Cubs call up top prospect Baez
CHICAGO -- Javier Baez wasn't quite awake when he got the news that he was being promoted to the big leagues.
Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey called Baez, 21, to his hotel room early Monday in Omaha where the Minor League team was playing. Pevey started to tell Baez that he wanted to work on some of his footwork around second base. Baez looked at his manager in disbelief.
"He said, 'What? In the room?'" Pevey said. "He was half asleep."
Then, Pevey told Baez the real reason he called him in, and the 21-year-old woke up immediately.
Maybe it was the two-homer game on Sunday that did it. Maybe it was the fact that he was batting .300 with 12 home runs since July 1. Whatever it was, it's time. The Cubs have promoted Baez, and he is expected to make his debut on Tuesday against the Rockies.
Baez, ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Cubs prospects, is batting .260 overall with 23 home runs, 24 doubles, two triples and 80 RBIs in 104 games at Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs are hoping that's the last he sees of the Minor Leagues.
The club's No. 1 pick (ninth overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Baez has been playing both second base and shortstop, and his arrival will likely move Arismendy Alcantara to the outfield. Pevey said Baez's range at second is "unbelievable."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria has been asked often about Baez, a right-handed hitter with a vicious swing, who hit a two-run homer for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game last month.
"When the move is made with him, whenever that is, it'll be because everybody has drawn a clear consensus that the action is right for him and for us," Renteria said in Los Angeles on Saturday.
The Cubs were sellers at the Trade Deadline for the third straight season, and with the team in last place, it's a good time to get a peek at the future.
"He has the ability, he has the talent," Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said of Baez. "I think he can do the same -- come here and keep playing, keep doing his job. I think it'll be good for him."
Castro knows all about the nervousness of a big league callup. He was promoted on May 7, 2010, from Double-A Tennessee, and hit a three-run home run in his first at-bat, finishing that game in Cincinnati with six RBIs.
That was May; this is August.
"He's done a great job," Cubs infielder Chris Valaika said of Baez in his switch from shortstop to second. "I think that transition is really smooth. I think the more he does it, he'll keep getting better and better. That transition has been pretty seamless."
Valaika was Baez's teammate at Iowa before being promoted to the Cubs on Friday. Baez has been batting third, followed by Cubs No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant and recently, Jorge Soler.
"That's a special lineup," Valaika said of the 3-4-5 combo. "There's a lot of good things coming. Javy has really turned it around and he's killing it down there and Soler getting healthy, he's polished. ... It's a professional lineup."
Baez got off to a slow start at Iowa, batting .172 in April. Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper said Baez talked to other players plus the coaching staff. The result? Baez hit .275 in June, and then got hot in July. He's also batting .283 with runners in scoring position.
"In the long run, I think it'll help him in the big leagues," Harper said of Baez's early struggles. "I look at young players and not so much how they handle success but how they handle failure, because you will fail in the big leagues at times. When you learn to handle that, you'll be better.
"I'm really, really proud of how he's responded from April to now, how he's gone about working, how he's playing, how he's hustling," Harper said.
Yes, Baez will strike out. Pevey said the infielder still chases, but he's gotten better at the plate.
"He's grasped a lot of what 'Harp' has talked to him about," Pevey said. "At the end of the day, after everybody is gone, he's still hitting in the cage at 12:30, 1 a.m."
Pevey said he warned Baez that late night sessions may be hard to do at Wrigley Field because of where the batting cages are located under the bleachers. The Cubs will likely give Baez a key so he can hit as he pleases.
"He's a good kid -- what a gamer and a great athlete," Pevey said. "It'll be a learning curve for Javy. He'll want to hit every ball 600 feet. He's such a great competitor."
And now, Baez is headed to The Show.