Javier Baez tantalized Chicago Cubs fans by blasting five home runs in major league spring training games in March. The 21-year-old shortstop headlines this year’s crop of top prospects who were assigned to Pacific Coast League teams to start the season.
Baez hit 37 home runs over two minor league levels in 2013, including 20 in just 54 games after a midseason promotion to Double-A Tennessee. His impressive Cactus League play encouraged the Cubs to promote him to Triple-A Iowa for opening day. He is currently the youngest PCL player.
Baez went 0-for-7 in his first two games for Iowa, but that didn’t stop the hype. The Des Moines Register reported that fans clamored for Baez’s autographs during an Iowa Cubs preseason workout, with veteran Cubs broadcaster Deene Ehlis telling the paper that Baez is the team’s most-hyped prospect since Corey Patterson in 2001.
Before spring training, Baseball America ranked Baez the No. 5 prospect in all of minor league baseball. He is one of 16 PCL players to make the publication’s Top 100 Prospects list, with five players ranked in the top 20.
Oscar Taveras, an outfielder for St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate Memphis, is actually ranked higher than Baez, earning the No. 3 spot on Baseball America’s list.
Taveras is a returning player: He opened last season with the Memphis Redbirds but appeared in only 46 games due to injuries. Taveras ripped his first home run of the season in Memphis’s win at Iowa on Friday night.
The other PCL position player to rank in the top 20 is Oklahoma City outfielder George Springer, who came in at No. 18. Springer fell just short of a 40-40 season in the minors last year, when he hit 37 home runs while stealing 45 bases.
PCL PITCHING PROSPECTS
The top three hitting prospects all play in the American Conference, but Tacoma fans can expect to see the PCL’s top two pitching prospects at Cheney Stadium.
Reno Aces right-hander Archie Bradley is No. 1 in the minor leagues, according to Baseball America (New York Yankees rookie Masahiro Tanaka is ranked above him overall). The 21-year-old flamethrower will make his Triple-A debut on Sunday against El Paso.
New York Mets top prospect Noah Syndergaard is No. 16 on Baseball America’s list. Syndergaard opened the season in the Las Vegas 51s’ starting rotation, earning his first Triple-A win with six strong innings against Fresno on Friday night.
Syndergaard is joined in the Vegas starting rotation by Rafael Montero, who earned the No. 68 ranking. Montero threw six shutout innings as the 51s opening day starter.
Las Vegas (May 2-5) and Reno (May 19-22) each make their first trips to Tacoma next month.Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.