Despite breakout year, Cubs top prospect is better off in the minors

Miguel Cabrera isn’t the hottest player in baseball. That title belongs to Javier Baez.

The name Baez probably doesn’t ring a bell, but bear with me.

The shortstop is batting .333 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in his past 10 games for, well, the Tennessee Smokies of the Double-A Southern League. OK, he’s in the minor leagues, but the dude’s tearing it up. So much so that the Smokies parent team — the Chicago Cubs — might consider calling him up when the rosters expand in September.

Baez has raised his batting average from .274 at Single-A Daytona to .308 at Double-A Tennessee, despite stiffer competition. His power has also seen a surge as he’s mashed 18 home runs and driven in 48 RBIs in 48 games since being promoted in July, while he hit only 17 home runs in 76 Single-A games. Combined, the 2011 first-round pick has 35 home runs and 105 RBIs with a .287 batting average in 124 games this season. MVP candidates Cabrera and Chris Davis are the only major leaguers that boast those numbers. Baez has done all of this at the age of 20, and that’s exactly why the Cubs shouldn’t rush him to the majors.

He’s just too young. I understand players such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have thrived at the same age at the major league level, but Baez is still showing signs of a young player. Baez continues to show poor discipline, as he’s walked just 38 times over the year to go along with 138 strikeouts, proving he needs to change his approach at the plate. His walk rate has improved in Double-A, but his strikeout rate has also shot up. Baez’s biggest weakness is with his glove, as he’s committed more than 40 errors this season. That kind of defense is unacceptable. Having a first baseman the caliber of Anthony Rizzo might prevent some of those errors in the future, but a position change may be in store for the shortstop. The Cubs’ current shortstop, Starlin Castro, is a lesson to Chicago’s front office of what can happen when a player is rushed to the majors.

I know it sounds crazy saying Castro was brought up too early when he batted .300 as a 20-year-old in 2010, but he still hasn’t grown out of the poor habits he developed during his minor league days. Like Baez, Castro swings at almost every pitch he sees. His walks per plate appearance of .039 is the seventh lowest in all of baseball. He has also already struck out a career-high 109 times with over a month left in the season. Baez and Castro share the same defensive shortcomings, as the Cubs shortstop has committed at least 27 errors three of the past four seasons.

Once thought of as the face of the franchise, Castro is now sporting a .238 batting average and has the Cubs wondering if the seven-year, $60-million guaranteed contract they gave him last summer was a mistake.

Winning takes patience. The fan base will continue to urge for Theo Epstein and Co. to have a win-now approach, but the Cubs front office needs to continue to be patient. The same mistakes that were made with one-time heralded prospects such as Corey Patterson, Felix Pie and Castro can’t be made with Baez. He’s just too special.

After he finishes up the postseason in Tennessee — which clinched a playoff berth on Monday — Baez should begin next season at a higher level, just not the major leagues. Instead, the Cubs should give Baez a chance at Triple-A Iowa and consider easing him into another position. Even Trout played 20 games at the Triple-A level before reaching the majors in his MVP-worthy 2012 season. The Angels promoted Trout to the majors for the first time the season prior when he was 20, and he struggled mightily with a .220 batting average in 40 games. When Baez finally shows he’s ready for “The Show”, it will be worth the wait for the Cubs.

Until that day comes, minor league pitchers will just have to continue to suffer.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]