During the 1990’s there was a resurgence of offense from the SS position. Players like Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were redefining what it meant to be an MLB SS. While these players were not the defensive geniuses that Ozzie Smith and Omar Visquel were, they certainly made up for any defensive deficiencies with their bats. The trend continued through the 2000’s and as we enter 2014, while there is a small tier of great SS options for fantasy, there is a bounty of SS talent in the minor leagues.
Javier Baez is the top prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization. The now 21-year old is the SS of the future. The only question in Chicago is when does that future begin. Currently, former top prospect Starlin Castro is penciled in as the SS. Castro, who will be 24 in March, has spent 4 seasons as the Cubs SS. After displaying tantalizing numbers in 2012 (14 HR, 25 SB, 0.283, 78 RBI, 78 runs), Castro really struggled in 2013 (10 HR, 9 SB, 0.245, 44 RBI, 59 runs). It is too early to give up on Castro, but certainly the Cubs have to be thinking about what the next couple of years could look like.
Baez made it to AA in 2013, and will most likely begin the 2014 season there, with a promotion to AAA likely. This would mean that a 2015 debut at the major league level is possible. The young slugging SS is consistently ranked as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Taking a look at how his 20-year old season in 2013 stacks up against some other recent SS gives you an idea as to why this is the case.
Baez’ 37 HR were the most of any of these SS (you can throw A-rod out of the equation since he was doing his damage against MLB pitchers). His 98 runs were second to Derek Jeter. His 20 SB were 3rd behind Jeter (50) and Hanley (25). He produces across the board and plays an elite fantasy baseball position.
Various scouting reports mention that Baez could ultimately move off of SS due to his lack of consistency. A move off of SS could slightly depress his ultimate fantasy value. However, with Kris Bryant in line to be the 3B of the future, a move of Baez to 2B would still make him a top positional option.
Scouts rave about his bat speed, though they are concerned by his overly aggressive approach at the plate. It should be noted that Baez actually put up better numbers after his midseason promotion to AA in 2013 (20 HR in 240 plate appearances, with a 0.294 average, 0.638 slugging and 0.983 OPS). 2014 will be an interesting season to track his development at the plate as well as in the field. There is still plenty of risk associated with Baez, but his ceiling is that of an elite MLB All-Star.
So, what does this mean for fantasy owners? If you are in a dynasty or keeper league, Baez is already owned. He is certainly a player to target in a draft, though the asking price will certainly be high. As I mentioned at the start of this article, the minors are full of talented SS, and while Baez could be the #1 prospect out there, less expensive options should not be discounted. What about owners in year-to-year leagues? I am actually taking a shot with Baez late in the draft. If he gets a September call-up this season he could certainly help your team in the playoffs. The Cubs may have a history of disappointment, but they have a very bright future coming.
All statistics were found at baseball-reference.com