Graduation of prospects and the Matt Garza trade had thinned the system out considerably, so replenishing the minor leagues with fresh talent was imperative for the struggling franchise.
Keeping that in mind, or not evidently, the Cubs selected high school shortstop Javier Baez with the ninth overall selection.
I’m not here to knock on Baez, necessarily. His bat has surprising pop for a shortstop and he knows how to use his glove, something a few players for the parent club have yet to learn (or have already forgotten).
But his selection is more than a little troubling, considering the situation the Cubs find themselves in currently.
The Cubs are 12 games out of first place as of today, June 8, and are slipping further into irrelevance with each passing day. The lone bright spots have been the middle infield combination of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney and a visit to Fenway Park last month, which included two very forgettable games.
A youth movement is on the horizon, and actually has already begun at shortstop and second base.
And herein lies the problem of the Baez selection.
Obviously the shortstop position is currently occupied by Starlin Castro, and he won’t be relinquishing his spot anytime soon. A natural movement would be to second base, but that’s where Barney roams right now and he’s earned the right to be the starter for the foreseeable future.
Could Baez be an upgrade over Barney in the future? Possibly, but Barney has room to grow too, and gambling on the future talent differential that would make that switch worthwhile seems pretty foolish.
There were rumblings that he could move to third base, and his scouting report on ESPN indicates just that: “he should be able to play third base if (as is likely) he outgrows shortstop.”
Aramis Ramirez will be long gone by the time Baez is ready for the majors, so that could be a viable option.
That is, assuming 2007 third overall selection Josh Vitters isn’t manning the hot corner by then. That really only leaves the corner outfield spots as realistic options, but even that seems far-fetched.
For a team that is viewed by many as apathetic and disinterested, however, Baez fits like a glove, according to the same ESPN scouting report: “he's very showy, and he doesn't always play like he's fully prepared or engaged.”
Why gamble on a player with possible character issues, especially after dealing with Carlos Zambrano’s outbursts and Alfonso Soriano’s lazy play the last few years?
I’m not here to say that Baez won’t succeed in the big leagues, whether it’s in Chicago or elsewhere, but the Cubs’ track record of identifying high-end high school talent is anything but admirable. Their last three first round selections of high school players are as follows: Josh Vitters, Mark Pawelek and Ryan Harvey.
In between those selections they have taken college talents Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Brett Jackson—all of whom have shown some professional success.
The fact that UConn outfielder George Springer and Texas pitcher Taylor Jungmann were both still on the board makes the selection even more puzzling, and it doesn’t help that the two players went to division rivals (Houston and Milwaukee, respectively).
Mired in a state of disarray and in the middle of an infusion of youth is a tough place for any franchise, especially one whose World Series drought reached triple digits a few years ago.
Unless some drastic changes are made on the North Side, the Cubs will only continue to fall deeper into oblivion, whether or not Javier Baez is there to witness it.