Javier Baez: Late-Season Fantasy Savior?

Despite Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer’s best attempts to convince fans otherwise, it seems that Javier Baez will likely be in the majors sooner rather than later. While Hoyer brushes off several recent adjustments made to his roster as being big-picture moves, it’s impossible not to notice the openings being created for major-league playing time for Baez.

Baez recently started seeing time at second base with Triple-A Iowa. If, as Hoyer claims, this was done “to increase his versatility,” the timing is awfully coincidental. All within the space of about a week, the Cubs had Baez start playing at the keystone, designated incumbent second-sacker Darwin Barney for assignment, and tested the waters with Arismendy Alcantara playing center field.

To me — and probably you, as well — it seems the plan is for Alcantara to move to center, with Baez taking his place at second. And you know what? That still doesn’t make Hoyer’s statement about the big picture untrue. The Cubs are so loaded with infield prospects that Alcantara is likely to end up in center anyway (where I think he could be really good if given a chance to play there every day), while Starlin Castro is signed through 2019 to play short, leaving second base as a logical long-term landing spot for Baez. As for Barney, he simply wasn’t a part of the long-term plan to begin with.

The part of Hoyer’s statement that rings untrue to me is when he says that “these moves are not connected.” While they all do make sense in the big picture when taken individually, they also conveniently open up a short-term opportunity for Baez when examined together. And why not?

If you watched the Futures Game, you remember Baez’s opposite-field blast. For me, that moment was almost like deja vu, seeing as I had seen him hit a strikingly similar bomb in person just a few days prior:

Seeing Baez play in person validates everything you’ve read and heard about him. His bat speed is just crazy. He has legit home-run power to all fields. From a scouting perspective, I don’t have a whole lot to add to what’s already out there, but I do have one key observation.

Pretty much the only knock on Baez’s offensive profile coming into this season was his difficulty to adjust to breaking balls, partially as a result of his aggressive approach. He hasn’t gotten less aggressive — his plate-discipline numbers this year (7.9% BB-rate, 30.0% K-rate) are almost identical to last year (7.9% BB-rate, 28.8% K-rate) — but it seems like breaking balls aren’t giving him the tough time that they used to.

Take the two homers I’ve referenced above, for example. While it’s impressive to see a middle infielder go oppo with such authority, I think what’s more important is that these weren’t belt-high fastballs over the outer half. The long ball Baez hit off Lucas Giolito in the Futures Game was a curveball pretty much right down the middle. Instead of trying to pull it like most aggressive young hitters would — especially on a stage as big as the Futures Game — Baez sat back until the offering was deep in the zone, before unleashing one of his patented lightning-quick swings to drive it out of the park to right-center.

Similarly, take another look at the video embedded above. Carlos Perez does set up outside, but Rudy Owens‘ changeup sails in smack in the middle of the zone. Again, one would expect a 21-year-old slugger with an aggressive approach to jump out and pull that pitch. Again, Baez sits back, trusts his bat speed, and demolishes the ball to the opposite field.

Baez seems like a good candidate to make an immediate fantasy impact upon reaching the majors — much like Alcantara has — seeing as he hit 37 homers and stole 20 bases last year, and this year has 16 of each. There is one trend, however, which gives me some serious pause. Take a look at Baez’s splits by month this season in Triple-A:

  • April – .172/.238/.379 (.271 wOBA)
  • May – .250/.303/.435 (.325 wOBA)
  • June – .275/.345/.471 (.351 wOBA)
  • July – .292/.354/.597 (.376 wOBA)

The positive-minded individual will look at this and say, “No better time to call him up than now, he’s red-hot!” And I agree with this hypothetical person, to an extent. Baez has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, as his consistently escalating performance indicates. However, for fantasy purposes, owners need to understand that this wasn’t simply a case of a cold start; Baez has taken awhile to adjust to each level in his career:

  • August/September 2012 (High-A) – .188/.244/.400 (.288 wOBA)
  • April 2013 (High-A) – .262/.295/.515 (.348 wOBA)
  • May 2013 (High-A) – .258/.315/.443 (.362 wOBA)
  • June 2013 (High-A) – .300/.390/.678 (.474 wOBA)
  • July 2013 (Double-A) – .228/.297/.620 (.415 wOBA)
  • August 2013 (Double-A) .357/.398/.661 (.480 wOBA)

The power has pretty much always translated immediately for Baez, but little else has. It only took him about a month to get it figured out in Double-A, but adjustments came much more slowly at both High-A and Triple-A. The concern here, of course, is that even if Baez is called up soon, he may not produce this season with just over two months left to go.

Baez is still one of those “empty the FAAB” guys, especially so late in the season, but I’d caution against expecting much regarding his on-base abilities. Even still, a middle infielder with his level of pop will be immediately fantasy-relevant, it’s just a question of how much he’ll kill your batting average. He’s going to strike out a ton — that much is a given — but if his improved ability against offspeed pitches translates to the majors, his transition may not be quite as rough as his previous stops.




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Scott Strandberg has written for RotoGraphs since 2013. He is a film critic and entertainment writer for The Norman Transcript newspaper, and the co-founder of RosterResource Wrestling. Scott is also the bassist for North Meets South. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.


17 Responses to “Javier Baez: Late-Season Fantasy Savior?”

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  1. Him says:

    Good analysis. Another reason to bring Baez up is to get those first few months of struggling out of the way now, so that the Cubs have a better chance to compete next season.

