Forgive me if this an abbreviated version of the Prospect Preview, but I'm on vacation in the Outer Banks, NC and no offense to you guys, but it's the one time a year I'd prefer to be outside than inside, and it's my birthday to boot. Today we're taking a look at Cubs 2011 first round draft pick and current destroyer of Lo-A, Javier Baez. Baez was drafted as, and is currently playing shortstop for the Cubs, though many think he will end up moving to third base as his career progresses. As a reminder, any and all statistical analysis will be subject to a small sample as Baez got a late start to full season ball and only has accrued 160 plate appearances so far this season. As such, few of the statistics will be instructive, but we can say whether they are supported by the scouting reports on Baez and if we think it's likely that they will continue or if it appears to be more of a fluke or chance occurrence. With all that said, let's see what he's accomplished thus far this season.
Read more after the jump...
Signed at the August 15 deadline in 2011 (since moved up a month due to the CBA), Baez inked a $2.625 million contract, but was only able to get in 18 at-bats between the rookie league and short-season ball. In 2012, Baez went straight to Lo-A and has proceeded to live up to and exceed expectations as an advanced high school bat with little plate discipline. Baez has recorded a .331/.394/.586 slash line in his brief time at Peoria, with 8 home runs, 5 doubles and 4 triples. That's 17 extra base hits out of 48 hits on the season, leading to an impressive .255 ISO. This doesn't mean everything is rosy however as he's registering a 20.6 K% versus a 4.4 BB%. Baez is quite clearly a free swinger, but his K% isn't overwhelming, as he has a knack for hard contact. It's not too much of a concern that he is walking so infrequently as the Cubs are likely happy that he's succeeding and will work on his secondary skills as he moves up the ladder. Where Baez has surprised is with his speed, which has never been poor, but no one saw 16 stolen bases in only 40 games coming. It's likely that Baez will slow down as he moves up the organizational ladder, and the stolen bases will slow down as well.
Coming out of high school, Baez was known for incredible bat speed that yielded comparisons to former high school standout Gary Sheffield. Bat speed wasn't his only tool however as he's got a feel for hitting, way down to his shoes. Scouts have thrown future 70 grades on both his hit and power tools. When looking at bat only, those were the types of numbers thrown out on Oscar Taveras, and while player comps do no one any favors, they do have potentially similar hit tools, as well as torque-heavy swings. He generates his remarkable bat speed using hand acceleration and good hip rotation. At 6'0/180 pounds Baez hasn't overgrown shortstop but he doesn't have the first step quickness that you would like. Many predict a move to third base in his future, but there's a non-zero chance of his staying at shortstop, with Keith Law even saying that he has a 30% chance to remain at the position, on twitter recently. Baez's arm strength is plenty for the position and it would play at any potential position if he has to move off short, be it 3rd base or right field. Despite his gaudy stolen base total, Baez sports only average speed and figures to lose some of it as he ages.
Baez has the potential to make an Oscar Taveras-like jump going into next season, though it's unlikely the Cubs will push him as aggressively as the Cardinals have with Taveras. His numbers are sure to grab the attention of prospectors everywhere and it would behoove anyone with a minor league spot open to grab him now and either move him when his stock explodes or keep him and monitor how well he adjusts to more advanced pitching. Baez has the bat to be an impact player at the major league level no matter what position he plays, and there's a good chance he etches his name next to Nick Castellanos and Miguel Sano atop lists of future third baseman. If he can stick at shortstop, he is a true impact bat that could end up in the top 5 of all baseball prospects by the end of 2013. If you have a minor league system, buy immediately. If you don't have on in your league, he's not worth snagging soon as his major league debut is likely at least two years off, though he is a name to keep in mind in case he exceeds that aggressive timetable.
Kevin Goldstein/Baseball Prospectus
PS - Yes, I wrote about Javier Baez in April before he had done basically anything, but I both figured it was a good time for an update and didn't realize I had written one until halfway through writing this one.
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