Tag, you’re it? Not if you’re Javy Baez and ‘it’ is a regular job
MESA, Ariz. — Javy Baez isn’t even around these days, and he still is creating buzz all over Cubs camp.
‘‘I’m not kidding, I watched the replay 50 times,’’ right-hander Jake Arrieta said of Baez’s no-look tag in a World Baseball Classic game Tuesday that went viral overnight. ‘‘He’s got the best hands I’ve seen, and it’s not even close. He’s extremely gifted. He works hard. He’s a great kid. And you just wait for the next time something like that happens, and you hope you’re watching.’’
Baez, who gained international attention for his quick hands on tags at the bases last postseason, started celebrating his tag Tuesday before catcher Yadier Molina’s throw even reached him. He pointed toward Molina as he made the catch-and-tag of the Dominican Republic’s Nelson Cruz to end the eighth inning of Puerto Rico’s victory.
‘‘Really, nothing impresses me with Javy now because I’ve seen him enough,’’ catcher Miguel Montero said. ‘‘The way he makes tags and the quickness and the reaction he has, he’s probably the best I’ve seen in my career.
‘‘He’s a potential Gold Glove second baseman, for sure, if not shortstop. He’s a Gold Glove anywhere on the infield. It’ll be interesting to see what’s going to happen, but they need to find a place for him to play every day because he deserves it.’’
That’s really what the conversation is about when it comes to Baez and the Cubs. When will the super-utility, often-spectacular infielder get a chance to take a single, every-day position among the rest of the team’s talented young core? After all, he did start all 17 of the Cubs’ playoff games last season at second base.
‘‘I’m certain that he’s going to play often,’’ said manager Joe Maddon, who reiterated a plan that involves Baez backing up primarily Ben Zobrist at second and occasionally Addison Russell at short and Kris Bryant at third. ‘‘We’ll figure it out as the season’s in progress. I’m not worried about that yet.
‘‘I think rest is going to be a big part of our success this year. I want to be able to rest people and, with that, move people around. We’ll just see how it plays out.”
Maddon was alluding to the likelihood that Zobrist will get more scheduled days off than he did last season.
‘‘I tell you, [Baez] could play every day at second base for any of the 30 ballclubs,’’ Russell said. ‘‘But only time will tell. Experience is another thing. But he got that experience last year. And he’s just scratching the surface.’’
With Jason Heyward struggling last fall and Kyle Schwarber unavailable to play in the field coming off a knee injury, moving the versatile Zobrist to a corner-outfield spot and installing Baez at second was a natural choice.
But with Schwarber back in left this season, Zobrist — the National League’s starting second baseman in the All-Star Game last season and the most valuable player of the World Series — isn’t going to the outfield anytime soon.
‘‘That’s the tough thing about having the roster we have and having so many great players,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘Just about every team in baseball would take Zobrist as an every-day player. . . . But Javy [would start] for pretty much every team at second base. And [Russell would start] for just about every team at short. It’s rare to have three or four guys that can play up the middle every day.
‘‘I wouldn’t want the responsibility to have to put a lineup together. It would be great to have Javy in the lineup every day. It’s great to have Zobrist in the lineup every day.’’
Said Maddon: ‘‘We’ll let it play. I’m not worried right now. I just want them to all be healthy and then make it a difficult choice. That’d be great.’’
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