What's the farthest home run you've ever hit? -- Jimmy (Champaign, Ill.)My immediate reaction was that Baez was greatly underestimating himself, as he hit at least a few homers between Spring Training and minor league ball in 2013 that seemed to travel at least 446 feet.
JB: In high school I hit one 446 feet. I think that was the furthest.
And later on Monday, Baez really made me feel that way on the very first pitch he saw in the Cubs' 4-2 Cactus League victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park:
Baez finished the day 2-for-3 at the plate, going to the opposite field with the ball in every at-bat. Going the other way is something Baez has talked about working on as he matures as a hitter, and he hasn't taken long to show off that approach (and while maintaining his incredible power in the process).
Baez also showed off his ability defensively with a terrific running basket catch on a pop-up down the left field line:
- Starlin Castro is expected to be out seven to 10 days after suffering a right hamstring strain on Sunday. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said, "It's seven to 10 days, and we're just being cautious with him. It shouldn't set him back for the regular season." While it may give Baez some more playing time to show off his skills, it sounds like the Cubs will use it more as a chance to see how Darwin Barney and Emilio Bonifacio can perform there, as they're shaping up to the backup shortstops on the Opening Day roster.
- Back to Baez and the ESPN Chicago article linked in the first sentence of this post. When asked what position he would be most comfortable playing if he had to move off of shortstop, Baez said, "I would say second base. You don't have to move as much as you do at shortstop. It's pretty much the same except for that. I think I can do it."
- Left-hander Eric Jokisch got the start on Monday, and was terrific. The 24-year-old (25 in July) threw three scoreless, hitless innings against a Brewers lineup containing players such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Jean Segura. He walked two and struck out one. Jokisch isn't really on the "prospect" radar due to his age and average stuff, but gave a pretty good idea on Monday of why he's posted sub-3.50 ERAs as a starter in each of the last three seasons in the minors (most recently Double-A Tennessee in 2013). Jokisch looked like your classic "crafty" lefty, changing speeds well and showing quality command of multiple pitches; he "knows how to pitch" as they say. The 6'2" Jokisch will likely begin the year at Triple-A Iowa, but if he keeps pitching anything like he did on Monday, don't be surprised if he makes a start or two with the big-league club at some point in 2014.
- Luis Valbuena smoked an RBI double to right-center that would've left the yard if he got some more air under it. Valbuena only hit .218 in 2013, but suffered from an extremely unlucky .233 BABIP. Consider that and Valbuena's tremendous eye at the plate, and Valbuena may be able to have a .350+ OBP in 2014 (he still had a .331 OBP even with the .218 AVG in '13).
- Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks had nice things to say about Cubs third base prospect Christian Villanueva on Sunday, and Villanueva got two at-bats in Monday's game. At first, I thought Villanueva was actually Baez at the plate. They really have similar stances and leg kicks going now, with Baez's out-of-this-world bat speed being the obvious difference (as well as Baez's leg kick being a bit more dramatic). As Parks said, Villanueva "looks noticeably stronger" in 2014, and I wouldn't be surprised if the prospect really made a jump this season. Villanueva hit 41 doubles and 19 homers at Tennessee last season, and maybe some of those doubles will start turning into home runs. He's also a very good defensive third baseman. So, even with Baez, Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, etc... don't count out Villanueva when looking to the Cubs' future at third base. He also may be able to handle second base, first base, and left field if it came down to it. If nothing else, the 22-year-old Villanueva could turn into some quality trade bait for the Cubs.
- Walter Ibarra was Baez's late-inning replacement at shortstop in the game, and hit a game-winning two-run single in his only at-bat. Ibarra is a 26-year-old utility infielder that spent his entire career in the New York Yankees' system before joining the Cubs' camp this spring.
- Arodys Vizcaino threw a scoreless inning for the Cubs, but all that we should really focus on with him is staying healthy (particularly that right arm, of course). So far, he feels good. Let's hope that's the case when he wakes up in the morning. His stuff is elite (fastball in high 90s and a nasty breaking ball) and he could be a dynamite late-inning reliever... as long as he stays healthy.
- Right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel made his Cubs debut of sorts by pitching in the team's "B" game (making up for the rain-outs Saturday) against the San Francisco Giants on Monday morning at Cubs Park. According to Carrie Muskat, Hammel "gave up four hits, including three infield singles, and walked one, hit a batter and struck out three over two innings against the Giants."