During his tenure in the Windy City, Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer has always made it clear that the team will be patient with its young prospects and won’t rush them to the big leagues.
That statement was reinforced Wednesday morning when Hoyer revealed that shortstop Javier Baez, arguably the top prospect in the Cubs’ system, will begin the season with the Cubs’ triple-A farm affiliate in Iowa.
The announcement ended some speculation among fans that Baez could be in line for a shot at the Opening Day lineup for the Cubs with regular shortstop Starlin Castro still nursing a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for most of spring training.
“Cubs fans will see him soon enough, but it’s not going to be Opening Day,” he said in a radio interview with the Kap & Haugh Show on Wednesday morning.
Hoyer also acknowledged in the interview that the team feels Castro is reaching a “critical point” in his injury recovery but added that he’s not concerned about the shortstop missing that March 31 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So far in 12 Cactus League appearances, Baez has 11 hits and blasted four home runs, including one on Tuesday night in a 7-6 loss to the Texas Rangers in Surprise. He has scored six runs, but he also has zero walks and 11 strikeouts in just 37 at-bats.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria has been moving Baez around the infield during spring training to get a gauge on whether or not he can play a different position when he finally does make the jump to the big leagues. He has spent some time at second base this week, and played a bit of third earlier in camp. The Cubs have had to play him at shortstop too after the Castro injury, but the team mainly focused on playing guys like Darwin Barney and Donnie Murphy to prepare for any Castro absence during the regular season.
Baez, a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2011, played at the high-A and double-A levels in the Cubs’ system last season, slugging 37 home runs and driving in 111 RBI on the campaign. He also stole 20 bases and racked up 34 doubles between the two stops in 577 plate appearances.
The Cubs do still have a couple of other prospects that are getting looks for the MLB roster this spring, but none are as high profile as Baez. Outfielder Junior Lake, who made a big splash with the Cubs last season before tailing off as the season wore on, is trying to secure a spot in the starting lineup for the North Siders, as is third baseman Mike Olt, acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade last season.
Olt has four home runs and nine RBI in 31 at-bats in Cactus League action this season, but has been dealing with some injury issues over the last few days that could put a starting spot in the lineup in jeopardy.