MESA, Ariz. – Javy Baez isn’t even around these days, and he’s still creating buzz all over Cubs spring training camp.
“I’m not kidding: I watched the replay 50 times,” teammate Jake Arrieta said of the Baez’s no-look tag from Tuesday night’s World Baseball Classic game that went viral overnight.
“He’s got the best hands I’ve seen, and it’s not even close,” Arrieta said. “He’s extremely gifted. He works hard. He’s a great kid. And you just wait for the next time that something like that happens, and you hope you’re watching.”
Baez, who gained international attention for his quick hands on tags at the bases during the postseason, started celebrating Tuesday’s before catcher Yadier Molina’s throw even reached him – pointing toward Molina as he made the catch-and-tag of the Dominican Republic’s Nelson Cruz to end the eighth inning of Puerto Rico’s victory.
“Really, nothing impresses me with Javy now, because I’ve seen him enough,” Cubs teammate Miguel Montero said. “The way he makes tags, and the quickness and the reaction he has – he’s probably the best I’ve seen in my career.
“He’s a potential Gold Glove second baseman, for sure – if not shortstop. He’s a Gold Glove anywhere on the infield. It’ll be interesting to see what’s going to happen, but for sure, they need to find a place for him to play every day, because he deserves it.”
That’s really what the conversation is all about when it comes to Baez and the Cubs. When will last year’s super utility, often spectacular infielder get a chance to take a single, everyday position among the rest of the team’s talented young core – as he did when he started all 17 postseason games at second base?
“I’m certain that he’s going to play often,” said manager Joe Maddon, who reiterated the plan he laid out early in camp that involves Baez backing up primiarly veteran Ben Zobrist at second and occasionally Addison Russell at short and Kris Bryant at third.
“We’ll figure it out as the season’s in progress,” Maddon added. “I’m not worried about that yet. I think rest is going to be a big part of our success this year. I want to be able to rest people and with that, moving people around – we’ll just see how it plays out.”
Maddon’s alluding to the likelihood that Zobrist will get more scheduled days off than he did last year.
Beyond that, the Cubs’ lineup is a game of musical chairs without a place to sit very long for what might be the team’s best defensive infielder.
“I tell you, he could play every day at second base for any of the 30 ballclubs,” Russell said. “But only time will tell. Experience is another thing. But he got that experience last year. And he’s just scratching the surface.”
With Jason Heyward struggling last fall, and Kyle Schwarber unavailable to play in the field coming off a knee injury, moving the versatile Zobrist to a corner outfield spot and installing Baez at second was a natural choice.
But with Schwarber back in left this year, Zobrist – last year’s All-Star starting second baseman in the National League and World Series MVP – isn’t going to the outfield, or the bench, anytime soon.
“That’s the tough thing about having the roster we have and having so many great players,” Arrieta said. “Just about every team in baseball would take Zobrist as an everyday player. … But Javy starts for pretty much every team at second base. And Addie starts for just about every team at short. It’s rare to have three or four guys that can play up the middle every day.
“I wouldn’t want the responsibility to have to put a lineup together. It would be great to have Javy in the lineup every day. It’s great to have Zobrist in the lineup every day.”
Said Maddon: “We’ll let it play. I’m not worried right now. I just want them to all be healthy and then make it a difficult choice. That’d be great.”