(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By JASON P. SKODA
Associated Press
MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Javier Baez made it easy to pay attention to him.
Hitting 37 home runs last year, and that doesn't even include home runs on three consecutive pitches in spring training, tends to put the focus on a prospect like Baez, the 21-year-old who was the first-round pick for the Chicago Cubs in 2011.
''Obviously, he's an exciting player, as you guys all have seen,'' manager Rick Renteria said. ''It's not like you can hide it.''
Then shortstop Starlin Castro, a two-time National League All-Star, hurt his right hamstring on March 2. All of a sudden, those Baez projections were sped up. Would he get the call should Castro miss significant time in the regular season?
A bit of intrigue was added with the news that he is going to start seeing time at second and third base this week in pregame workouts at spring training.
Yes, Baez is still expected to start in Triple-A Iowa and Castro has played no less than 158 games over the last three seasons, but it seems there will be a time in 2014 when Baez makes his major league debut.
Even Castro is on board.
''I don't make that decision, but that can be good for us, if he's here,'' Castro said. ''He can hit, no doubt about it. He's a good player. Everybody knows that.''
Baez, who hit a combined .282 with 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBIs at Single-A and Double-A in 2013, is taking the right approach while making the most of his opportunities. He is hitting .333 in a team-high 18 at-bats with two home runs through the weekend.
''I am just going to try to play better and work on my defense,'' he said.
The defense is the biggest concern when it comes to Baez. He had 44 errors (31 in 76 games at Single-A and 13 in 54 games at Double-A) in 2013.
''A lot of my errors are because I get a ground ball and I look at the runner and I know when I have to throw the ball (so he hurries sometimes),'' he said. ''I am going to try to play (any position) they ask me. I'll do my best.''
The 23-year-old Castro has been encouraging in what isn't always a comfortable situation.
''I tell him, `Play hard, and you'll be up there no matter what,''' Castro said. ''`I don't know where, but you'll be there because you've got great talent and you play the game the right way.'''
As a first-year manager of the Cubs, Renteria figures to be the benefactor of Baez's emergence whenever it might happen.
''Obviously, for us, the idea of Baez is in the future,'' Renteria said. ''So right now I'm glad Starlin feels that way, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual. They both respect each other immensely. Somewhere down the road, when that happens, I'm sure it'll be nice to see.''

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