Pipeline Perspectives: Baez will be Minors' HR champ
Shortstop gets the nod over another Cubs prospect, Bryant, unless he reaches big club
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
In this week's Perspectives, Jim Callis and I are in agreement: Someone from the Cubs organization will win the Minor League home run title in 2014. We just differ on which Cubs prospect it will be.
In 2013, Rangers prospect Joey Gallo topped all Minor Leaguers with 40 home runs, almost all of which were hit in the Class A South Atlantic League. That might beg the question why he wouldn't be the obvious choice to repeat. Ranked No. 92 on our Top 100 Prospects list, Gallo has a grade of 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale for his raw power. Clearly, he can hit the ball out of any ballpark.
But Gallo also can swing and miss a lot, with the proof coming in the form of his 172 strikeouts in 411 at-bats in 2013. He struck out 37 percent of the time in the SAL. While I believe Gallo is still going to hit more than a fair share of homers, the concern about his ability to make consistent enough contact to once again top the Minors as he moves up the ladder was enough to make both Jim and I look in another direction.
Jim opted to go with Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 Draft and No. 9 on the Top 100. Who can blame him? The third baseman hit a combined 46 homers between college, his pro debut and the Arizona Fall League in 2013. Bryant is going to carry the bat back to the dugout a bit, too, though it's not as big of a concern as it is with Gallo.
I wanted to go with someone with more of a track record in pro ball, a guy with more bat speed than perhaps anyone in all of Minor League Baseball. That's Javier Baez, No. 7 on the Top 100, just two spots ahead of his organization-mate.
Baez finished tied for second, with the Astros' George Springer, with 37 home runs last season. He played at two levels, the Florida State League and the Southern League, neither of which is particularly homer friendly. Baez actually improved his power output once he moved up a level, with 20 homers in 218 at-bats, compared to 17 in 299 at-bats before his promotion.
If you look at the numbers, I know where the criticism will come from. Baez, too, is no foreigner to the whiff, with 147 strikeouts in 2013. The two, power and strikeouts, do often go together. But Baez's strikeout rate -- 23.1 percent in the FSL, 28.8 percent in Double-A -- is dwarfed by Gallo's. And scouts almost universally believe Baez will hit for average as well as power. That's why he has a 60 hit grade, compared to Bryant's 55 and Gallo's 40.
The Cubs don't want to take away Baez's aggressiveness at the plate, nor should they. He will be just 21 for the entire 2014 season and has time to refine his approach enough to continue earning that high hitting grade.
The only thing that can keep Baez from winning the homer title is a callup to Chicago. I still think there's a chance he spends the Minor League season in the upper levels and then gets a September callup. Baez has played nothing but shortstop in big league camp, and he'd have to move and work on a new position to avoid the Starlin Castro roadblock. It's something the Cubs would do if they believe his bat is ready, but it might take him a little more time to be ready to play a new position.
Seeing Baez perform this spring, of course, makes me pause. His bat clearly isn't far away from being ready to produce in the big leagues. Something tells me no one in Cubs nation will be upset if I'm wrong about this one.