Baez at Nine: The Cubs’ Most Versatile Player

It’s been talked about at length through the offseason and into spring training, and the early part of the spring training schedule hasn’t done anything to cool it down. Javier Baez is playing the part of Ben Zobrist, circa 2008, on this Cubs team. We already knew he could bring out a golden glove at shortstop, third base, and second base. We heard he had played a couple of games in the outfield in winter ball. Now, Joe Maddon says he’s going to be the primary back up at first base for Anthony Rizzo, and indeed he started the second game of the spring at first. Is there anywhere Javy can’t play?

My thought? No, there isn’t. Javier Baez is a unicorn, to paraphrase Baseball Prospectus alum and current Cubs employee Jason Parks. There’s a case to be made that Baez could play at any position on the field, some fairly obviously and some not so obviously. So let’s take a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) look at the case for Javier Baez at each position.


Baez has spent the majority of his time in the minor leagues at this position—2,831 of his 3,158 career innings, in fact. He’s extremely athletic, has a great arm and good enough range. Here’s a snippet from the scouting report filed by BP’s Chris King on Baez back in July of 2013:

“Not the softest hands, but serviceable; moves to his left better than his right; average range overall, but flashed some ability to make very tough plays up the middle; got lazy a couple times backhanding balls he could have gotten in front of; slightly above average transfers; a move to 3B is most likely in his future as he gets bigger and loses some mobility.”

If Addison Russell gets hurt, Baez is the first player to jump into action and replace him at shortstop. He would be a step down defensively, but frankly, just about anyone in Major League Baseball would be, too.

Second Base

This is the position that Baez moved to when the Cubs called him up back in 2014. The consensus is that if a player can play shortstop, he can be a perfectly adequate second baseman. If you had to point to one spot on the field as his ‘home position’ nowadays, this might be it. He’s still learning, but he showed off some quality skills there in a short amount of time. If a team were to attempt to maximize the value that Baez brings to each game, starting him at second base is probably the way to do it—allowing him to play good defense while putting a high-ceiling offensive player at a traditionally poor offensive position. Baez is, again, the first one off the bench if Zobrist needs a day off or has to hit the DL.

Third Base

This is the third most-played position by Baez in the major-leagues, having spent 139 innings there in Chicago. Recall back to that scouting report; King said that Baez moving to third base was in the cards, mostly due to him filling out his frame and losing some mobility. With Kris Bryant easing any trepidation about his defensive abilities at the hot corner last season, it’s clear that Baez will only be needed there in backup duty—but again, he’s likely the first one to take over in any situation of need.

First Base

Baez has only played one inning at first in organized, professional baseball, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. As mentioned, Maddon started him at first base in just the second game of spring training this year. Not only that, but he showed off some skills over there, as well. Anthony Rizzo will get the bulk of the playing time at first base, which means that there are only going to be a handful of regular starts at this position for Baez. Even still, we already know that Baez is the primary back up, according to Maddon, so that’s four-for-four on our list.

Center Field

Finally, a position where Baez doesn’t look fantastic defensively. Look, it doesn’t mean that he can’t become a great outfielder—he certainly can. In his first start of the spring in center, he didn’t look all that comfortable out there. The good news? With Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward on the roster, plus any slight potential that the last man on the roster is able to play center field, the Cubs shouldn’t be relying too heavily on his abilities out there. Even so, I’m fairly certain he’ll see time out there this season. And who knows? Maybe he eventually develops into a high-quality center fielder.

Left/Right Field

It’s hard to picture Baez spending a ton of time out in the corner outfield spots, but if he can play center he can certainly play the corners. Heyward will be the everyday starter in right field, except when he needs to play center, and left field will be covered by some combination of Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. After that? Zobrist could play out there, as could Bryant. Baez will probably end up there at some point, too, but admittedly the best defensive alignments currently feature either Bryant or Zobrist moving to a corner spot and Baez taking his much more refined defensive abilities out to the vacated infield spot.


This one is a bit of a surprise, but you can make the (possibly facetious) case that Baez could don the tools of ignorance, if needed. Did you know that Javy played catcher on the summer league team prior to his senior season of high school? It’s pretty likely that his abilities aren’t developed in any kind of sophisticated way, and he probably never had to catch anyone with quality, major-league caliber stuff. The Cubs are in a good position, catching-wise, in that they have Miguel Montero as the regular starter, David Ross as Jon Lester’s personal catcher and the regular backup, and Schwarber who is likely to catch every-so-often as well. But Maddon is well known for juggling the lineup and using his bench, so in the event the Cubs need a fourth catcher? There’s a good chance it could be Baez.


This is really just for fun, but could he do it? Oh yeah. No question. Check out this throw that Baez unleashes from the shortstop position last season.

That’s right, he guns out the Pirates runner at the plate with a 95 mph bullet, according to Statcast. If the Cubs are getting blown out late in a game, there’s a decent possibility that Maddon would choose to save the bullpen by putting a position player on the mound. Last season, that player was Ross. It’s possible he’d choose to have Ross do the honors again this year—but why not Baez? It’s worth trying to at least find out whether he has a 90-plus mph fastball hiding in that arm of his.

Only four players in the history of Major League Baseball have played all nine positions on the field in one game—five, if you stretch it to playing all nine positions in one day, include spring training, and accept that we’re creating caveats to include comedian Will Ferrell—but if Maddon wants to get creative, Baez could do it. Whether it would be prudent to use Baez in such a fashion is an argument for another day—is there really a realistic situation where the Cubs exhaust three catchers and then need a fourth one, for example? It’s doubtful. But if there’s anybody that could do it and excel, it’s Javier Baez.

Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.

Related Articles

3 comments on “Baez at Nine: The Cubs’ Most Versatile Player”


Baez does not and has never looked fantastic at any defensive position.

I don’t know why people keep saying he has. Look at the numbers.

There is no proof he can play center, let alone the corners, either


At what position has he logged enough innings for the defensive metrics to be worth much of anything?

Can someone please create a Twitter account dedicated to giving us notice when Baez might be playing all 9 positions in one game. That way I can set a notification setting to follow all tweets from that account. Will Baez playing 1st base be the new “a triple away from the cycle” tweet this year?

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username