Spring Training: Darwin Barney
March, 17, 2014
By Jesse Rogers | ESPN.com
MESA, Ariz. -- The significance of Chicago Cubs top prospect Javier Baez playing second base on Monday against the Oakland A's extends beyond just one game. When he takes the field it will be the first time he has played second since his freshman year of high school, but it probably won't be the last.
"If somebody gets hurt ... I can come up and play another position if I have to," Baez said Monday morning.
Baez has played shortstop his entire pro career and will do so again once he's sent to Triple-A Iowa to start this season. But the Cubs have deemed him near ready for the major leagues, so with Starlin Castro already locked in at short with a long-term contract, Baez will have to find playing time elsewhere.
"It makes sense for us to move him around," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's been working on pivots and things of that nature. The biggest concern is the pivot. Making sure you're in and out of there on the turns. ... It's not an easier position by any means, it has its own nuances."
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonCubs top prospect Javier Baez has three home runs this spring.
There's some irony in Baez playing second base on Monday as his double play partner is the Cubs' incumbent Gold Glove second baseman, Darwin Barney, who is one of the Cubs' leaders on the field. He'll be implicitly asked to groom his possible replacement.
"I'm pretty sure he's going to help me and tell me how to play it," Baez said.
Barney won a Gold Glove in 2012 but Baez has the bat that everyone in baseball is waiting to see in the big leagues. He's matured over the last year both on and off the field. It's one reason the Cubs believe he is ready for a potential position change.
"We'll give him a couple days, back-to-back at second base, some starts and we'll go from there," Renteria said.
Baez will also get a chance at third base, according to Renteria. That way, when he comes up from the minors -- potentially later this season -- he'll have some experience at several positions.
They will seemingly do anything to get his bat in the lineup.
Baez is hitting .276 with three home runs this spring after a huge minor league season in 2013 in which he hit 37 home runs and drove in 111 runs. Scouts salivate at his bat speed, often compared to Gary Sheffield.
He loves shortstop but like any prospect he'll do whatever it takes to play.
"I'm just trying to get there [to the big leagues] and be in the lineup," Baez said.
And he's gotten even better this spring. Two of his home runs have been to right field, and his pitch selection has improved as much as could be expected of a free swinger. Then there was his first hit to left field, a bomb last Wednesday off Seattle Mariners starter Randy Wolf that went well over 400 feet.
"Fast to the zone and long through it," is how one veteran scout described his swing recently.
Every so often there is a sign that the Cubs' rebuilding plan is moving forward. When Baez takes the field at second base -- even in a spring game -- it's another sign.
They're preparing for his arrival at Wrigley Field.