    For fantasy purposes, I will be grabbing him the second Bonifacio is traded by the Cubs. Or I hear of significant interest in Bonifacio for that matter. And then I’ll be looking to deal him immediately while his value is highest.

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  2. mymaus says:

    Great point about adjustment. In a H2H OBP league, do you drop Aybar for Baez if he is called up?

    Before you answer that consider that my league has errors as a category. He seems to be pretty error prone for a MI in the minors and in MLB, that will be even worse, right?

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  3. Justin says:

    Mike Moustakas was another elite power prospect with very similar walk rates. However his K rate was roughly half Baez’s. Moustakas also took time to adjust when promoted.

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  4. SeattleSlew says:

    The announcer and the crowd really went crazy on that homer.

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  5. Roughed Up Balls says:

    It’s funny cause they didn’t. Ha I get it!

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  6. 5RunHomerun says:

    Baez may be called up sometime soon, but the odds are definitely not as high as Scott thinks. To get a better understanding, you have to take things back a bit.

    Last season, Baez started off at High A Daytona while Alcantara was playing shortstop at Double A Tennessee. Alcantara moved over to second when Baez was promoted to Tennessee. They both had great seasons and figured to play into the future of the Cubs. As the article points out, Castro is slotted in at short for the foreseeable future. This means that Baez would need to find a new home, second base being the most obvious choice. Moving Alcantara to center field makes the most sense as a way of having all three guys in the lineup at positions they can adequately play.

    This season, both Alcantara and Baez began the season at Triple A Iowa. Baez got off to a horrendous start; Alcantara’s start was slow but still decent. They both have improved during the course of the season.

    Alcantara began playing center field a few weeks before his major league debut. This didn’t just happen the other day, as inferred by the article. This happened at Iowa as a preparation for an eventual job in the majors, either this season or next. That job obviously opened up this season when Barney missed a few games for the birth of his child. The Cubs could have called up Watkins or Alcantara, both are on the 40 man. They decided to give Alcantara a shot at the bigs. He was clearly deserving. Due to rotation vacancies left by the Samardzija/Hammel trade and the All Star break, the Cubs didn’t have to get rid of any position players, at the earliest, until the fourth game after the All Star Break. When they were forced to make a choice, they instead sent down the struggling Mike Olt.

    That could have been the end of that, and this article may not have been written. Instead, Emilio Bonifacio came off of the DL a few days ago. By that point, Alcantara had earned his roster spot; the Cubs weren’t sending him down. That meant either Barney or Bonifacio had to go. The Cubs are trying to trade both guys. They most likely needed to play Bonifacio to show interested teams that he is healthy and ready to go. So they DFA’d Barney. Their window to trade him now goes until a day after the trade deadline. Or maybe they’re seeking optional assignment waivers on him.

    Around this same time, Baez began playing second base at Iowa. This is not why Barney was DFA’d. The two really aren’t related. Why release your second baseman if the guy at AAA isn’t ready to play there yet? Baez was always going to have to start playing second at Iowa. He needs to be ready for the position when he is called up, whether that’s this year or next. Now that Alcantara’s in Chicago, there’s no reason why Baez can’t play there most of the time.

    Also, Baez is not on the 40 man roster. The Cubs aren’t going to add him to the roster until the moment he comes up. If Barney does leave the organization, that will free up a roster spot. But the Cubs will likely need that spot for Kyuji Fujikawa, who should finish up his rehab at Iowa and come off of the 60 day DL any day now. And if they do move both Barney and Bonifacio? There are other options for how they man second moving forward. They could call up Logan Watkins to play there. Or more likely they have Alcantara start at second and bring up another outfielder, maybe Kalish.

    It’s not entirely unlikely that Baez will come up this year (especially with the way he’s been hitting lately, WOW!). However, it’s probably not as likely or as soon as this article would have you think.

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    • DBA455 says:

      The point about the 40 man seems like the relevant one to me.

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      • Him says:

        http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/team/roster_40man.jsp?c_id=chc

        41 names on the 40 man roster, including Fujikawa and James McDonald who are both on the 60 day DL. The Cubs really only have 39 guys on the 40 now. And they can easily remove Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters at this point.

        The 40 man will not stand in the way of a Javy call-up.

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      • ‘Him’ is correct, I think the 40-man is completely irrelevant here. Even if there wasn’t already an empty spot, it’s quite easy to find room for Baez. There is absolutely no reason for Josh Vitters to be on a 40-man roster. He’s hitting .204/.263/.334 in the PCL and he can’t play third anymore (strictly 1B/LF now). Brett Jackson turns 26 on Saturday and he’s hitting .219/.305/.378 in Triple-A with a 36.8% K-rate. Ryan Kalish is always expendable. Hell, Matt Szczur has a wRC+ of 62 in Iowa. Pieces of the future these are not.

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  7. Sherm says:

    Now that the trade deadline passed, and Bonifacio has been moved, do we see Baez in the very near future?

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  8. angelo says:

    Okay, I’ll ask again. Drop aybar for baez in a redraft?

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    • Sorry I missed your question the first time. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter anytime (I check that more regularly). I would go ahead and do it. Aybar is so ‘meh’ that it won’t hurt you that much even if Baez falls flat on his face.

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  9. RL says:

    Are there any good examples of AAA players with 30% K rates immediately succeeding when called up? I’d be surprised if there are many.

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