but it's up to him to make the most of it. To his credit Baez is working hard everywhere, including at the plate where the big swings still happen regularly.

"I get here early," he said. "I have time for everything."

On Wednesday, both Maddon and Hall-of-Fame player Billy Williams had individual moments with Baez on the practice field. The message was to play the game the right way and while physical mistakes are acceptable, the same can't be said about mental ones.

"I know when I do the good things," Baez said.

He reiterated swinging for the fences wasn't the best approach but it was Kershaw, after all, and he wanted to see if he could get a fastball to smash.

"I was ready for one pitch," Baez recalled about striking out. "I was like 'Oof, he's nasty.'"