By Randy Holt / @RandallPinkFloyd
In a world where Major League Baseball fails to promote its biggest stars with anything resembling consistency, Javier Baez has decided to take it upon himself to handle his own marketing. Between the 2016 postseason and this year’s World Baseball Classic, no player in baseball has made a more of an impact on television sets with as much regularity than that of the Chicago Cubs super-utilityman. As the 2017 season approaches, it’s awfully difficult to make a case that there’s anyone more fun to watch in the entire sport.
In a baseball landscape that features Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Giancarlo Stanton and countless others, that’s a rather aggressive statement. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
In the age of social media and its subsequent negativity, it’s extremely difficult to establish a persona that is universally liked among mainstream fandoms. Baez has seen his overall popularity increase, but he’s also developed a relatively polarizing reputation. Some fans feel his swagger and flash go against what is traditional and correct. We'll save the "playing the right way" debate for another day.
Baez is immensely talented, but there are still parts of his game that are raw, and he has his shortcomings as an offensive player. Yet, for a player who some perceive as arrogant, few have shown the determination to better themselves. Baez has made continual adjustments at the plate and retooled his swing and approach in order to make himself a more consistent threat on the offensive side.
Defensively, he’s shown a willingness to bounce around the diamond and play any of seven different positions if he needs to. Hell, he’s the Cubs’ emergency catcher. How does a player like that not fit the bill of playing the sport the right way?
But enough appeasing the stuffy subsection of the baseball world. Let’s talk about what makes Javier Baez a GD national treasure.
That magnificent object which Javier Baez uses to send baseballs into orbit. Offensive deficiencies notwithstanding, there are few things more beautiful than watching that violent swing make contact with a baseball. When Baez makes contact, the sound it makes causes even the most casual fan to turn their head at whiplash-inducing speeds. While there are several players more consistently threatening at the plate, few feature the game-changing upside of Baez. Games can turn on a home run– they can end on a Javy Baez home run. (Metaphorically, of course. They still have to play the rest of the game.)
Those stupid, absurd, other-wordly instincts. It might be an impossible task to identify a player whose instincts are more prevalent within Major League Baseball. There are things that you can’t necessarily teach a baseball player to do, and the concept of knowing exactly what to do in any given moment is that. Between his split-second decisions in the field– including a moment in the National League Championship Series where he let a line drive one-hop him so he could turn a double play– and his baserunning, which featured a steal of home (also in last year’s NLCS), there may not be a player on a club more obviously instinctive than Baez.
Where Baez has really made his bones over the past several months has been in the field. There are shortcomings on offense, sure. However, I challenge doubters to find a more complete defensive player than Baez. Consider everything he brings to the table: the glove, the hands, the arm, the instincts (again), the versatility– all of it. If the Cubs weren’t so devastating an offensive team, I’d fast forward through their plate appearances just to see Baez in the field sooner.
His defensive acumen is perhaps the element of his game that is most impressive. There are players who demonstrate these qualities, sure. Players have good arms. Players can flash the leather. There are players who can play multiple positions effectively. But Javy Baez is all of those things in one player, almost to the fullest extent. He can pick a groundball at any infield position and fire it to first with a quality throw from almost anywhere. He can roll a groundball into a double play before you even blink.
We’ve seen Baez make absurd tags to nab prospective base stealers several times over the past several months. The most recent demonstration of this was in the WBC against the Dominican Republic, in which Baez began pointing to catcher Yadier Molina in celebration, caught the ball, and tagged out Nelson Cruz– in that order– without ever turning his head. That’s an absurd level of confidence and a ridiculous level of skill. Did it ruffle some feathers? Obviously. But it’s things like that that make Javy Baez such a wonderful player to watch.
How can a player with ever-present flaws look consistently flawless on a baseball field? In a world that is far too cynical and critical of almost everything around them, how about we take some time to appreciate a player who is unlike anyone else in the game today? There are players who can turn the game with one swing. There are players who play exceptional defense. But nobody does every single thing with the flash and the swagger that Javier Baez does.
The 2017 season figures to be the Year of Javy, and if you fail to see why, you haven’t been paying attention.
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