Pipeline Perspectives: Baez ready to contribute now
Cubs' callup will provide more this season than counterpart, Taveras of the Cards
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Perhaps the best part of being someone who writes about prospects is when they make it to the big leagues. There is the inevitable pride one feels when a prospect you touted makes it, and then goes on to live up to his potential.
But it goes beyond that. Sure, not much beats seeing these guys we write and talk so much about succeed. Watching the drama unfold, watching a new career begin, is just as good, even if there isn't immediate success.
It's not often that two top 10-caliber prospects get an opportunity to play every day in the Major Leagues at the same time. Putting two in the same division? Even better.
That's the scenario before us now. The Cardinals' trade of Allen Craig in the John Lackey deal opened the door for Oscar Taveras to play right field every day. This week's news that the Cubs were bringing up Javier Baez brought excitement to Chicago and to prospect fans everywhere. It marks the start of a new era for the Cubs, where all of their greatly hyped prospects will now get chances to show what they can do. The Baez callup means Kris Bryant can't be too far behind, even if it's next year. Newly acquired Addison Russell should be right on their heels as well.
Circle Aug. 29 on your calendar. That's when Taveras and Baez will meet as big leaguers for the first time, in St. Louis. The question before Jim Callis and me this week: Which of these elite-level prospects will produce more the remainder of the season? Jim is going with Taveras and I'm in the Baez corner.
One thing we both agree on is that both will eventually be outstanding, perhaps even superstar Major Leaguers. But this is a discussion about the short-term. We'll leave the long-term talk for another day.
Baez has as much bat speed, if not more, than any prospect in the game and it might be difficult to find any big leaguers with a quicker bat. That generates a ton of raw power (he has a 70 grade on the 20-80 power scale) that's already showing up consistently in games. The former first-round Draft pick hit 37 homers in 2013 and was up to 23 this year after a slow start.
Baez has erased that early slump with authority, hitting .300 with 12 homers since the beginning of July. Yes, he's still swinging and missing a good amount, but his walk rate has gone up considerably, aiding the improvement in his overall numbers. In other words, the Cubs are calling up Baez at the perfect time.
They were preparing for this moment, having the No. 5 overall prospect play second base in games starting in mid-July. Those worried that playing a relatively new position will impact Baez on offense should note that he hit .339/.394/.763 as a second baseman in the Pacific Coast League.
Mr. Callis will try to dazzle you with an argument about how Baez will face more pressure than Taveras since the Cardinals lineup is deeper and his choice is being asked to be a complementary piece. Baez, on the other hand, is leading a wave that's being asked to reverse the Cubs' fortunes and he won't be surrounded by as much in the lineup.
Honestly, I don't think the argument works. No one is asking Baez to single-handedly carry Chicago back into contention right now, a la Roy Hobbs. The Cubs are in last place and all Baez is being asked to do is get his feet wet and use that quick bat against Major League pitching.
Taveras, on the other hand, is in the heat of a playoff race. Yes, there are others in the lineup shouldering the load. But Taveras is being asked to replace a cornerstone of the lineup in Craig, an All-Star just a year ago who hit .375 in the World Series. No, there's no pressure there at all.
I'll give the nod to Taveras as the better pure hitter, and he's starting to show some signs of settling in. But even if his average starts to come up, I don't expect the power to show up consistently just yet.
Meanwhile, Baez may not hit for as high of an average and he'll likely carry the bat back to the dugout somewhat frequently. But that power is going to play right now and even if the K rate makes some cringe, he's going to hit balls out of the park and into the gaps, leading to RBIs aplenty.
Given the short-term nature of this argument, the power and run production between now and the end of September should trump whatever boost in batting average Taveras comes up with.