Javy Baez confident he can return to form for Cubs with difficult 2020 season in the rearview

“I got the conference that it’s gonna be great for me,” shortstop Javy Baez said.

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John Antonoff/ Chicago Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — After Dexter Fowler’s departure in 2017, it wouldn’t be crazy to call Javy Baez the Cubs’ spark plug. When the Cubs’ offense is at its best, Baez is almost always in the middle of the action.

Whether it’s a ridiculous slide to avoid a tag on a stolen base or a 440-foot blast onto Waveland Avenue, you can almost guarantee that when the star shortstop is doing those things, the Cubs are winning games.

The Cubs didn’t have that type of player, who brings electricity to the ballpark, in 2020, and no player was affected by the shortened regular season, the loss of in-game video or the absence of fans more than Baez.

He struggled to find a rhythm at the plate and hit just .203 with eight homers and a 57 weighted runs created plus, which was the lowest among qualified shortstops.

“Man, I don’t want to talk about last year, but it was frustrating,” Baez said. “To me, to a lot of players. It was two months, it was two months of baseball that I felt in a rush. I felt like I didn’t have time to make adjustments.

“I didn’t have that trust in me. I was ready, [but] I was not mentally ready for what happened last year. But I always like to compete, and I always [try] to better myself so that I can get better every day.”

Baez never took his offensive struggles to the field, and after another strong season on defense, he won his first Gold Glove Award.

The 28-year-old was one of the first players to talk about how the lack of video hurt him and at one point even spoke with manager David Ross about being lowered in the lineup.

“Before he moved me down, we were talking about it weeks before,” he said. “As soon as he told me, I was like, You need to do it now because I’m struggling; I’m helping the team but not there. I was hitting fourth, and I wasn’t really helping.”

“We had some tough conversations in my office last year,” Ross said. “When I say tough, it’s just real. Real stuff, and to watch how he handles those conversations and the maturity that he has as a man and as a former teammate of mine and the way we have those talks, it’s just super powerful and rewarding for me, as well.”

The Cubs are expecting a new and improved Baez this season, and with a full 162-game schedule, he’ll have more time to make adjustments. And with the return of in-game video, Baez is confident he can return to being the player everyone expects him to be.

“It’s not necessarily breaking down your swing that the guys are looking for, it’s reassurance,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. “Things happen so fast in the moment at the game. You may think a pitch is somewhere else, but then when you actually see it again on the replay, you’re like, ‘Wow, that ball was away. I thought it was middle-in because it ran so much.’ ”

“I’m not the guy that shows you everything I got in the first half,” Baez said. “I can have a bad first half or a decent first half and then my second half, I can make the first half disappear. We didn’t have that. I didn’t have that. . . . Last year, offensively, was tough for me, and this year [now] that we got the video [back], I got the confidence that it’s gonna be great for me.”

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