|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
You take a chance on raw potential. Sometimes, it never develops and other times, only a portion of the potential is transferred into game talent. But on the off chance the player starts to figure it out and more of that raw potential begins to show up in games, you will be forever grateful you took a chance on that player. In 2012, the Washington Nationals took a chance on Leudys Baez. For whatever reason, they cut him without ever seeing him play a professional game and two years after joining the Nats, it was the Braves who took a shot on Baez. They have certainly gotten more out of him than Washington and might just have a rising prospect on their hands.
Born on June 26, 1996, in Sabana Grande de Palenque, Dominican Republic, Baez was a scrawny kid when the Nats originally added him. A switch-hitter, the Braves slotted Baez for outfield work and six months after signing Baez in December of 2014, the Braves assigned him to Danville to begin his professional career. He made his debut three days before his 19th birthday.
A quick performer, Baez got off to a big start for Danville that season. He got most of his playing time in left field where he shared time with Justin Ellison while hitting .311/.331/.473 over 155 PA. His four homeruns finished second to Austin Riley, who popped five after coming up from the GCL. Baez may have hit more, but he was promoted to Rome in early August. With Rome, his hyper-aggressive style got more in his way than it had with Danville. In 155 PA with the D-Braves, Baez had only walked three times. He did the same in 112 PA, but more of his batted balls were on the ground or popped up as he limped to a .206/.232/.318 finish.
Nevertheless, Baez had some prospect hype heading into the 2016 season. I gave him a #50 rank on my preseason list, which would have placed him as the twelfth best outfield prospect in the system. Slated for a return to Rome, Baez showed little improvement over his previous run through the South Atlantic League before a significant knee injury ended his season on August 2. He hit just .228/.298/.286. Lauded for the pop in his bat, Baez managed eight extra-base hits – including one homerun.
Baez was an afterthought as this year began for Rome. He was busy rehabbing and tweaking his swing. Re-assigned to Danville with another disappointing outfielder from 2016 in Isranel Wilson, Baez struggled through the first week, going 2-for-18 as he shook off the rust. He then hit his first homer of the year on July 1 and during 20 games with Danville that month, Baez would dominate with a .395/.471/.684 slash that included six doubles, two triples, four homeruns, and an unBaez-like 10 walks to 15 strikeouts. He would be named Danville Braves Player of the Month by the organization, which was the second honor they gave him in a matter of the days. The first was a promotion back to Rome.
Over his first 24 games with Rome, we aren’t seeing the overmatched kid the last two years, but a matured hitter with a .296/.330/.500 slash as he holds his own in a prospect-laden outfield with Wilson and Cristian Pache. He’s added five triples to help set a new personal high with seven total and by belting two more homeruns, he’s up to six – also a new high. The strikeouts are still there and the walk rate has cut n half since coming back to Rome, but a .370 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at.
In a sign that player pages rarely get updated for simple biographical information, Baez is still listed at 160 pounds. Anyone who has watched him play will tell you he’s closer to 200, if not more. He carries the weight well in his 6’0″ frame. Athletically, he reminds me a bit of Jeff Francoeur. For all of his faults, Francoeur had some decent top-end speed, but it took him a little while to get up to speed. That’s how watching Baez feels as he struggles to get his motor running into high gear. He makes up for this with good instincts and a tremendous arm. I witnessed one game this season before his promotion to Rome in which he got to a ball as it headed to the wall in the right field corner. Cutting the ball off, he did a 360 to gun the ball into the infield to start a relay at home to gun down the runner and preserve a one-run lead in the visitor’s final inning. What made it even more impressive was how quickly he got the ball to the infield as Baez had no time to stop and throw. He simply got the ball, did his turn, threw an accurate and hard throw into the infield, and while the ball soared through the air, his momentum took him into foul territory. It was the best throw from outfield I’ve seen this year at the rookie level.
At the plate, Baez has worked to keep himself balanced throughout the entire swing. Like many of the Braves’ youngest hitters, he has a big leg kick that allows him to explode forward with the bat. It’s a level swing, which limits some of his pop, but he hits the ball hard. He’s pull-happy at the plate and most of his extra base hits will go whichever way is his pull side for that at-bat as, again, he’s a switch-hitter. Like many young switch-hitters, Baez has found more success facing right-hand pitching than he has with left-hand pitching.
He’s made some strides with his patience at the plate, but is hyper aggressive and will swing a lot. How much that gets him into trouble moving forward will be something to watch. On the bases, he’s not exceptionally quick as I previously discussed. This limits his stolen base numbers because “the jump” often decides things like that. That said, he is still a good baserunner who cuts the bag well and does a lot of the little things that help lead to an extra base being taken.
Baez is a toolsy outfielder. There’s a lot here to like and at the same time, there are good reasons not to be overly excited. He could develop into a .280/.330/.475-type corner outfielder with good defensive metrics and baserunning. Or he might never get out of A-ball. The pitch recognition is very questionable and at 21 years-old now, the Braves can’t block other outfield prospects to allow Baez more time to develop a more astute batting eye capable of dealing with the better breaking pitches and off-speed deliveries he’ll see more of moving forward. That said, the tools are all there for a big climb up the prospect boards next season if he continues to progress.
For more on Baez, check out my scouting report which I published just before this.