8/6/2014 2:35 A.M. ET
Epstein: Baez earned callup
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
DENVER -- Javier Baez showed what he can do in the big leagues in his first game.
The Cubs promoted Baez on Tuesday, and he delivered in his first Major League start, hitting a game-winning home run leading off the 12th inning in a 6-5 win over the Rockies.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they decided it was time to promote Baez because he'd fulfilled several items on the check list. However, Epstein most likely didn't expect this kind of debut.
"Javy has made a lot of strides in areas that we've emphasized for his development," Epstein said. "He's doing a much better job of making the pitcher work, swinging at strikes, looking for a pitch he can drive."
Baez's strikeout totals have decreased each month at Triple-A Iowa, and he's developed a better approach at the plate. Baez has about 450 plate appearances at Iowa, which was enough of a sample size.
The infielder also has a history of struggling when he first gets to a level, and then making the necessary adjustments. He'll be in the lineup nearly every day to get started on the next phase of his development.
"We all know it can be very difficult to make in-season adjustments as a big leaguer," Epstein said, citing struggles by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo last year. "This timing allows Javy to go play for eight weeks, and then take a deep breath this winter. He can take a fresh look at his performance in the big leagues and take it all in and start to make any adjustments if necessary."
Baez got off to a slow start at Iowa, batting .172 in April. After work with Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper, and talking to other players, plus player/coach Manny Ramirez, Baez hit .275 in June, and then got hot in July, batting .300. For the season, he was hitting .260 at Iowa with 24 doubles, two triples, 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in 104 games.
Baez was sleeping when he got the news from Iowa manager Marty Pevey.
"I said, 'Are you serious?' and then I realized I was really going to the big leagues and got really excited, and called my mom and told my brother and everybody started jumping around and started crying," Baez said.
He took early batting practice at Coors Field, and felt right at home.
"I like how the ball flies here and everything you hit in the air is gone," he said.
Starlin Castro is set at shortstop, but Baez has made the transition to second, playing there more since the All-Star break. The plan is to have him at second and rookie Arismendy Alcantara in center field for the majority of games.
"The first two games, it was weird," Baez said. "I was seeing everything backwards. By the third game, I was kind of getting it. Now it's like normal."
Rizzo batted .141 in 49 games with the Padres when he was first called up in 2011. Does he need to keep an eye on the new second baseman?
"There's no need to," Rizzo said. "He'll be in the right place. He's a good kid. Now that he's here, there's no 'up' and he knows that. This is it, this is The Show. He's in it and deserves to be in it, and hopefully the transition is smooth for him.
"It doesn't matter what he does. Obviously we want him to start off well. He's going to go through his time, everyone does. He'll be fine. He's got a great attitude and mentality. He won't get rattled much in my opinion."
Epstein is well aware Baez will be the center of attention. He's the first of the Cubs' so-called core four -- along with Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora -- to make it to The Show. Epstein is hoping Cubs fans understand there are going to be stretches when Baez is 0-for-4 or 0-for-20.
"If Javy follows the normal track record for very talented 21-year-old big leaguers, he's going to struggle in certain elements of his game, and that should be expected and that should be part of the learning process and part of his development in the big leagues," Epstein said.
"That said, I don't think Javy is someone who needs to be handled with kid gloves," Epstein said. "Because he plays with emotion and edge, I think there's a tendency for people who don't know him to think he's fragile or volatile. I think Javy understands the game really well.
"He plays to win," Epstein said. "He's a real competitor, he shows up every day, he plays every day, he prepares himself well. Javy, in some ways, is baseball mature beyond his years and is not someone we have to be delicate with. We understand he's 21 and it's likely people put unrealistic expectations on him. We're proud of Javy, he's earned this opportunity and it'll be fun to watch him."
Is it different in the big leagues?
"Not really," Baez said. "For me, it's the same game, just more fans."
Vets young and old have Baez's back
DENVER -- Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva gave Javier Baez the "talk' shortly after he had arrived in the visitor's clubhouse on Tuesday, the 21-year-old infielder's first day in the big leagues.
There are three pieces of advice, Villanueva said. No. 1, don't be late. No. 2, don't forget refreshments for the team bus. And, No. 3, don't get noticed for the wrong reasons.
