As Javy Baez settles into his role on the North Side this weekend, the Cubs can peer across the diamond to see a club that has figured out how to develop talent.
The Rays, who beat the Cubs again 4-0 Saturday, have been successful since their run to the World Series in 2008 with buy-low, sell-high trading and quality drafting.
Tampa Bay has gotten good trade value in the last decade from quality players such as Aubrey Huff, James Shields and, more recently, David Price. The Rays also have traded for and drafted a slew of young talent to develop — players who were once considered top prospects such as Price, Evan Longoria, Delmon Young and Scott Kazmir.
So what advice might Rays manager Joe Maddon have for the 21-year-old Baez less than one week after his much-ballyhooed promotion to the bigs?
“I wouldn’t tell him anything,” Maddon said. “You can only make them think, which is the worst thing you can possibly do today. If he can turn his mind off and just go play, that’d be the best thing.”
Baez, who before the season was Baseball America’s fifth-ranked prospect, said he wasn’t nervous during his Wrigley Field debut Friday, but it was clear he was anxious while chasing pitches well outside the strike zone.
Saturday saw a significant improvement despite three more strikeouts and an error at second base.
Baez was patient to a fault during his first at-bat. He watched six pitches and struck out looking. But he saw 10 pitches in his third trip to the plate and blasted a double over left fielder Matt Joyce.
The extra-base hit drew the loudest cheer from the crowd of 36,739, and it might have been the boost Baez needed.
“You’re always trying to live up to the expectations,” Longoria said of hyped prospects. “For a lot of guys, it [provides incentive]. It’s something that as a young player you understand, and you just try to perform on a daily basis and not try to do too much.
“For him, that will be the struggle, and that will be the ultimate goal — to not try to go up there and do something that he’s not capable of doing.”
Baez surpassed all expectations in his first three games, belting an extra-inning, game-winning home run in his major-league debut against the Rockies and adding two more homers to close the series in Colorado.
Those performances added pressure to his homecoming. Manager Rick Renteria also compared Baez — before and after the series opener Friday — to 13-time All-Star Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey came up with the Mariners during Renteria’s time in Seattle.
The comparisons to Griffey aside, Baez said he hasn’t felt any extra weight on his shoulders. He also said the strikeouts won’t change his approach.
If Maddon were his manager, he’d be glad to hear that.
“I’d just tell him to go up there and be himself and play to his strengths,” Maddon said. “Don’t worry about all the data, video and that kind of stuff. It’s not gonna help him.”
Baez certainly wasn’t alone in struggling at the plate.
Rays pitchers had 15 strikeouts, including nine from starter Jake Odorizzi in the first four innings.
Baez was the only Cub to reach second base.
“[Baez’s] at-bats today were visibly more controlled,” Renteria said. “He was trying to work the pitcher a little bit more. He was very conscientious [at the plate].”