Promising slugger Baez developing patience at plate
Cubs prospect showing off power-hitting prowess in second straight big league camp
MESA, Ariz. -- It's a good thing the Cactus League games have begun. The Cubs have had a tough time finding a field that's safe for Javier Baez to hit on.
On the first day the shortstop was in Cubs camp, Baez was on Field 2, and hit three or four balls over the left-field wall and onto Highway 101. Desi Wilson, the hitting coach at Double-A Tennessee, was in right field, watching.
"It was ridiculous," Wilson said. "It was his first day. But it doesn't surprise me."
The Cubs moved Baez to Field 5, one of four fields located in a supposedly safer section of the complex. Baez launched balls over the left-field wall that broke two car windows in the parking lot.
"That's unfortunate," Wilson said, "But Javy is working on his game and that's part of his game."
What may surprise Baez fans is that his best at-bat last year wasn't when he hit any of his 37 home runs, including any of the four in one game for Class A Daytona. The one that makes Baez smile was when he drew a walk in a 12-pitch at-bat on Aug. 17 for Double-A Tennessee in a game against Chattanooga's Ross Stripling.
"That was my best at-bat, that was my best at-bat the whole year," Baez said. "I was being patient and seeing the ball from the pitcher real good and I wasn't chasing any pitches. I was just fighting back, fighting back, fighting back. I took a fastball outside and it was a ball."
Stripling gave up one hit over six innings in that game and walked two. Tennessee lost, 6-4, but Baez showed more patience in that one plate appearance than he had all year. Wilson was the Smokies' hitting coach, and after Baez walked, the shortstop pointed to the dugout at Wilson.
"I was proud of him," Wilson said. "[I told him] 'I'm proud of you because that's what we want, every at-bat, not just one at-bat. I'm not saying see 12 pitches, but you showed patience and control of the strike zone.'
"I harp on that every day," Wilson said. "I give him constant reminders and he goes about it the right way. You tell him something and he goes out there and applies it, especially a young aggressive hitter that Javy Baez is. He'll go out there and apply it. He applied it last year in Double-A and you could see the results. The average was high and the home runs were crazy. You could see he's maturing at the plate and understanding the strike zone."
Baez is in the Cubs' big league camp for the second straight spring, and hoping to build off last season and that one at-bat.
"I like swinging the bat, and I'm just going to try to swing the bat as much as I can and try to see if it's a ball or strike, and if it's a ball, I'll try not to swing," Baez said. "I don't take many walks. This year, I'm going to work on that."
Baez's quick hands result in an aggressive, almost violent swing, but Wilson has seen the young slugger make progress and tone down his leg kick and first move to the ball. The result was a .294 average in 54 games at Tennessee.
"He's looking for his pitch, No. 1, and two, he'll have that time to ambush a pitcher when he faces him two or three times down the road because he's seen all his offspeed pitches, his breaking balls, how he pitches with runners in scoring position," Wilson said of Baez. "There will come a point in time when Javy will look for that first pitch because he's developed a history with that pitcher. It's a process that every hitter in the organization goes through. 'Why are you swinging at the first pitch when you don't even know the guy?'
"In that 12-pitch at-bat, Javy saw Ross' cutter, his breaking ball, his fastball that ran, so when he came into the dugout and said it was his best [at-bat], I agreed," Wilson said. "He saw everything. You can see from the previous years, he would've probably swung at the first pitch and got out. He's come a long way. He's been watching video and asking a lot of questions. This was his first year at Double-A and he was asking, 'What's his velocity? What's his movement?'"
When Wilson, 44, played in the Minor Leagues, he didn't have video to prepare him for a pitcher.
"We went by naked eye, we went by the previous batter," Wilson said. "That's what I want as well. We want the video, but we also want the talking in the dugout -- 'OK, his ball's doing this, he's throwing this against lefties, he's throwing this against righties.' If you have that combined with the video, we'll get things done."
Baez was promoted to Tennessee after batting .274 with 17 home runs, 19 doubles and 57 RBIs in 76 games at Class A Daytona. The Cubs have said Baez will open the 2014 season at Triple-A Iowa. Cubs fans would like to see him at Wrigley Field. Baez could become very popular with the ballhawks on Waveland Avenue as he crushes pitches over the left-field bleachers there.
"There's no field at all safe for that man," Wilson said. "I'm glad he's in our organization. He's a great kid. He goes about his business the right way. You can see it in his eyes. He's determined and has come a long way."
On Friday, Wilson was in the dugout watching Baez in his start against the Angels, and the shortstop went 0-for-3. Both were happy about the quality of the at-bats.
"You could see the smile on his face," Wilson said. "He was happy with his [at-bats]. He hit the ball hard and didn't leave the zone. That's what we want. He's going deeper in counts. I don't look at the results, I look at what pitches are he swinging at, how many pitches did he see in that at-bat, did he swing at the first pitch, which he didn't.
"The kid has come a long ways and you can see it in his [at-bats]," Wilson said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.