Pipeline Perspectives: Baez most likely to make switch
Currently a shortstop in Cubs system, a move would get his bat to Wrigley Field faster
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
There are 42 position players on this year's Top 100 Prospects list. All of them are there because we believe they have a very good chance to hit at the big league level.
They may not all do so at the positions they currently play. History has shown that, for a variety of reasons, hitting prospects often end up finding new defensive homes when they establish themselves at the highest level. Sometimes it's out of necessity, when a young player simply doesn't have the ability to stay at a position long term. Miguel Cabrera, for instance, played shortstop when he first became a professional, but his size made it fairly clear he wasn't going to be able to stay there, so he slid over to third, playing both the hot corner and the outfield for the Marlins when he first arrived in Miami.
Sometimes, a player moves simply because it's a way to get his bat to the big leagues faster. That's often the case with offensive-minded catchers. Wil Myers caught for a year in the Minors. Maybe it would have worked out, but the Royals didn't want to wait, so Myers was moved to the outfield. That was in 2011. He was the American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, albeit for the Rays, two years later. The Nats, as everyone knows, didn't wait at all with young catcher Bryce Harper, turning him into an outfielder before he played a single professional game.
And sometimes, a move is necessitated because someone is blocking the prospect or there is a need at another position. Baltimore's Manny Machado and Boston's Xander Bogaerts were asked to play third base when they first came up, though both could handle shortstop defensively (and Bogaerts will be back there in 2014).
That history lesson takes us to this week's topic: Which prospect do we see most likely to change positions? The initial instinct is to look for a catcher, but the top prospects at that position all have excellent chances to stay behind the plate long term. Instead, both Jim Callis and I are looking at the left side of the infield. While Jim thinks the Twins' Miguel Sano might end up being simply too big to stick at third, I'm thinking that Cubs prospect Javier Baez is the most likely to move.
The reasons for going with Baez, the No. 7 overall prospect, is a combination of several of the factors above. First and foremost is the question whether he has the goods to stay at shortstop. Some believe he has the raw tools -- he definitely has the arm strength -- to do so, but not necessarily the right mindset. Yes, Minor League error totals do need to be taken with a grain of salt, but he did commit 44 of them in 2013.
Could he work to improve enough to remain a shortstop? It's possible. But that leads to a second factor: getting his bat to the big leagues faster. If he stays at shortstop, how much more time will it take for him to be ready to man the position in Chicago? His bat, and it's a special one, could be ready at some point this coming season. But learning to slow himself down defensively at a premium position enough to where he wouldn't be a detriment? That could keep him in the Minors longer.
Finally, there's the issue of who's ahead of him in the big leagues at this time. Sure, Starlin Castro had a down year in 2013, but he's coming up on just his 24th birthday and the Cubs have a whole lot of money invested in him. In an ideal world, replacing him at short won't be necessary, so Baez will need to find a new home, something that the factors cited above should make more palatable.
The big question, then, is where to put him? He's going to see time this spring at second and third. His arm strength would be put to better use at the hot corner (and there's no one really standing in his way in Chicago). There is the small problem of having 2013 first-rounder Kris Bryant at the position. If Mike Olt can somehow rediscover himself, the Cubs could have an embarrassment of riches.
I won't worry about the Olt part of the equation unless he makes it an issue. Move Baez to third and move Bryant to right field. Bryant could have been a choice in this debate, as some scouts think he's too big to stick in the infield. He played well in the outfield in college, so it's not completely foreign to him. That way, the Cubs can get both big bats to Wrigley Field sooner rather than later.
That's what I call a win-win.