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2 To Watch: Javier Baez and Raisel Iglesias

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Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, are widely available and useful, or just because I want to write about them. This week, it's Javier Baez and Raisel Iglesias.

Javier Baez can crush baseballs, but can he make enough contact now to survive in the bigs?
Javier Baez can crush baseballs, but can he make enough contact now to survive in the bigs?
Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 9 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link.

Note: all stats from Fangraphs or Minor League Central and current up to 6/3

Last week I took a break from profiling players and reviewed how well my advice regarding players featured in 2 to Watch this season has worked. I graded myself (A-F scale) for each of the 12 profiled players. My GPA was over 3, so I think that's pretty good. You can go back and read that quarter-season review if you want to judge for yourself whether you can entrust your fantasy roster to me. Since there were no new profiles last week, there's no one to check in on this week, so we can just dive in to the new guys.

Javier Baez

Normally, I leave all the prospect coverage to our fine team of Fake Teams prospect writers: Brian Creagh and Jason Hunt. But today, while searching for an interesting hitter to profile and checking my work league lineup, there, next to my NA slot hitter's name was a little orange box, which Yahoo! players will recognize as breaking player news. That player in my NA slot is none other than the slugging infielder Javy Baez. The "breaking news" was that he has moved to third base in AAA (located in my favorite state in the union; Shout out to Iowa and the 319!).

This is significant for several reasons. First, he had been playing SS and 2B exclusively all season and throughout his career. Second, Kris Bryant currently occupies third for the big league club, so there really isn't an opening there. Third, Jorge Soler just went on the DL, leaving the Cubs with one extra roster spot and short one outfielder. The speculation has been rampant. I'll copy the relevant stuff out of the linked article if you don't want to answer their survey questions to read the whole thing.

Now, Baez could be getting closer and closer to a return to the big leagues.

So, Bryant in left, Baez at third, Castro at short and Russell at second?

It sounds like it could happen.

That quote describes what most outside the organization think is going to happen. Kris Bryant has played left field some this season and Soler's move to the DL opens up right field. The story goes that Coghlan and Lake will play right, Bryant in left, and then the infield will change to the above. Baez has not been called up just yet but with the Cubs need and roster spot, it could be happening soon.

Another factor in all of this that leads into my profile is Baez's bat. Last year, he struggled in his first taste of The Show and was sent back down. Everyone thought he would make the roster out of spring training this year, but he was again sent down. The death of his sister caused him to miss a few weeks to start this year as well. But, he has been raking in AAA after his return from bereavement leave and is trying to prove all the doubters wrong.

Since I live 3 hours from the nearest minor league team (single A Cedar Rapids), I don't get to see many (basically none) prospects live. This guy is the rare exception. I was fortunate enough to see him in person in May of 2014 in Des Moines. He lived up to his scouting report that day by striking out with a violent swing, walking, and crushing a pitch over the fence with his insane bat speed (graded 70-80 by most scouts I've seen).

What I want to do today is see if anything has changed in his approach this year versus last year in AAA. I will show his MLB numbers from last season, but they are just there for reference since I have no 2015 numbers to compare them to. There are going to be lots of numbers thrown out you now, so prepare yourself. I've got four tables full of 'em to show you.

2014 Chicago 229 0.169 0.227 0.324 41.50% 6.60% 0.155 9 5
2014 Iowa 434 0.260 0.323 0.510 30.00% 7.80% 0.250 23 16
2015 Iowa 141 0.325 0.404 0.545 24.10% 7.80% 0.220 7 6

Year Team BABIP LD% GB% OFB% HR/OFB HR/Contact IFB% HR%
2014 Chicago 0.248 14.40% 42.40% 28.00% 27.30% 7.60% 14.40% 3.90%
2014 Iowa 0.322 13.20% 38.10% 37.40% 23.20% 8.70% 7.50% 5.30%
2015 Iowa 0.398 28.90% 37.80% 25.60% 30.40% 7.80% 4.40% 5.00%

Year Team KS% KL% TTO% Swng% Contact% Whf% Whf/Swn%
2014 Chicago 29.30% 10.00% 52.00% 46.70% 59.20% 19.00% 40.80%
2014 Iowa 24.70% 4.60% 43.10% 48.70% 62.90% 18.10% 37.10%
2015 Iowa 17.70% 5.70% 36.90% 48.10% 66.80% 16.00% 33.20%

Year Team OSwng% ZSwng% OCon% ZCon%
2014 Chicago 37.60% 59.00% 39.20% 76.60%
2014 Iowa 19.10% 72.50% 12.90% 73.50%
2015 Iowa 35.00% 64.70% 56.30% 74.00%

You may notice that we are dealing with very small samples here and you are right. But, we've got just enough to make a few conclusions about his development. His per-pitch metrics like K%, BB%, Whiff%, etc. stabilize much more quickly than average, BABIP, line drive percentage, and many others. What trends emerge looking at this giant swath of numbers? Pay closest attention to the second and third rows in the tables, since I want to compare apples to apples here, AAA to AAA.

First, let me point out that success in AAA does not guarantee success in the majors and the jump up from AAA is very large. However, an approach or swing change first seen in AAA can signal a significant improvement in a hitter's profile that will translate well to the next level. We are looking for a noticeable change in his approach that could signal a much better second attempt in MLB than his first.

