By: Nick Roark
It has been nearly three weeks since Chicago Cubs’ top prospect Javier Baez began his Tennessee Smokies career with a towering home run in his first Double-A at-bat over the center field wall at Smokies Park. In 15 games since his Tennessee debut on July 6, all the 20-year-old has done is start every game at shortstop and hit third in the lineup.
Now a stalwart for a team leading its division and pushing for a playoff berth, Baez has quickly shown why the Cubs selected him ninth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. In 16 games since being promoted from High-A Daytona, the powerful right-handed batter has hit .219 with a .547 slugging percentage, six home runs and 11 RBIs.
According to Smokies hitting coach Desi Wilson, the highly touted prospect has made vast strides since the two worked together last season.
“Javy has improved from last year to this year,” Wilson said Monday afternoon. “His pitch selection is getting better compared to last year. At times, he’s tried to do too much as a hitter but overall I think Javy’s improved.”
The improvements did not come without hardships for Baez. After the home run in his debut at-bat, the Puerto Rico native endured a 0-for-20 slump until his next hit five days later.
“I think he was getting away from his approach. He was trying to do too much,” Wilson said. “He’s just one of those players. He doesn’t have to try to hit home runs every at-bat and just realize he has to try to slow the game down.”
Since the slump to begin his Tennessee tenure, the phenom shortstop has hit .302 (15-49) with seven home runs and 14 RBIs. Baez has also hit home runs in his last three games, with two home runs and four RBIs Thursday evening.
In his first year as hitting coach, Wilson said Baez has improved most this season by not swinging at breaking balls early in the count, something he fought with in Daytona.
“When I had him in the second half [last year], he was vulnerable to off-speed early in the counts, swinging at it early in the count and getting himself out,” Wilson said. “This year, you can see the difference. He’s not attempting to swing at those pitches early in the count. [He’s] looking for his pitch.”
Baez’s improved patience at the plate has initially resulted in more strikeouts for the three-hole hitter, Wilson said, “because you don’t want him swinging at off-speed early in the count and some pitchers are just making quality pitches the first pitch.”
“For me,” Wilson said, “I think that’s a good thing to have because he’s not swinging at those pitches early in the count. He’s looking for a fastball. So that’s just part of the process that he’s going through right now.”
The six-foot, 195-pound Baez has racked up 23 strikeouts in his short time with Tennessee and has walked just three times. The future Cub has struck out multiple times in seven games, including a four-strikeout performance versus the Jackson Generals on July 18.
However, the strikeouts are not a cause of concern for Wilson.
“It’s a process that every hitter has to go through,” Wilson said. “That’s part of the game and as long as they’re making a conscious effort to improve their strikeouts during a game, I’m not too worried about it.”
The former Major Leaguer said, “it’s just a process” Baez has to go through as a young hitter, but that the future looks bright for the youngster.
“I see the improvement,” Wilson said. “At times he’ll get bit, but overall I think Javy’s going the right direction.”
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is a Broadcast & Media Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.