By: Nick Roark
It has been nearly a month since Javier Baez made his Double-A debut with the Tennessee Smokies. In that time, the Cub’s top prospect has unequivocally provided an extra thump to the Smokies lineup, but the scariest thought for Southern League opponents is the realization that Baez has plenty of growing left to do before being leaving his Double-A stomping grounds.
Working alongside hitting coach Desi Wilson in the past weeks on pitch recognition and driving the ball to all fields, the Cubs’ top prospect is beginning to show flashes of maturity at the plate.
“I’m working with Desi on recognizing the pitch,” Baez said. “If it’s not my pitch, I’m not hitting it.”
“We worked on seeing breaking balls off the [pitching] machine and that kind of helped Javy with his timing, seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to get him to understand to be patient and selective and look for your pitch.”
Baez consistently found himself out in front of breaking balls in his first three weeks with Tennessee. But the shortstop’s conscious effort to stay patient at the plate has allowed for seven walks in his last nine games after racking up just three in his first 17 contests.
“He’s not going up there trying to attack that first strike because that’s a borderline pitch,” Wilson said of Baez’s increase in walks. “That’s just part of the process.”
The first-year Smokies’ hitting coach pointed to an at-bat Baez had last Monday against the Birmingham Barons when the Smokies’ three-hole hitter faced an 0-2 count in the fourth inning and took a walk after a seven-pitch at-bat.
“The best at-bat I told him he had was when he was down 0-2 and he walked,” Wilson said. “He laid off some tough pitches out of the zone and that was good to see.”
Hitting the ball to the middle and right center fields gaps during batting practice has also proved to be a point of emphasis for the 2011 Cubs’ first-round draft pick. While the prized prospect has shown improvement in the cage, translating it to live action is a work in progress.
“It’s really easy during [batting practice] but during the game you don’t know what pitch is coming so you’ve got to get that adjustment down,” Baez said.
The power-hitting prospect has shown steady improvement in the batters’ box since owning a .200 average on July 22, hitting safely in nine of his last 12 games including four multi-hit affairs to raise his average to .224. The output also encompassed a stretch where Baez hit six home runs in six contests with two multiple home run games for right-handed hitter.
Though the home runs have come naturally to the power-hitting prospect, Wilson says Baez must become better in all facets of his game, a process that takes time.
“It’s just part of the process that Javy’s going to have to understand,” Wilson said. “We’re just going to keep on going forward.”
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 the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.