The first table shows us that he struggled with strikeouts, to put it mildly. He STRUGGLED with strikeouts. That's better. The walk rate is a little below average and his excellent power didn't translate to the majors, but he did hit 9 homers in one-third of a season in MLB. You could see why strikeouts might be a problem for him just looking at last year's AAA strikeouts. A 30% K-rate in AAA is not a good sign for MLB success. Look at 2015, though! His K% is down to a respectable 24% while maintaining the same 2014 walk rate. The power is still there with that excellent ISO and slugging. You may notice his average and OBP have skyrocketed. Let's check out table two for answers.

Table 2's got us covered. That 0.398 BABIP has driven a lot of that surge in his rate stats. But! His BABIP is also higher because he is hitting line drives at double his 2014 rate and has cut his infield fly rate (which are automatic outs) down to a very good 4.4%. Those are both very good signs. His HR/FB% is pretty high at 30%, but with his power in AAA, that's not completely bonkers. His homeruns per contact and overall homerun percentages have remained remarkably constant.

Tables 3 and 4 are the deepest dive yet as we enter deeper into the Inception-like dream. Here's where we see what has really changed. KS% is the % of strikeouts swinging and KL% is the % looking. Look at that 7% drop in swinging strikeouts this year! That is significant. His TTO% (three true outcomes: walk, HR, strikeout) is also down, meaning he is putting the ball in play more. His contact % is up and he is swinging and missing less (whiff % is down). Finally, we see one big reason for all this improvement: while he is swinging at pitches out of the zone more than last year, he is being more selective with which out of the zone pitches he swings at, evidenced by his 40%!! increase in contact on those pitches.

With more contact comes more balls in play, and when you have elite bat speed, more balls in play lead to more line drives, homers, and other good things. He's clearly being more selective and getting fooled less, which allows him to pick out pitches he likes, which also means more loud contact.

What does all of this mean? It looks like he has noticeably improved his plate discipline and is making much more contact. This is definitely good news and while he probably won't hit 0.280 this year in the majors, he could now hit something like 0.240 with good power (25-30 HR in a full season) and 15 steals. Not bad for a guy with 2B, SS, and maybe 3B eligibility.

If the Cubs call him up, his power upside at those middle infield positions is too much to pass on so find room for him somewhere. He doesn't come without risk and his improvements this year are only in AAA and in a small sample, but I like what we've seen so far and he is better prepared now than ever before to handle the switch to the majors. I'm buying his potential and this is your chance to buy low on him because some owners will look at his 2014 MLB stats and not see his 2015 improvements.

Raisel Iglesias

This Cuban right handed starter for the Reds was not expected to be in the rotation so soon, but injuries and demotions have given him a solid spot. He has a unique delivery since he can throw from several arm slots depending on the pitch. This can either tip a batter off to what pitch he's throwing or provide deception, depending on how he uses his delivery. He's been in the rotation long enough now that we can start to judge whether he is useful as a fantasy asset or not.

Let's take a look at his MLB stat line so far (this includes 3 innings of relief as well). These two tables highlight his stats, including a number of key advanced stats, and league averages for each stat.

Raisel Iglesias 24.2 5.11 2.96 4.02 1.46 8.10% 22.50% 0.351 3.60% 65.60% 14.30% 34.20%
League Avg N/A 4.05 3.97 3.91 1.29 7.10% 19.20% 0.295 11.30% 71.90% 9.60% 45.50%

FA GB% SI GB% SL GB% CH GB% FA SwStr% SI SwStr% SL SwStr% CH SwStr% Overall SwStr%
Raisel Iglesias 16.70% 33.30% 46.70% 20% 5.80% 7.50% 22.30% 21.70% 12.00%
League Avg 34.20% 47.90% 41.20% 44.40% 5.60% 4.80% 13% 11.90% 8.90%

So, his ERA has not been good so far, but his FIP has been excellent. His FIP looks great mostly because his homer rate is very low. Thus, his xFIP, which regresses his HR/FB rate, is basically league average. He has been a little unlucky with a high BABIP and a low left-on-base % (LOB%). He is a flyball pitcher that is pretty good at generating infield flies and has excellent swing and miss stuff. That overall swinging strike rate is elite, ranking 16th among all MLB starters!

He throws four primary pitches: a four-seam fastball (FA), a sinker (SI), a slider (SL), and a changeup (CH). As the second table shows, he doesn't get above average ground ball rates on any pitch except the slider. That's ok because that's not his game. His slider, sinker, and changeup all have swinging strike rates well above league average and even his four-seam fastball is above the average. Having four pitches that can get hitters to swing and miss at above league average rates is unusual and gives me hope that he can succeed.

His good pop-up rate, amazing swinging strike rate with a reasonable walk rate allow me to over look the poor ERA and remarkable home run luck so far. It seems xFIP sees his bad luck with BABIP and LOB% and his good luck with homers and balances that to a league average pitcher. I think his strikeout skills will make him better than that. I would put his ERA going forward at 3.7 with a 9-9.5 K/9. That is very useful and I recommend him in all leagues with 14 or more teams and he has the potential to be helpful in 12-teamers as well.

He has upside as a 25 year old in his first season in the majors, so there is no reason to think he can't get better as he adjusts. Check back next week for two more intriguing players! Tschus!