Of all the changes in store for the Cubs, none will feel them more than their kid hitters, who won’t get free passes this season.
That means keep your eye this spring on Javy Baez. He could be the poster boy for the “accountability” the Cubs plan to install.
“He has to earn his playing time, I don’t think there’s any question,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday when asked if Baez was a candidate to be sent back to Class AAA Iowa if he doesn’t perform better. “He’s got a new manager and some new coaches to impress.”
And manager Joe Maddon appears to have no appetite for coddling or enabling kids who struggle and are unwilling to bend.
“I do not like the entitlement program whatsoever,” Maddon told Cub fans. “You’ve got young players coming up, and all of a sudden because they’ve done well in Triple-A and have some nice headlines, they come to the big leagues and expect that it’s just going to happen there. It’s a tough place to earn a living, the major leagues.
“We talk about young players, and I’m excited about them, and you should be also. But there’s also the accountability factor.”
Baez, 22, who hit .169 and struck out 95 times in 213 at-bats with the Cubs in 2014, has the power to match his immense, violent swing, but between Class AAA and the majors last year, he struck out 225 times, two more than Mark Reynolds’ big-league record for a season. He had 21 more in 11 regular-season games in the Puerto Rican winter league.
“He’s going to have to make more contact to stay in the big leagues,” Hoyer said. “Yes, he has adjustments to make, but plenty of players have made those adjustments and had great careers.”
To that end, new hitting coach John Mallee has worked with Baez this winter on those adjustments, but it’s a work in progress and an exercise in communication.
Baez, a hard worker who has shed 15 pounds since last season, has lived and died — mostly lived large — with his huge swing.
His extended opportunity to swing — and miss — in the big leagues last year was more about convincing him of the adjustments he needs to make than it was his readiness to play in the majors, team officials say.
“I’m still swinging,” said Baez, who added that one of the problems last year was too many people trying to change his swing. “I’m still doing my swing and everything I do at the plate.”
He said the adjustments he’s trying to make with Mallee involve timing and pitch selection.
Said Mallee: “He’s trying to shorten his swing up. If he starts his pre-swing movements earlier, you can have the biggest Tony Phillips-type leg kick and bat tip that you want. It’s all about starting all of that sooner so that it’s under control and easier to time.
“At some point, he’s going to learn to shorten it up and not make such big moves to get ready to hit.”
Mallee said he loves the talent and ability he has seen. And he said the veteran newcomers to the roster should help Baez adjust.
Meanwhile, Baez said he knows he has to cut down on the strikeouts and he’s working on it.
“I’ve just got to be patient at the plate and swing at pitches in the zone,” he said.