CHICAGO – Days after being recognized as the Cubs’ minor league hitter of the month for June, infielder Javier Baez is moving up in the organization.
The Cubs promoted Baez, their 2011 first round draft pick, from Advanced-A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee. General manager Jed Hoyer said it was “time for a new challenge” for the 20-year-old shortstop. Baez hit .274 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs this season at Daytona.
“I think he did a good job controlling the strike zone at [Daytona] the last month,” Hoyer said. “The defense has been better. He’s similar to [Starlin] Castro. He has to eliminate some careless errors, but he’s got great hands. He certainly can play the position.”
Baez sufficiently cut his strikeouts and boosted his on-base percentage within the past few weeks, though Hoyer acknowledged he still has some unfocused at-bats, which is part of the maturity process. Defensively, Baez needs to reduce the 31 errors he had in 76 games.
Every Cubs prospect has a development plan that is used as a guideline for when a player is ready to move up a level. Hoyer said Baez beat his player development plan by about a month. The goal was to get him to Double-A by the end of the year, but his play the last month pushed the Cubs to move him up. Baez made his debut at Tennessee on Saturday night.
Hoyer wouldn’t rule out Baez making an appearance with the Cubs in September but deemed it “highly unlikely.”
“He’s got a couple of months now to make that adjustment,” Hoyer said. “I think there will be some growing pains. There usually are at the beginning of every level, similar to what he went through last year when he went to Daytona. But he responded this year really well.”
Kane County Cougars Single-A outfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs’ 2012 first round pick, could be the next top prospect to earn a promotion. Almora, 19, is hitting .340 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 36 games at Kane County, though he was hampered by injuries earlier this season.
“It might be a different conversation if he didn’t miss that month and a half,” Hoyer said. “He’s been really impressively there, but that’s something that we’re still evaluating.”
It’s quickly approaching crunch time for the Cubs to sign No. 2 overall pick, San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant. However, the Cubs are “certainly hopeful and optimistic” Bryant will sign by the Friday deadline, Hoyer said.
“It’s not white-knuckle time,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes I think deadlines are what get things done. I’m glad they moved deadlines up a month.”