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Cubs prospect Javier Baez trying to adjust to major leagues

Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs flips over

Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs flips over Lucas Duda of the Mets as he tries to complete a second-inning double play at Citi Field on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

At least two tattoos in Javier Báez's extensive collection seem prophetic: the MLB symbol, inked in red and blue, on the back of his neck, and the black-and-white outline of a flaming baseball just above the webbing on his right thumb.

He's had the logo since he was a high school shortstop for Florida's Arlington Country Day School -- about as far as you can get from being a licensed product of Major League Baseball, and about three years from his big league debut on Aug. 5.

The second tattoo foretold a whole bunch of stuff: the way the baseball jumped off his bat on his first major-league hit, a 12th-inning homer that won a game for the Cubs, or the three other homers he's hit since then, or, in NBA Jam parlance, the fact that Báez's prospects are currently on fire.

"He's got a lot of potential," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said before Saturday night's game. He's "able to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He's got a very aggressive approach at the plate -- to some extent, an approach that will have to be still fine-tuned, but I think he's dealing with being here right now and all the attention pretty well."

In manager-speak, that means the second baseman can hit the ball a very long way when he's not swinging at air. In 12 major-league games, Báez, who went 1-for-4 Saturday night, is 13-for-53, and he entered Saturday with a .531 slugging percentage. He has 20 strikeouts and no walks. Those last two numbers are grim, and consistent with his big helicopter swing, but it's actually an improvement, Renteria said. Báez used to be more prone to the strikeout (he struck out 130 times in 104 games with the Iowa Cubs this year), but Renteria said he showed more discipline in the second half.

"I just want [Báez] to stay positive," Renteria said. "You'd be surprised. Sometimes strikeouts come when you're a little passive and a little timid. You're kind of caught in between . . . Those are adjustments that they'll have to continue to make, and they will. They've only been there a little while."

Báez, a natural shortstop, has also had his adaptability tested on defense. Other than two spring training games, he hadn't played second since junior high. "It was kind of hard," he said. "It's a shorter throw to first. But you still have to move everywhere when the ball is hit. It's just different angles. I don't mind moving, but I like it."

Added Renteria: "It's not as easy as a transition as you might think . . . You can get a little lax at second after having played short . . . Sometimes guys have a problem with that, but he's actually been doing pretty well."

The move, though, might not be forever. Although Cubs management has said it's happy with its glut of young shortstops, starter Starlin Castro's name has been popping up in trade rumors -- most notably with the Mets.

Báez seems to know he could be trade bait, too, but he nonetheless has made himself at home.

"We understand this is business and we're just trying to play the game," he said. "But I know and I'm sure that they have big plans for us and we're all young players. We're going to be good in a couple years. They're going to take their time."

He might be right. After all, Báez has shown he's pretty good at this prophecy stuff.

New York Sports