Javier Baez is showing why the Cubs used the ninth-overall selection on him in the 2011 MLB draft. The 6’-2”, 190-pound right-hander has come out of the gate blazing for class-A Peoria. He launched a two-run home run on Thursday, his second in two games, and for the season, is now hitting .310 with four home runs, 10 RBI and seven stolen bases over 16 games. This is after he absolutely crushed the ball at extended spring training this year. Over 26 games, he hit .330 with six doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 28 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He had a .725 slugging percentage and 1.076 OPS.
Baez was considered the best high school bat in the draft out of Arlington County Day high school in Florida. Some questioned his attitude, saying his approach to the game rubbed some people the wrong way. Others thought his fiery personality on the field was one of his best assets, that his confidence was part of what made him great. Baez also happened to hit .771 (64-for-83) his senior season with 20 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs, 52 RBI, 28 stolen bases and a slash line of .835/1.952/2.787. He also drew 32 walks to just three strikeouts.
Talent will always override any deficiencies a select few may find in one’s character. Besides, ask any of his teammates, or coaches, what they think of him.
Baez has extremely quick wrists and incredible bat speed, which generates plus power to all fields. He has above-average speed, although he relies more on his instincts and baseball smarts to pile up the stolen bases. He plays shortstop now, but his size may force a move to third base where his strong arm would play well. With Starlin Castro seemingly locked in at shortstop for the Cubs, the move seems inevitable anyway. He is just 19 years old, and the organization has recently said that they are going to be patient with him and move him along slowly. With the team in rebuilding mode, there is no need to rush his development. For now, Baez will continue his assault on class-A pitching and continue to prove why the team made the right choice in selecting him.
A little further down in the system, two other players from the 2011 draft class will be making their professional debuts on Friday, June 15. One of which has a very familiar name to old school Cubs fans. Shawon Dunston Jr., the team’s 11th-round selection out of Valley Christian HS in California, is set to begin his pro career with the Boise Hawks of the Northwest League, the Cubs short-season affiliate. His father of the same name was the first-overall pick by the Cubs in the 1982 draft and played 12 seasons on the North Side, appearing in two All-Star games. Known for his canon arm and wheels on the base paths, he was a fan favorite for years and was the inspiration for the famous “Shawon-O-Meter”, a makeshift sign made by fans to keep track of his batting average.
Shawon Jr., plays a lot like his dad. The canon arm is there, so is the speed, albeit even more of it. At 6’-2” and 180 pounds, he is bigger than his dad, too. He hits from the left side and has exceptionally quick hands. He is about as aggressive of a player you will ever see, and he never gets cheated at the plate or on the base paths – he once scored from second base on a dropped third strike. Because of his bat speed, he has the ability to catch up to anything and has sneaky home run power. Over 33 games at extended spring training this year, he hit .295 with six doubles, three triples, two home runs and eight RBI. He also only struck out 16 times, showing an already improved approach at the plate. He plays center field, and with his 6.5/60 speed, arm and instincts, should be able to stick at the position. Like Baez, Dunston is just 19 years old. He is going to take time to develop his all around game but should follow in his dad’s footsteps as a fan favorite in a couple of years while also making a name for himself.
Roderick “Rock” Shoulders was the team’s 25th-round selection in 2011 out of State College of Florida. He was one of the premiere JUCO power hitters as he hit .318 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI, ranking among the top in home runs and RBI. The Cubs were able to pry the 6’-3”, 225-pound left-hander away from a strong commitment to South Florida by awarding him third-round money. Aside from his tremendous power, he also is patient at the plate, showing a good approach for his age. Over his 27 games at extended spring training, he hit .241 with seven doubles, one home run, 12 RBI and drew 10 walks. Shoulders is still raw in some areas, but at just 20 years old, has plenty of time to refine his game.
While Dunston and Shoulders start their pro careers, and Baez continues his, there are still other players from the 2011 draft class that are waiting their turn to show their potential. Guys like Daniel Vogelbach, the team’s second-round selection out of Bishop Verot HS in Florida, is a 6’-1”, 240-pound tank of a first baseman who has jaw-dropping power from the left side. Vogelbach won the famed Perfect Game Power Showcase in 2010 by launching a 508-foot home run, as well as 30 total home runs, both records. Right-hander Dillon Maples, a 6’-3” flamethrower who can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s with great movement and also mixes in a hammer curve is another player to keep an eye on. He went 17-2 over his final two years of high school, posting a 0.75 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and a ridiculous 245 strikeouts over 121.1 innings. And then there is Garrett Schlecht, a 6’-2, 200-pound left-hander who is an on-base machine. Over 23 games split between the Florida Instructional League and the Arizona Rookie League, he had a .435 OBP, walking 18 times. He has power, some speed and a high understanding of the game.
There may not be a whole lot to get excited about at the major league level these days. But if you look a little ways down the road, you will see some promise for the future. With another solid draft this season, including five-tool prospect Albert Almora, the possible first-overall selection next year and a whole lot of money coming off the books, things finally seem to be going in the right direction on the North Side of Chicago.