Thursday, March 13, 2014
Javier Baez shows off his sick bat speed
By David Schoenfield
PEORIA, AZ -- I arrived in Arizona on Wednesday night just in time to catch a few innings of the Cubs-Mariners night game in Peoria. The Mariners ran out what could very well be their Opening Day lineup, minus Felix Hernandez and Corey Hart:
Abraham Almonte, CF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Justin Smoak, 1B
Logan Morrison, DH
Dustin Ackley, LF
Michael Saunders, RF
Mike Zunino, C
Brad Miller, SS
Cubs starter James McDonald, trying to find some semblance of the pitcher he was in the first half of 2012 with the Pirates when he went 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA, struggled to throw strikes with just 26 strikes in 64 pitches, walking five batters in 2.2 innings. Cano went 2-for-2 and turned a sweet double play. Miller homered off Cubs lefty James Russell, his third of the spring. Jesus Montero came in the game and made two errors at first base.
The Cubs sent a lineup of reserves and minor leaguers and they provided the most interesting results of the night, however. Mike Olt, the former Rangers prospect acquired in the Matt Garza trade last summer, homered twice, including a deep blast to center off Mariners starter Randy Wolf. Olt battled vision problems last year and struggled in the minors but says those issues have been cleared up.
But the most impressive blast came from Javier Baez, who did this against Wolf in the fourth inning for his third spring home run, drawing gasps of admiration in the press box and from the fans as well his Cubs teammates in the dugout.
It was a terrific at-bat, as Baez fell behind on two slow curveballs that were called strikes. The biggest knock against Baez so far in the minors has been an approach that is overly aggressive at times, but he laid off two inside cutters and then crushed the 2-2 slider. Baez's bat speed has been compared to Gary Sheffield's and he used that to hit 37 home runs in the minors. It came at the expense of 147 strikeouts against just 40 walks, but if he puts at-bats together like the one against Wolf, you're going to see the spread in the ratio decrease and Baez become even more dangerous.
The Sheffield comparison isn't exactly perfect -- Sheffield had great hand-eye coordination and strike-zone judgment to go along with that bat speed (his career high in strikeouts in the majors was 83 and that was late in his career and he walked more than he struck out. Like Baez, Sheffield was a minor league shortstop, although he moved to third base and then the outfield. Baez has a better chance of sticking at shortstop and he's expected to start there in Triple-A, although some scouts believe he'll eventually end up at third base. The Cubs have said he'll get some time at second base in the Cactus League as well to improve his versatility.
Anyway, a good start to a week in Arizona. Should be fun.