Baez being groomed for utility role, gets first start at first
BAEZ TRIES 1B AFTER PLAYING CF, SAYSHE’S FINE WITH UTILITY ROLE
MESA, Ariz.— Another day, another position for Javy Baez, who made his first professional start at first base Friday. He doesn’t even have his own first baseman’s mitt, but he said one’s on the way.
“I’m just trying to play,” said Baez, a shortstop by trade who started in center field Thursday in the spring opener.
Baez, who went 1- for- 2 with a stolen base and a run scored in a 3- 0 victory over the Angels on Friday, is being groomed as a Ben Zobrist- like utility player.
With Chris Coghlan’s trade to the Athletics last week, Baez added backup first baseman to his duties. He started work there this week, using a mitt borrowed froma coach.
“It feels all right,” he said. “It’s not bad, but you’ve got to get used to it. It’s like third base but backwards.”
He showed enough footwork to handle a wide throw from shortstop Addison Russell and enough handeye coordination to pick a short hop from second baseman Zobrist.
“He’s fine [ at first]. He looks very comfortable,” said Maddon, who moved Baez from third to first during a double- switch Sept. 30 for Baez’s only professional inning at the position. He had no fielding chances. “He’s very comfortable actually anywhere out there.”
The role isn’t one Baez envisioned when he broke into the majors as a second baseman late in the 2014 season and certainly not when he was drafted ninth overall in 2011.
“I’m going to be moving around, and I’m fine with that right now,” he said. “My career is just starting. My future’s going to let us know where I’m going to play. I don’t have any rush to find my position right now.”
One year after Baez struggled to hit throughout the spring ( and failed to make the big- league club), Maddon said all the defensive work could prevent Baez from thinking too much at the plate and help him relax more.
“It makes a lot of sense,” Baez said. “We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Either way, Baez seems to have brought a heightened sense of confidence and belonging to camp, coming off his starting shortstop role in the National League Championship Series ( for the injured Russell).
“For sure,” he said. “I know what I can do. And [ Maddon] knows what every player can do here. So I don’t have to show anybody what I can do. I’m just trying to stay healthy and play hard the whole year.”
NOTE: The Cubs finalized the last of their player contracts, announcing agreements with all their pre- arbitration players. That included Kris Bryant, who will make $ 652,000 this season, an unusually high 38 percent raise for a second- year player ( a function of the club’s escalator policy for pre- arbitration players). It brings the projected Opening Day payroll to $ 149.232million before filling the 25th spot. That will push the payroll over $ 150 million for the first time in franchise history.
After playing center field Thursday ( above), Javy Baez played first base Friday, though he didn’t have his own first baseman’s mitt. MICHAEL SNEED Trump says Rickettses should worry about Cubs, not him. Page 2