Javier Baez Call Up: Why Now?
With the Chicago Cubs seemingly focused on losing games at the major league level (in order to secure a better draft slot next year), it might seem like a curious time for a Javier Baez call up. The fact Baez failed to dominate with a .260/.323/.510 triple slash line at Triple-A Iowa gave the organization an excuse to keep him buried awhile longer. This makes the timing even more puzzling at first glance.
A deeper look reveals a method to the “madness.” The Cubs ended Sunday with a dismal 47-63 record, firmly buried in the basement of the National League Central — just 4.5 games better than the Texas Rangers’ MLB-worst mark. One more losing streak and the North Siders are challenging for the number one pick in next June’s amateur draft. But after Arismendy Alcantara showed during his “cup-of-coffee” look that he was too ready to send back down, the transition to The Future Is Now was underway, making a Javier Baez call up imminent. The only thing left to be determined was the timing of the move.
Keep in mind that the evolution of this “future” for the Cubs involves the promotion of not only Baez, but several highly touted youngsters, including Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell. If the group were to break camp together, all making their MLB debuts on Opening Day, 2015, the Cubs run the risk of a media circus and undue pressure being placed on the youngsters. Therefore, if an opportune time to begin the promotions presented itself this season, it would grease the wheels for a smooth start to 2015.
Why It’s The Right Time For A Javier Baez Call Up?
Long-suffering Cubs faithful began beating the drums for a Baez promotion in the spring, as he banged out five home runs in just 53 spring training at bats. A .172 April batting average at Triple-A Iowa quickly halted the clamor, but the top-100 prospect has steadily heated up his game like the weather as spring turned to summer, hitting .250 in May, followed by a .275 June. Since the calendar turned to July, Baez has been a beast, hitting at an even .300 clip, including 12 home runs and a phenomenal .675 slugging percentage in 32 games.
This reveals our first “clue.” When handling a mid-season promotion for a top prospect, it is ideal to promote him in the midst of a hot streak. If hitting well, we can assume he is relaxed at the plate, seeing the ball well, and generally feeling good about his game — all important aspects to aid a successful transition to the MLB level. In this respect the timing for a Javier Baez call up is perfect.
A closer look at the Cubs schedule reveals more insight behind the timing of the move. Consider the ideal environment for the debut of a hyped top prospect. Is it at home where the Chicago media descends upon Wrigley Field creating a frenzy of distractions as they hype the arrival of the team’s “savior”? Or, is it on the road, where the media would be limited primarily to the regular beat writers covering the team? Well, look where the Cubs happen to be starting a three game series on the eve of Baez’ coming out party. Not only are they on the road, but starting a three-game series in Coors Field — a hitter’s paradise. Combine that with a weak Rockies pitching staff and we find the perfect recipe for a young hitter’s debut.
To top it off, when the Cubs return home on Friday, the “circus” will be under a smaller tent than normal. As the last-place Cubs begin a late afternoon game with Tampa Bay in Baez’ home debut, a larger sports media event will be preparing to take place just a few miles to the south. With any and every NFL game being an event, the Chicago Bears’ first pre-season game is bound to take center stage.
I was involved with a similar situation involving a hard-charging young prospect back in 2001 with the Cincinnati Reds. Austin Kearns (1st round) and Adam Dunn (2nd round) had been our first two selections in the amateur draft three years prior, and had been unofficially “paired up,” moving up through the minor leagues together each year since their signing. After posting solid seasons at Single-A Dayton in 2000, they were assigned (again, together) to Double-A Chattanooga coming out of spring training in 2001. Kearns was the more highly touted of the pair, with the former first-rounder coming off a 27-home run season with a triple slash line of .306/.415/.558 compared to Dunn’s .281/.428/.469, 16 HR effort. The former Texas Longhorn football player (one year), Dunn, however, showed signs that spring of taking his game to another level.
While Kearns dealt with some injury issues early in the season, to say Dunn broke out of the gates strong would be an understatement. Over his first 39 games, he pounded the ball, posting a .343/.449/.664 triple-slash line, including 12 home runs. For the first time since their signing, we had no choice but to break up the “dynamic duo.” The Southern League simply could not contain Dunn any longer. He needed a new challenge. To paraphrase the legendary Clubber Lang of Rocky fame, however, Adam Dunn “rejected” the challenge of Triple-A, because Triple-A was no challenge. ‘Dunner” did not miss a beat in moving to the highest minor league level, as he decimated International League pitching to the tune of a .329/.441/.676 triple slash including 20 bombs in only 55 games!
By mid-summer, though the big league club was slogging through a lost season, buried in last place in the NL Central and looking toward “gaining” a top pick in the subsequent amateur draft (just like the Cubs are today), it was quite evident Dunn could be denied no longer. He was ready for the majors, and all that remained was to work out the timing of the move. After finishing a 2-6 home stand with a sweep at the hands of the Braves, a road trip to south Florida presented the perfect opportunity, and a star was officially born as we began a series with the Marlins on a quiet mid-summer night.
Having sat in the General Manager’s chair, I can tell you that much more thought goes into this process than fans realize. It is important to plan MLB debuts carefully when a top prospect is involved — especially when the team is losing. (In a pennant race, it’s quite another story.) Not only has Baez been hitting the cover off the ball over the past month, but the last week saw him at the top of his game. He was hitting at a .400 clip over his last 20 at bats with half of his eight hits leaving the yard. When the young slugger went deep twice in Sunday’s game while Chicago was in the midst of a west coast swing, the stars had aligned presenting the perfect opportunity for a Javier Baez call up.
6 Aug 2014 / Brad Kullman / 2
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