The Cubs are hoping to see all the good things Baez can do, but also are quick to caution that there may be some growing pains.
Baez, 21, made his Major League debut Tuesday, batting second and playing second base in the Cubs' first game of a three-game series against the Rockies.
"I'm happy to have him here," shortstop Starlin Castro said. "I think it's really important for him to be here. He can learn every day about how the game is here in the big leagues. I'm really happy for him."
Baez called Castro when he arrived in Denver Monday, and the two had dinner at Morton's. On Tuesday, Castro planned on taking his new second baseman shopping so he looked like a big leaguer.
"They've earned it," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Baez and rookie Arismendy Alcantara. "It's more for the guys in the Minors who should be excited about all of this. ... That should make people in the Minors hungrier."
So, who's next? Castro lobbied for Baez over the weekend in Los Angeles.
"Who, [Jorge] Soler? They have to bring him, too," Castro said. "And [Kris] Bryant. Next year, we'll have a really young team, and we can be together and prove it. You know we have a lot of talent and players who can play at this level. I think it'll be really good for us."
Fujikawa to make return to Cubs this week
DENVER -- Kyuji Fujikawa joined the Cubs at Coors Field, and he is expected to be activated this week, possibly as early as Wednesday.
Fujikawa, 34, was limited to 12 games last season with the Cubs before he was sidelined with elbow problems, and he underwent Tommy John surgery last June.
In six rehab games at Triple-A Iowa, he gave up one run on five hits and one walk over six innings while striking out four. He's totaled 11 2/3 innings in Minor League rehab games with the Cubs' Rookie League team, Class A Kane County and Iowa, and has given up one earned run on seven hits and three walks.
"He came in today and said he's ready to go, however I want to use him," manager Rick Renteria said. "We'll try to find a spot that suits him the best."
Cubs honor Soler, Tseng for July dominance
DENVER -- The Cubs named Triple-A Iowa outfielder Jorge Soler and Class A Kane County right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng the organization's Minor League player and pitcher of the month for July, respectively.
The 22-year-old Soler -- the Cubs' No. 6 prospect and No. 53 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list -- batted .406 with a .500 on-base percentage, an .891 slugging percentage and a 1.391 on-base plus slugging percentage in 24 July games between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa after being activated from the disabled list on July 6. In 15 games with Tennessee through July 22, Soler batted .463 with two doubles, a triple, six homers and 15 RBIs.
The Cuban outfielder is averaging one extra-base hit every 4.6 at-bats and has produced a .744 slugging percentage to go with a .457 OBP.
The 19-year-old Tseng, the Cubs' No. 16 prospect, went 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA (5 ER, 30 2/3 IP) across five July games (four starts) for Kane County. He walked four and struck out 20, holding opponents to a .137 batting average and posting a 0.59 WHIP, both the best marks in the Midwest League.
On July 13 against Beloit, Tseng threw a seven-inning complete game, giving up one run on three hits while striking out seven in a 3-1 victory.
In his first pro season since being signed as a non-drafted free agent, Tseng is 6-1 with a 2.56 ERA (23 ER, 81 IP) over 15 games (14 starts) for Kane County. He has struck out 71 hitters and walked 11.
With young bats arriving, focus shifts to arms
DENVER -- Now that the Cubs are getting a look at Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara for the rest of the season, what's next on the wish list? More pitching.
"We're not at a point where things are going to magically come together all at once," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "This is a process."
Baez was promoted to the big leagues on Tuesday, and he and Alcantara, who was called up July 9, will get the majority of playing time at second and center field, respectively. The organization has depth as far as position players go.
"We look at this offseason and next offseason as a window during which we have to add and will add impact pitching," Epstein said. "We won't look at it exclusively this offseason."
Could the Cubs add players off the waiver wire? Epstein said it's possible, but didn't expect any major moves.
"We are looking at August as a potential opportunity to acquire players who fit in the future, as most teams are," he said.
• Right-handed reliever Blake Parker was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for Baez. Parker has compiled a 6.57 ERA in nine games, giving up nine runs over 12 1/3 innings.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.