CLEVELAND — Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez made one distinction between him and childhood friend Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians.
“I believe he’s the best shortstop in the game right now from our generation,” Baez said Wednesday before the Cubs and Indians met in the finale of a two-game series at Progressive Field. “I’ve been playing second and short (in the past), but a lot of people love the way he plays.
“I believe he’s the best, but I believe in myself. He’s the best, but I’m ‘El Mago.’ Give it to him.”
A second full season at shortstop might enable Baez, so nicknamed for his magician-like skills, to close the gap between him and Lindor, 26, who won his second American League Gold Glove Award last season for his superb defense.
Baez, 27, has yet to commit an error through 14 games while maintaining his fearless range and powerful arm. Winning a Gold Glove remains a goal for Baez despite stiff competition in the National League that includes 2018 and 2019 winner Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies and Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“For sure,” said Baez, who took over full-time shortstop duties in September 2018 after the suspension of Addison Russell. “I always want to work on my defense and get better and more consistent.
“We’ll see what happens the next few years with the season and my situation. Hopefully, I get at least one.”
Before last season, Baez was named the best multipositional defender in the majors by the Fielding Bible Awards, and he was credited with 28 runs saved last season — tops among shorstops.
Aside from the Gold Gloves and Lindor’s four consecutive All-Star Game selections (compared with two for Baez), the parallels are thick. They played against each other in youth leagues in their native Puerto Rico before their families moved to Florida.
In an interview on the eve of the 2016 World Series, Lindor recalled spending one Thanksgiving with Baez’s family and playing pingpong with Baez and his brothers.
They played on the same team in the Aflac All-American game in August 2010, with Baez playing third base and Lindor shortstop. The following June, the Indians selected Lindor with the eighth pick in the amateur draft and the Cubs took Baez at No. 9.
“We talk most of the time,” Baez said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m here or not.”
Baez said he spoke to Lindor in person for a few minutes after they arrived at the same time before Tuesday’s game. Lindor congratulated Baez a day after Baez and his wife, Irmarie, announced on social media they are expecting their second child.
“I use (Lindor) as an example to make me better and learn from him,” Baez said. “Whatever I can pick up from him that helps me, I will pick it up.”
Baez’s favorite memory of playing with Lindor involved turning a slick double play for Puerto Rico in a 2017 World Baseball Classic exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants.
Baez doesn’t mind the comparisons between him, Lindor and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros, the first pick in the 2012 draft from Puerto Rico.
“If we talk about the best shortstops in the game, we’re up there,” Baez said. “(Lindor) is a complete player, just like me, Story — you can name it.”
Lindor and Baez can become free agents after the 2021 season, but Baez’s focus has remained exclusively on this season.
The lack of fans because of the coronavirus has forced Baez and his teammates to generate their own motivation. Baez also had to adjust to some changes under new infield coach Andy Green.
“(Former infield coach) Brian Butterfield was great for us, and I want to learn from every coach we can,” Baez said. “But it’s been really hard because the summer camp was so short and we had so many guys here.”
“As much as we put him in areas,” Ross said, “he knows that this guy is going to pull the ball off Kyle Hendricks because he’s been playing behind Kyle Hendricks for multiple years and knows where most of the right-handed hitters hit the ball off Kyle when they roll over a changeup or a two-seamer away. There’s feel involved, a commitment to paying attention to what’s going on.”
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