By Andrew Green
The Cubs announced on Monday the promotion of 2013 Smokies infielder Javier Baez, becoming the first member of the so-called “Core Four” to make the jump to The Show.
After a slow start to the 2014 campaign with Triple-A Iowa, Baez dramatically improved after the All-Star Break, batting .342 (26-76) with five doubles, nine homers and 25 RBI since appearing in the All-Star Futures Game in mid-July. Overall this season in 104 contests with the I-Cubs, the 21-year-old hit .260 (101-388) with 64 runs scored, 24 doubles, 23 homers and 80 RBI.
Last year, the 20-year-old out of Jacksonville, Florida tore up Southern League pitching with a .294 average (64-218), adding 20 homers and 54 RBI in his 54 regular season contests for Tennessee. His reputation had already grown after a strong first half of the year with the Daytona Cubs, which included a four-homer game on June 10 against the Fort Myers Miracle.
Baez will be remembered in Tennessee for his electric play, including tape-measure home runs and dramatic defensive plays. Several will, or have already gone down in Smokies lore, replayed at Smokies Stadium and by Smokies fans for years to come.
July 6, 2013 – The First Homer
Making his first start at the Double-A level against the Huntsville Stars at home, Baez made quite the first impression. In his first at bat against Milwaukee Brewers top ten prospect Taylor Jungmann, the infielder crushed a 2-1 pitch over the center field wall to greet Smokies fans and announce his presence with authority. It would only be the first of several occasions Baez would show a flair for the dramatic.
July 25, 2013 & July 28, 2013 – Two Homer Games
Baez and Jungmann would meet again later in July at Joe W. Davis Stadium in Huntsville, and once again it was the Smokies infielder who would get the better of the right-hander. The shortstop smashed the first of two longballs versus the Stars on July 25 off Jungmann, following up with another blast, a solo shot, in the eighth inning. Three days later, Baez left the yard twice again, this time against the Birmingham Barons, with roundtrippers in his first and fifth plate appearances versus the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate.
August 5, 2013 – Catch Of The Year
As the tale goes, every no-hitter has at least one spectacular play. The play that ultimately preserved history. The Smokies had several in the final moments of LHP Eric Jokisch’s masterpiece against the Jacksonville Suns at Bragan Field, including an outstanding diving catch by Baez on a soft sinking liner off the bat of Suns SS Chris Gutierrez. The play was the second out of the inning, and Jokisch would go on to induce a Pete Andrelczyk groundout to give the Smokies their 12th no-no in team history.
August 16, 2013 – It’s A Walk-Off
Every kid dreams of hitting a walk-off home run. Of those many, few actually get the chance, and fewer are able to make it happen. Baez got his chance at Smokies Stadium against the Chattanooga Lookouts on August 16, 2013, and came through with the dramatic closing. With a runner at second in a tie game in the ninth, Baez lifted a breaking ball that forced him to one knee during his follow-through, down the left field line and cueing a massive celebration, including a dog pile and water cooler dump. The spotlight was on Baez, and he shined again.
The year of course, Baez has already showed that great timing. He homered in the All-Star Futures Game at Target Field in front of a national television audience, with more Cubs fans gushing, and waiting for his promotion to the Big League club. That time has finally come, and judging on his past achievements, it would not be wise to bet against a solid Major League debut, which could as early as tonight at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies.