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Maddon targets mental mistakes with Cubs’ youthful core

Javy Baez can't get to a ball hit by Dodgers' A.J. Ellis in sixth inning Tuesday.

MESA, Ariz. – Javy Baez is fast becoming the second-most versatile player on the Cubs’ roster (Ben Zobrist), and in a spring game Tuesday, he made the defensive play of the game at short and got a hit off Clayton Kershaw.

But separate conversations on the practice field Wednesday morning with Hall of Famer Billy Williams and manager Joe Maddon were reminders of the work in progress the former No. 9 overall draft pick remains.

“We were just talking about the [throwing] error that I made – I should have set my feet,” Baez said. “And the ground ball [in the fifth] that I didn’t run out. There’s no excuse to not run out ground balls. But I was confused. I didn’t see the ball.”

The grounder to third looked like it could have been a foul ball, but no call was made.

“It’s not the umpire’s fault,” Baez said. “It’s my fault, because when the ball’s hit there, you’ve got to run.”

Earlier in the game, he made a heady, aggressive play to go from first to third on a single, drawing a throw that allowed batter Kyle Schwarber to take second on the play — and earning raves from Maddon for his base-running instincts.

That game, and those conversations on the field, underscore a lot of what’s still in play with this young team.

Lots of talent. Lots of upside. Lots to learn.

“The biggest thing with him and a lot of our young guys is going to be to cut down on the mental mistakes,” Maddon said. “I will accept as many physical mistakes as they have to make. They could punch out; they could make bad throws; they could bobble balls. The thing that prevents you from winning is the mental mistakes.”

Maddon stresses “self-awareness” in that learning process, and if Baez’s accountability Wednesday was any indication, progress is being made.

He even admitted to trying to “crush” the ball when he struck out against Kershaw in his first at-bat that game, and then in the second at-bat didn’t swing at a first-pitch fastball because he was trying to have a better at-bat.

“I know when I do the good things,” Baez said. “You want people to know that you do that. But when you’re wrong, you’ve got to assess what you did wrong and just fix it.”