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Baez tearing up Midwest League

Nick Kappel

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Perfect Game All-American Classic is an annual event that features the best high school talent in the country. This year, the game’s 10th installment, will be played August 12 at PETCO Park in San Diego, home of the Padres. Rosters were announced last Thursday.

This prestigious event has produced several MLB first-round picks, including: Justin Upton, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Eric Hosmer, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez.

Baez, a Puerto Rican born shortstop, played in the 2010 All-American Classic with fellow top picks Francisco Lindor, Jose Fernandez, Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy.

It was exciting,” Baez said of playing — and hitting a triple — in the All-American Classic. “That was my first time playing in front of so many fans. It was different, a bigger field. But you still have to do your job.”

Baez’s performance in San Diego catapulted him up draft boards last spring. In June, he was drafted ninth overall by the Chicago Cubs and signed for $2.6 million.

Since then, Baez has done nothing but impress. After a short stint in the Arizona and Northwest Leagues last season, he’s crushed opposing pitching for the Peoria Chiefs (A) of the Midwest League this year.

Through 165 plate appearances this season, Baez is batting .331/.394/.581 with 17 extra-base hits — including eight home runs — and 16 stolen bases.

All his tools stand out on the field,” Chiefs manager Casey Kopitzke said last week before a game against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. “He does a lot of things well and affects the game in multiple ways, not just with his bat or glove, but with his base running.”

On Monday, Baez was named the Midwest League player of the week after hitting 11-for-23 (.478) with three home runs, two doubles, a triple and two stolen bases in six games.

I just try to get better every day and work hard,” Baez said. “I see the ball pretty well and I’m doing pretty well here. I’m just trying to hit the ball to the right side and improve my swing.”

Baez was relatively unknown when he wowed scouts at the 2010 National Showcase. He played in three PG events that year, including the WWBA World Championship as part of the FTB Mizuno organization.

PG’s National Director of Scouting David Rawnsley raved about Baez’s “lightning quick hands” and “intriguing potential behind the plate,” even though his primary positions are third base and shortstop.

Now installed as Peoria’s every day shortstop, Baez realizes his future may be somewhere else on the diamond.

We have Starlin Castro playing shortstop in Chicago and he’s young and pretty good too,” Baez said. “I’ll let them decide where I play.”

Given his projectable build with room to grow — he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds — Baez may profile better at third base. He also mentioned second base as a possible future destination.

In January, PG Scouting Coordinator Todd Gold ranked Baez as the Cubs’ fourth best prospect behind Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo and Matt Szczur. According to Gold, Baez has “exceptional raw tools across the board, with speed being the only tool that grades as merely average.”

Based on his 2012 performance, some in the PG office believe Baez will be the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect heading into next season.

Baez’s manager has been especially thrilled with him this season as well, not only with his ability, but how he’s adjusted to playing every day.

It’s been really impressive, the way he’s gone about being prepared mentally and competing every single day,” Kopitzke said. “It’s really good to see, because that’s usually the biggest adjustment you see from guys in their first year, but he’s done a nice job.”

Baez will turn 20 years old in December. While he’s excited to “get to the top as soon as possible,” he knows a promotion is out of his hands.

I don’t decide when I get to play at Wrigley Field,” Baez said. “I just keep improving my game, keep playing hard every day and prepare for every game. When they think I’m ready, they’ll move me up.”

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