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Cubs All-Star Javy Baez looks for more: ‘I want to be one of the top three players out there’

More of what he has done in his first two spring games — as many walks (two) as he had in July — could be a glimpse into another level for the dynamic shortstop.

2016 MVP Kris Bryant and 2018 MVP runner-up Javy Baez arrive for Monday’s game against the Mariners.
2016 MVP Kris Bryant and 2018 MVP runner-up Javy Baez arrive for Monday’s game against the Mariners.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cubs shortstop Javy Baez talks this spring like a player trying to bounce back or regroup after a bad season, even after an All-Star season in which he led the team in WAR despite missing most of the final month with a hand injury.

He talks about more focus after admitting he sometimes wasn’t fully prepared to start games last year because he skipped optional work on the field.

But how exactly does he improve on a .531 slugging percentage, two straight All-Star starting assignments at two different positions and an MVP runner-up season in 2018?

That’s the point. “I can’t wait for this season,” he said. “I don’t like talking much. I just let my talent show up.”

Baez may already have shown a glimpse of how he might raise his game this year in his first two abbreviated starts of the spring.

When he drew a one-out walk in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners on Monday, it gave him two walks in five plate appearances so far this spring.

So what?

That’s the same number of walks he drew in July. After walking three times in June.

“I want to be one of the top three players out there. I’m working for that,” Baez said as he opened camp. “Hopefully at the end of the season you guys can see it. I’m just trying to get better every day.”

Maybe that will even lead to the long-term contract extension he and the team have tried to get done this winter.

If his career has suggested anything so far it’s that anything is possible.

Can that long-sought, elusive Gold Glove be far behind?

“It’s whatever now,” said Baez, who probably should have at least two Gold Gloves by now.

“I’m just going to try my best, and if I’m one of the top three, fine. What can I do? I’m over it.”

Kimbrel puts the live in live BP

Closer Craig Kimbrel looked so good in live batting practice against teammates Monday that at one point Kyle Schwarber swung through an off-speed pitch, stopped in his tracks, said something to Kimbrel and shot a baffled look at the “bench” of on-deck hitters.

“He said, ‘I didn’t know you had that.’ I said, ‘I didn’t either,’ “ said Kimbrel of one of the changeup-looking pitches he plays with ever year at spring training.

Kimbrel won’t get in games until maybe the second week of March because the staff is lining up his 7-8 appearances to build up naturally into the opener March 26. So he has at least one more live BP to throw with other bullpen work before then.

“Overall, I felt like I threw some good pitches today and got some things to work with,” said Kimbrel, who’s trying to bounce back from a rough finish in 2019, emphasizing mechanics this spring. “It felt good.”