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When the Cubs demoted Javier Baez at the end of spring training because of the same contact issues that contributed to his .169 batting average as a rookie last year, he looked like he'd have a long road back.
Two months later, he may be nearing the end of it.
Jorge Soler sprained his ankle Monday and could wind up on the disabled list, and while Baez doesn't play the outfield, Kris Bryant does and in fact shifted over from third base to play left field Tuesday.
Which leaves Jonathan Herrera to man third base for the Cubs until they, you know, do something about it. And we have reason to believe they will. They didn't much care for Herrera at second base, after all, which is why Addison Russell got the call in late April.
Baez, a shortstop, is not so coincidentally gearing up to play third base at Triple-A, and his bat obviously profiles there. Even before Soler's injury, the Cubs were considering bringing him up to DH for two games at Detroit next week. Clearly, they like what they've seen from him at Triple-A Iowa, where he's batting .325 with seven home runs and a .947 OPS. The progress is most evident in his last 22 games, during which he has hit .383 with six home runs, a 1.112 OPS and, most notably, 21 strikeouts in 81 at-bats.
A 1-to-4 strikeout-to-at-bat ratio may not seem like much of an achievement, but considering he was nearing 1-to-2 as a rookie last season, it's a big step forward for Baez. He'll always strike out a lot, but last year's rate was almost too exaggerated to believe.
Maybe homering three times in the first three games after his promotion had him selling out for power thereafter. He's beginning to learn he doesn't have to try so hard, eliminating his leg kick on the second of his two home runs Tuesday and still hitting the ball, by manager Marty Pevey's estimation, 460-470 feet. His bat speed generates massive power, so as long as he stays within himself, he can do some special things, particularly for a shortstop-eligible player. That position has been as dreadful as everyone feared coming into the season, which is what made Baez such a popular draft pick coming into this season, so when he's back in the mix, he's well worth the gamble.
It's why a large number of Fantasy owners never dropped him in the first place. Already, he's owned in 44 percent of leagues. Normally, a demotion would be reason enough to ditch a player, but when you really believe in that player, maybe not. A return trip to the minors might be enough to put him back on course.
So in the spirit of Baez's impending return, let's assess th stashability of some other recently demoted prospects.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers
Keep in mind we're using the term "prospect" pretty loosely here. Like Baez, Odor has already exhausted his rookie eligibility, which would make him a no-go on most prospect lists. But in most Fantasy leagues, it's an arbitrary distinction. Odor is young, full of upside and not on the major-league roster -- not right now, anyway -- but if he keeps doing what he has done at Triple-A Round Rock, batting .310 with five home runs and a 1.029 OPS in 20 games, he'll be back soon enough.
I thought the Rangers were quick to pull the plug as it is. Rushed to the majors to replace an injured Jurickson Profar last year, Odor performed better than anyone could have expected for a 20-year-old, and given that he hit .291 with four home runs and .832 OPS in his final 103 at-bats, he was one of my favorite sleepers coming into the season.
If his growing tendency to chase pitches out of the zone got him sent down, which is how the story goes, then his improved plate discipline at Triple-A, where he has nine walks to just seven strikeouts, should have him back in the running for a roster spot. I mean, it's not like the Rangers have found an adequate replacement. Tommy Field has already flamed out, and Hanser Alberto profiles as more of a reserve.
Daniel Norris, SP/RP, Blue Jays
And here's where things take an ugly turn. I like Norris. I'm not one of those people who claim that because he had an elevated walk rate in the minors, he's doomed to have one forevermore. We've seen so many examples of the contrary, and as left-handed pitching prospects go, his walk rate isn't even that bad.
But it isn't any better than the one that got him sent back to Triple-A. He has issued four walks in back-to-back starts and has been largely inefficient, going less than seven innings in each of his five starts.
He would probably be the first pitcher up should an opening develop since he's already on the 40-man roster, but the Blue Jays aren't looking to make an opening for him. And to me, the lack of progress makes him not worth the roster spot outside of AL-only leagues.
Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
The reset button appears to be stuck for Pompey as well. In fact, he may actually be regressing after looking unstoppable last season, storming through the minor-league system with a .317 batting average between three levels and seemingly finding his place in the majors with a .320 (8 for 25) batting average and four extra-base hits in his final seven games last September.
But for as bad as he looked as the Blue Jays' starting center fielder this April, batting .193 in 83 at-bats, he has been even worse against Triple-A pitching, batting .188 in 80 at-bats -- and with only two extra-base hits.
He seems to be an emotional performer and admitted to playing scared in April, so maybe this slump is entirely self-inflicted. But clearly, he's not just pausing to catch his breath here. He'll need some time to regain the big club's trust, more than I have outside of long-term keeper leagues.
Micah Johnson, 2B, White Sox
Finally, some reason for hope. Johnson has gone to the minors and done exactly what he needed to do reclaim the starting second base job.
OK, that's not entirely true. Poor defense cost him the job, and I'm not sure 12 games is enough for him to change that reputation. But certainly, he has only helped his case by batting .304 (14 for 46) with a .389 on-base percentage in those 12 games. And most encouraging to Fantasy owners, he already has four stolen bases.
His lack of stolen bases may have been the bigger disappointment than his defense in his first stint in the majors. And it wasn't a case of you-can't-steal-first-base. He reached base at a .333 clip, mostly on singles, and yet he stole just three bases in 27 games for an 18-steal pace over a 162-game season.
Clearly, he can still run, so he should still be on your radar in Rotisserie leagues for whenever the White Sox decide they can live with him at second base. Carlos Sanchez isn't giving them much of a choice, batting just .175 (10 for 57) with a .454 OPS in 18 games.
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Twins
While some of these players have struggled upon returning to the minors, Vargas has gone the more typical route of reminding the Twins why he's too good to be there, batting .333 (13 for 39) with three home runs in 11 games at Triple-A -- a level he actually skipped the first time around.
The problem is he may still not be good enough for the majors. His peripherals the last two years -- particularly the strikeout and walk rates -- are ghastly, and his .319 BABIP at the time of his demotion suggests he doesn't have much room to improve his batting average without an increase in power. And since catching the league by surprise with nine home runs in his first 45 games last year, he hasn't demonstrated much power, batting .223 with three home runs in 130 at-bats.
Vargas was easy to tout as an overlooked prospect back when simply breaking into the majors was the goal, but now he needs to prove he can stick. Because his power potential isn't quite on the level of a Kris Bryant or Joey Gallo, you can count me among the skeptics.
Even if the Twins announced they were bringing him back tomorrow, I wouldn't bother with him outside of AL-only leagues.