The Dodgers boast one of the most electric arms in the majors in Kenley Jansen, owner of the highest rate of strikeouts-per-nine innings for a single season in baseball history. Jansen was converted to the mound from catcher after years of not being able to hit. The club might have found another such candidate in Pedro Baez, and though the expectations might be unfair the hype seems justified.
Baez spent six years toiling in the minors and never advanced past Double-A, and at age 24 hit just .221/.306/.374 between Class-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga combined. The Dodgers converted him to pitcher late in the year during instructional league, something that had long since been rumored.
"We all know that he Baez has a great arm which is why we always talk about him as a potential pitcher, with his throws across the infield being clocked at 94 mph," said our own Brandon Lennox in February 2012, "Still just 24 years old, he could probably make the conversion over the next year and be ready to help the big league club by 2013 if he catches on quickly enough."
In early February this year at the Dodgers young guns instructional camp at Camelback Ranch in Arizona prior to spring training, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had high praise for Baez, telling Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, "You talk about Kenley when you see the ball come out of his hand. He hasn't been overwhelmed by thinking too much about pitching. He just sees the glove and throws it and that's kind of refreshing."
Even more refreshing was the praise from another left-hander, Sandy Koufax, who was in Dodgers spring training camp in late Feburary. More Gurnick:
Baez showed Koufax a natural delivery, a fastball in the mid-90s and a curveball more advanced than many of his fellow Minor Leaguers who have been at this pitching thing for years. Koufax told other staff members he'd like to see Baez in a game this spring.
A start in Class-A Rancho Cucamonga seems likely for Baez in 2013, and Jansen will be the measuring stick, no matter how unrealistic or unfair it may be. Jansen in his first (half) season on the mound struck out 19 in just 11⅔ innings, but also had a 4.63 ERA and 11 walks. Jansen made his major league debut on July 24, 2010, about a year after he started pitching.
Will Baez be ready by this time next year, or even before? Who knows, but rest assured if he gets into a game or two during this spring training, be sure to pay attention, as you just might be watching something special.
In his final minor league at-bat as a position player, whether he knew it or not at the time, Baez homered for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga against Carlos Contreras of the Bakersfield Blaze, on Sept. 3, 2012.
Baez will be an interesting candidate to potentially be added to the 40-man roster in November.
That .247/.308/.391 career line in 491 minor league games doesn't look so bad ... for a pitcher.
I don't expect Baez to be playing in Los Angeles at any time in 2013, but I suspect he'll pitch well enough to be added to the 40-man roster in November.
Be sure to guess how you think Baez will perform in 2013. Include ERA, strikeouts, highest level reached, and whatever else you wish to guess.