(Note: Please also consider this thread an open thread for discussion of rounds 2-30 of the draft today. If this thread gets too crowded, I'll open up a new one.)
With the ninth pick in the MLB Amateur Draft yesterday, the Cubs selected shortstop Javier Baez from Arlington County Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. The Cubs selected Baez with the hope that one day he could be the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that the team so desperately needs.
Getting some biographical information out of the way, Baez was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and moved to Florida in 2005. His brother, Rolando Agosto, was a 15th round pick of the Padres in 2002. His high school coach is his legal guardian, although the word is that he is still in contact with his mother.
Baez was not on scouts' radar until last June when he showed up at a regional showcase game. He wowed the scouts there so much that he was immediately invited to a national showcase the next week, where scouts praised his skills and competitiveness. Since then he's been scouted extensively, including over a 150 scouts who were on hand to see Arlington County Day play Francisco Lindor's (who went one pick earlier to Cleveland) Monteverde Academy in February.
The scouts saw a very athletic shortstop with a crazy-good bat. Baseball America said he had the fastest bat in the draft through the hitting zone. That speed allows him to wait longer on pitches. He hits the ball hard and projects to hit for both average and power. He likes to pull the ball with authority, but Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken says that Baez will adjust his approach and go the other way with two strikes on him. That makes sense to me, since I've read one report that says he's a dead pull hitter and another that claimed he had gap-to-gap power.
The Cubs have been putting his high school stats out, and while I think high school stats overall are pretty meaningless, I'll repeat them and let you decide: In 115 plate appearances this season, Baez hit .771 with 20 doubles, six triples and 22 home runs and 28 steals. He walked 32 times and struck out only three times.
Clearly his best tool is his bat, and he knows it. He told his hometown paper, the Florida Times-Union, that "My bat is going to take me where I'm going. But I also need to be more consistent with the little things at the plate that really make a difference." His swing is a little long, but his bat speed has kept that from being a problem. There are a few wiggles in his stance that need to be cleaned up, but nothing major.
One criticism of his bat is that he's been accused of having a "swing hard, swing often" approach. Some scouts have questioned his plate discipline. While the scouts might be right about that, personally, I think it's hard to judge a thing like that from high school games. But Baez might need to alter his approach a bit when he starts facing better pitchers regularly. Whether he can do so will go a long way in determining whether he becomes a productive major leaguer.
Baez has a strong arm and good hands on defense. Right now he's a good defensive shortstop, although most scouts think that at 6'1" 205 lbs., he simply isn't going to have the quickness or range to stay at shortstop as he ages. The Cubs will certainly start him out in the minors at shortstop, but eventually he'll likely move to third base. Some think he could play second base, although his strong arm wouldn't be as useful there. He has caught some in high school and a few scouts were interested in making him a catcher. I haven't heard the Cubs talking about that and personally, I think it would be a dumb move because he'd have to spend a lot of time learning to catch in the minors which would likely hurt his development as a hitter.
His speed is his only tool that doesn't project to be above average. He is considered to be an intelligent baserunner, however.
The biggest knock on Baez is not his plate discipline or his foot speed, but rather his makeup. There have been a lot of reports that he's prone to emotional outbursts on the field. He's also been called cocky and a showboat. He certainly doesn't lack confidence, as he has the MLB logo tattooed onto the back of his neck.
None of this really bothers me at all. When I'm looking at makeup concerns about amateur player, I want to know two things. The first is does the kid work hard at the game? From all accounts, Baez does. Just looking at him you can tell he keeps himself in excellent shape. He seems dedicated to improving himself in the game. A few scouts say his mind drifts a little in the field and that his showboating shows a lack of seriousness, but I don't think it's anything more than being a kid.
The second thing I want to know is does the kid get in trouble with authority? Either the law, his school or his coaches? I haven't read anything saying that Baez has had any problem with anything like that. Everything else, to me, is just youth. The Cubs, for the record, say that they see his "fiery attitude" as a plus rather than a minus.
Baez is a high school hitter, so don't expect to see him in Wrigley anytime soon. He's a long-term prospect who probably won't be in The Show until 2015 if he makes it.
I have to admit that I'm very happy with this pick. I've been intrigued by Baez's bat for weeks now and while I admit I hoped that some of the bigger names would drop to us, I would have taken Baez if I were picking for the Cubs the way the draft fell. On the MLB Network broadcast, they were comparing him to Hanley Ramirez and Gary Sheffield. Don't get too carried away: the MLB Network made every player drafted yesterday sound like he was just a couple steps away from Cooperstown. But when I was researching Baez last week, I kept thinking to myself "This kid sounds a lot like Aramis Ramirez." I think he's a little more athletic than Ramirez. His swing is a bit different and he could be a better glove. But I think we'd all be pretty happy if he turned out to be a similar player to Ramirez.