By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro’s season-ending injury has given the “Wally Pipp” window of opportunity to touted infielder Javier Baez. After playing shortstop for his entire professional career, Baez was switched to second base three weeks before his promotion to the major leagues last month.
The 21-year-old Baez was a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2010, and he’s struggled to make consistent contact in his first exposure to major league pitching. During his first 120 at-bats he had struck out 51 times (41 percent of the time). The good news for the Cubs is that Baez is beginning to cut down on his swing and use the entire field as a target.
Over the next three weeks, Baez will be playing shortstop in place of Castro and batting second in manager Rick Renteria’s lineup every day.
“That is just the way it is,” Renteria said. “When guys have injuries, other guys come in to fill roles. There will be a chance to put some eyes on young players and see what they can do. With (Anthony) Rizzo and Starlin out, we will continue to adjust.”
The Cubs have been tremendously supportive of Baez despite a slow start to his big league career (.175 entering play on Wednesday).
“Baez has been pitched pretty tough from the beginning,” Renteria said. “It is mostly about him staying in himself and staying more focused in his zone. He must continue to make adjustments. I think he is chipping away at it.”
Baez was 1-for-3 on Wednesday night with a walk as the Cubs beat the Brewers. The good news was didn’t strike out. That in itself is something that would be considered an accomplishment for Baez as he tries to become a productive player.
The Cubs management group put Baez in the No. 2 hole of the batting order and have not wavered on that decision, regardless of the quality of the young player’s at-bats.
“You have to let (young players) be themselves,” Renteria said. “They have to experience certain things before you decide to approach them and deal with issues that eventually might not be there. You have to let them express their skills out between the lines. You at least have the ability to sit back and have an objective perspective, of seeing what the kids are doing or not doing.”
With a clear path at shortstop for the team’s last 23 games, Baez is taking a serious approach to the chance of showing off his skill set over the next few weeks.
“I am just taking my at-bats one by one,” he said. “I am trying to get better in all of them. Just trying to pick out good pitches to hit.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.