Baez is gifted

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Javier Baez plays shortstop and second base for the Chicago Cubs, the best team in the National League with a 71-52 record.

Toiling at either position means Baez is right in the middle of the action on the infield.

As such, his play and bat are essential if the Cubs are to capture a second World Series banner in three years.

Many feel Baez, who is in his fifth season with the Cubs, will go down as one of the best to ever put on the fabled Cubs uniform.

To date, Baez has mashed a career-best 25 homers with a personal-best 89 runs batted in with 33 doubles, eight triples and a .289 batting average.

In 33 postseason games, Baez, who made his first All-Star team and was the NL Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2016, has a .229 batting average, but has cracked five homers with 13 RBIs and six stolen bases.

Baez, born in Puerto Rico, but raised in Florida since 2005, didn’t impress many of the scouts who first saw him, though they did admit he was talented, but said he wouldn’t be a star.

Ron Dickerson was Baez’s high school coach at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, and he believed Baez’s work ethic would help him reach the top of his profession.

In Baez’s sophomore season he batted .463 with nine doubles, 13 home runs and 60 RBIs.

After his junior campaign, Baez, who played second base, shortstop, center field and catcher, was named an Aflac All-American and after his senior year he batted .771 with 20 doubles, 22 homers and 52 RBIs.

From his first day, Baez, an extraordinary fielder with a powerful and accurate throwing arm, has been eye-catching.

In his initial big-league game, Baez hit the game-winning homer in the 12th inning.

In Baez’s third game, he clubbed two homers and after 14 games, Baez had slugged five.

That season Baez finished with nine homers and 20 RBIs in 52 games, but had a disappointing .169 batting average.

In 2015, Baez toiled in 28 games, had a homer with four RBIs and batted .289.

Finally, all the hard work paid off in 2016 as Baez drilled 14 homers with 59 RBIs and posted a .273 batting average while playing in 142 games as the Cubs ended a 108-year dry spell with a title after beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games.

Baez, who owns a .306 on-base percentage and a .464 slugging percentage, followed this with 23 homers, 75 RBIs and a .273 batting average, and has finally proven those scouts wrong.

Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at yankeespride55@gmail.com.

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The Sports Department Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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