You can turn Javier Baez around, but you can't expect Javier Baez to get turned around.
"Everything's backwards, but he's such a good athlete that he won't have any problem with the adjustment," Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey said of moving Baez across the infield. "It's just footwork [that's different]."
The sixth-ranked prospect in baseball was part of three double plays during his first professional start at second base. The switch from shortstop, where he's played 81 games this season, did not affect his offensive prowess. He homered, doubled and lofted a sacrifice fly on a three-RBI night to help the Cubs to a 7-0 win over the Express at Round Rock on Thursday.
"He looked like an All-Star shortstop playing second base. You can put an All-Star shortstop anywhere in the infield," Pevey said. "He had the most range of anybody I've seen at second base in a long time."
The Cubs have Starlin Castro in the Major Leagues and acquired defensively advanced shortstop Addison Russell -- now their No. 3 prospect -- along with No. 9 Billy McKinney in a July 4 swap with Oakland for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. No. 7 Arismendy Alcantara, who played 70 games at second base for the I-Cubs this year, was promoted to Chicago on July 9.
"I'm working with [Baez] there over the next several days," Pevey said. "We'll see him mainly at second base at least over the next several days."
Coming into Thursday, Javier Baez led PCL shortstops in total chances (348) and putouts (137). (Morry Gash/AP)
Baez smacked his 15th homer of the year during a six-pitch at-bat against Robbie Ross to lead off the fourth inning.
"What I was mainly happy about was him shortening up his swing with two strikes," said Pevey. "He stayed on the fastball. The fastball was elevated, and he hit it about 430 feet to straight-away center."
His seventh-inning double off Scott Richmond nearly left the yard in left too.
"Oh, my gosh," Pevey said. "It was a breaking ball that got left up in the zone. He was a little up front with his body, but he kept his hands back.
"I thought it hit the top of the wall and ricocheted and hit the foul pole, but I guess the umpires had a better view of it than I did."
Baez also plated Brett Jackson with a ninth-inning fly to center.
Not to be completely outdone, No. 2 Cubs prospect Kris Bryant clubbed his Minor League-leading 32nd home run of the year while falling a triple shy of the cycle. The second-inning dinger off Ross was Bryant's 10th since debuting with Iowa on June 19.
"He hit a high fastball into the wind in right-center. He just frigging cranked it. He hit the ball really well," said Pevey. "It was nice. He has such simple mechanics up there -- his feet are quiet and he stays within himself."
Iowa starter Dallas Beeler improved to 6-3 by holding the Express to three hits and two walks while whiffing four over seven innings. His PCL ERA stands at 3.56.
"He did what he always does -- sinks it, cuts it, changes speeds," Pevey said. "He was just pounding the zone, and right-handed hitters especially just scuffled against him. He beat them up pretty good."
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.