It’s so much more fun talking about the Cubs’ future than the Cubs’ present these days.
So we’ll take a break today from dugout dust-ups, postgame speeches and managerial no-confidence votes.
The Cubs on Saturday honored their minor-league player and pitcher of the year during a pregame ceremony at Wrigley Field.
Shortstop Javier Baez, who tore it up at two levels, and right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who put himself into the big-league conversation, were the most highly sought-after subjects Saturday.
Any kind of breath of fresh air was welcome.
Baez might have been the most exciting player in minor-league baseball this season. The 20-year-old combined to hit 37 homers, drive in 111 and sport and OPS of .920 between Class A Daytona and Class AA Tennessee.
The Cubs have said Baez will open next season as the shortstop at Class AAA Iowa. But if he picks up where he left off this season, there will be no keeping him down on the farm. The question then becomes where to play Baez in the big leagues with Starlin Castro presumably entrenched at short.
“I’ll play wherever they want me to,” Baez said.
That “wherever” may turn out to be second base.
“I think right off the bat, second base would be an easier transition for him,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president for scouting and player development. “He’s such a good baseball player. I think he could play third base, as well.”
Baez committed 44 errors between Daytona and Tennessee, but the Cubs haven’t seemed overly concerned. Instead, they focus on the totality of his game.
“I don’t think anybody thought he was going to hit 37 (home runs) and however many in spring training and 2 in the playoffs,” said Brandon Hyde, director of player development. “I think we all thought he was going to hit for power.
“We’re excited. For me, he’s developing in other parts. Unbelievably instinctual baserunner. Unbelievably instinctual defender. His errors usually come from trying to do too much, trying to be too quick, those kinds of things.
“But his instincts to play are off the charts, and that’s what separates him.”
As for Hendricks, he came to the Cubs on July 31, 2012, along with third-base prospect Christian Villanueva (another intriguing player) from Texas in the Ryan Dempster trade.
Hendricks, 23, combined to go 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1.06 in 27 starts between Tennessee and Iowa.
“He didn’t skip a beat,” Hyde said. “This is a special guy. We knew he was going to be really, really good. We just weren’t sure going into the year because we really didn’t see him much.
“He absolutely was opening our eyes from the very beginning. (He is) a strike-zone filler with different pitches. He’s obviously unbelievably intelligent. He knows how to attack hitters, knows hitters’ weaknesses.
“He knows his strengths. He’s developing a better breaking ball. It’s been an incredible year.”
Hendricks is completing his college education at Dartmouth, where he is majoring in economics and minoring in math. He may not break with the club out of spring training, but he’s definitely in the mix for a call-up sometime next year.
“I spot my fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone,” said Hendricks, speaking like someone versed in math. “I really try to pitch off my fastball. I throw a sinker. I try to get a lot of early outs, early in counts, a lot of groundballs. My changeup is my go-to pitch from my secondary stuff.
“One of the things I need to work on is my curveball. I worked on that a lot the last month I was in Iowa. I throw a cutter, also, which has been a good pitch for me.
“I try not to have too many expectations on myself. I just try to work on my weaknesses and emphasize my strengths. I’m kind of always a slow starter coming out of the gate, and the same way this year. But I’m just trying to stick with what I know.
“I feel when I go out on the mound, I know what I need to do to be successful.”
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