Ednel Javier Baez was drafted by the Cubs in the 2011 draft with the 9th pick. History is going to look at that draft as an incredible one. Here's a sampling of players taken in that round:
1.1 Gerrit Cole (ace potential)
1.3 Trevor Bauer (20 makeup, but #2 potential)
1.4 Dylan Bundy (pre-TJS, was consensus #1 prospect, ace potential)
1.6 Anthony Rendon (1st-division 3B)
1.7 Archie Bradley (top 4 or 5 pitching prospect in baseball right now, #2 potential)
1.8 Francisco Lindor (Jason Parks' personal panty-melter)
1.11 George Springer (big-time OF prospect, could be ROY next year)
1.14 Jose Fernandez (ace already)
1.18 Sonny Gray (#2 ceiling, lights-out closer floor)
1.22 Kolten Wong (1st-division 2B)
That's 10 people who could ALL be downballot MVP/Cy Young candidates as early as 2015. What's crazy is that with the exception of Cole or Fernandez, Javier Baez could be better than all of them. The comp early on was to Gary Sheffield, and that was built primarily on an otherworldly bat speed:
The comp doesn't make sense anymore. For one, Sheffield had the better plate discipline. That's apparent now, and probably was then too. The reason the comp is made, though, is that there just aren't many people with the bat speed that Baez has. He is too good to make a mistake to (and pitchers made plenty of mistakes against him so far in his career), and he can hit a ball hard to any part of the baseball field. He started his career in earnest in 2012, and as a 19-year old in full-season Peoria he absolutely eviscerated the league. It wasn't pretty; he slashed .333/.383/.596 and averaged a HR in 17.75 AB. He had an XBH of some sort 12.7% of his at bats, which is goofy. After a promotion to Daytona later in the year sufficiently challenged hi (.188/.244/.400, but aided by a .200 BABIP), it was decided he'd return to Daytona instead of a more aggressive promotion to Tennessee in 2013.
Things started out poorly for Javier. In April, he hit .262/.275/.514. That's a .789 OPS (good for most players), essentially completely devoid of walks (4, plus 2 HBP). He also was committing a ton of errors, and it led to this exchange:
@factorialite he's only disappointing if you previously ignored his issues. This isn't a surprise to most scouts. How he adjusts now is key
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) May 18, 2013
@sahadevsharma I don't care how many tools are in the shed if the shed is permanently locked. in this case, the shed also strikes out a lot
— Myles Handley (@myleshandley87) May 18, 2013
He started turning it around, but I still had my doubts:
@sahadevsharma Baez has really turned it around lately, but his holes are still there with the glove and with the bat
— Myles Handley (@myleshandley87) June 11, 2013
@myleshandley87 holes are greatly reducing with the bat, we're seeing progress, that's the key. Error stats in minors are misleading…
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) June 11, 2013
@myleshandley87 he has a bad 1B not picking up bounced throws and plays on bad surfaces in FSL
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) June 11, 2013
I gave Sahadev some shit for that last one, especially because a good deal of his errors were dropped fly balls and throwing over the 1B's head. Still, he was undeniably improving, so after a .274/.338/.535 line at Daytona, he was promoted to Tennessee.
That's where things got a little bit silly.
As the 3rd hitter in a stacked AA lineup, Baez owned the league to the tune of .294/.346/.638. His walks increased to 8.1% in the Southern League, and while his K% also rose to 28.4%, he still absolutely crushed everyone. He led the league in OPS by 80 points. 80 POINTS! He was 4th in the league with 20 HR with less than half as many ABs as anyone in front of him (if he had the same pace and same AB as #1, he would have had 41 HR and won by 17.) He had 35 XBH and 29 NBXH. He had an XBH in 16.1% of his ABs. Against righties, he was a respectable .234/.285/.532; against lefties, you might as well intentionally walk him every time (.450/.500/.917). I'm not sure if they have minor league MVPs, but you could make a very, very strong argument he was the MVP for two leagues this year. It's bonkers.
That isn't to say it was all soft reds and bubblebaths. Baez committed a crazy number of errors, and more than a few of them were just awful. Scouts say he plays the game like his hair is on fire, but they don't mean it in a good way. I'll talk more about it in scouting.
Predictably, there is a ton of information on Baez. I'll let the experts take it from here.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of radio hits in the Chicago market, and I’m usually asked about the positional depth in the Cubs’ org, and which prospect has the highest ceiling. Baez has long been my answer despite the fact that Baseball Prospectus ranked Almora higher on the pre-season and mid-season lists, mostly due to the fact that Baez was viewed by many to be a high-risk player. The tools are very loud, with elite bat speed at the plate and excellent hands in the field, but the aggressiveness and one-speed-at-all-times approach in all phases of the game painted the picture of an immature player, a prospect that might spoil his future before it has a chance to blossom. After an impressive run in the Florida State League, the blossoming we have eagerly anticipated has taken place after a promotion to Double-A, where Baez already has 26 extra-base hits in his first 40 games. Double-A is a test level, a separator level where pretenders are exposed and future major-league players are uncovered. It’s a small sample but a positive developmental step, and Baez is showing that he is not only prepared for the test but talented enough to excel against much older and wiser competition. He could be a star, a role 7 type with a middle-of-the-order bat and left-side chops in the field. Whatever his future role might be, the Cubs have an extremely valuable commodity in Baez.–-Jason Parks
And this was before his relative explosion in AA. BP also had him at #17 in the midseason with the warning of huge regression at AA which…didn't happen.
DH Javier Baez • Cubs
Double-A Tennessee (Southern)
Baez slammed 20 homers in 54 Double-A games to catch and tie George Springer for second place in the minors with 37 bombs. Baez stands all by himself, however, with minor league-leading totals for extra-base hits (75) and RBIs (111). The 20-year-old stepped up his game with runners on base this season, hitting .325/.384/.654 with 19 homers in 231 at-bats at Tennessee and high Class A Daytona. While Baez possesses the raw tools to play a big league shortstop, he needs to clean up his fundamentals and improve his efficiency after committing 44 errors in 123 games, a performance good for a .932 fielding average. -BA
Sickels had a fun thing where he compared megaprospect Xander Bogaerts to Baez (this was in February of this year). In summary, he said that Bogaerts had the better makeup (Baez splits scouts on his makeup; many don't like his perceived disrespect for another people [I don't care as long as he isn't Milton Bradley] and some really like his work ethic and dedication to the game), but that Baez was the higher upside. He said they both project as .300 hitters with power, and that Baez could steal more bases (and I imagine he'll swipe 20 bags a year).
Here's Sickels end-of-year update on Baez:
8) Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs. Pre-season 18, July rank 14. I do worry about the strikeouts but the power/speed upside is just enormous. I could see this going down a few slots depending on book analysis.
Many publications will have Baez in their top 10 next year, and you could safely discard any list that leaves him off the top 20 as garbage.
Baez will break camp with Iowa, and you'll hear the party line about getting him a full year there. Don't believe it; he'll be called up during September callups if not earlier unless he really falls in on himself. The PCL is a hitter's league, and Baez is a motherfucker. He's still never been really challenged, and I don't think he will be in Iowa, either. It's anyone's guess how he'll do in Chicago, and I put the range of WARP that he could provide in 2014 as anywhere from -0.2 (Starlin Castro, 2013) to around 5 (far and away best on the Cubs). He's the best prospect the Cubs have had in a long, long time.