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Cubs' Baez in no hurry to reach the majors

MESA, Ariz. -- Javier Baez reported two days before the Chicago Cubs' first full-squad workout.

But the organization's top prospect delivered a simple, concise reply to numerous inquiries whether he was in a hurry to reach the majors and help cure the Cubs' lengthy woes.

"I'm still young and still learning how to play the game and going to take my time," Baez said Monday.

From an offensive standpoint, there's not much for Baez, 21, to accomplish this season at Triple-A Iowa. But Baez is wise enough to realize that his defense likely will dictate how soon he joins the Cubs for what many believe will be an impressive major league career.

"This year I'm going to try to play better and work on my defense," Baez said succinctly.

In acknowledging the need to work on his defense, Baez has shown the Cubs that he's determined to become better than just a one-dimensional player. Baez could be pushing for a major league job on the basis of his 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in addition to a .282 batting average at Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.

But with shortstop Starlin Castro only in the second year of a seven-year contract, Baez will use at least the first part of the 2014 season to polish his skills at shortstop, as well as possibly work at second and third base in spring training.

Manager Rick Renteria, a former first-round pick and shortstop, emphasized that Baez would work primarily at shortstop this spring and would receive proper, but not an abundance of, instruction from him and his coaching staff.

"You don't want to have too many cooks in the kitchen," Renteria said. "When you do get involved, it's got to be very limited, yet have enough conversations that you have just to gauge what they're feeling, just to give them different perspectives. A lot of the conversations we have with the coaches have to deal with suggestions that we might have, but all the coaches we have are pretty good and have a good idea about what they're going to do.

"And we're confident with (Gary) Jones and Franklin (Font) and all the guys who have played infield in the past. To say I wouldn't converse with them would be wrong. I'm sure I'll have conversations."

The Cubs remain confident that Baez can reduce his 44 errors, as one team official last winter described his miscues as "correctable."

"(A) lot of my errors are because I get a ground ball and I look at the runner and that's where I throw the ball," Baez said.

Baez has drawn comparisons to former major league slugger Gary Sheffield because of their fierce swing and power. Sheffield also advanced through the Brewers system as a shortstop before he was moved to third because of fielding issues.

Baez, meanwhile, has embraced any opportunity given to him this spring, particularly working with Castro.

"I'm going to be working with him, learning a lot of stuff," Baez said.

Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico and played high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla., also will benefit from Renteria, who's bilingual.

"That's way better for us because he can talk to us in English. And If you don't understand something, he can explain it (in Spanish)," Baez said.

And Renteria sent a clear message that Baez would start the season at shortstop at Iowa.

"If we have the luxury of having Starlin at the major league level and (Baez) at Triple A at shortstop, why wouldn't we do that?" Renteria said. "He's a guy who has impressed everybody, has some skill and we want him to continue to improve, mature and become the player in the end."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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