You can't put a lot of stock in what you see in spring training. A common theme this March has been the constant reminder there is no good news in spring training, only bad news. Nothing good that happens really has any validity as something you can put a whole lot of stock in, but bad performances are, of course, catastrophic.
But there are some things that happen in spring training that, while they aren't necessarily good or bad, do give us an indication of things that may be to come.
Javier Baez, the top prospect in a stacked Cubs farm system, is a shortstop by trade but has been playing second base of late in major league spring training games. Starlin Castro is also a shortstop, one who has manned the position in the majors for the four seasons and is under team control through 2020. So is Arismendy Alcantara who, like Baez, finished the 2013 season in Double-A and has already begun the transition to the keystone. In fact, Baez's arrival in Double-A Tennessee helped to expedite that process for Alcantara.
The future is in question for Castro, who has regressed during his time in the majors, so it's not a given that Baez or anyone else will have to move around him. Any sign of returning to form, however, will re-establish Castro as the team's shortstop and force the team to get creative.
Baez is by no means locked into a move to second base should shortstop remain blocked. Many scouts believe his most natural position to be third base and expect him to slide over there as his body continues to fill out. That, however, only further complicates things.
The Cubs spent the second pick in last year's draft on Kris Bryant, a third baseman who rivals Baez for power and hitting prowess and is as much a part of the Cubs future as the slugging shortstop. If Baez slides to third, it solves the shortstop problem temporarily but creates the same situation at third base. Further complicating things is the presence of Mike Olt, a former top prospect in the Rangers farm system who is ready for the majors and could be the team's starting third baseman this year. A power-hitting prospect in his own right, Olt could easily establish himself as an everyday major leaguer before Baez or Bryant are ready to replace him.
Which creates a number of questions that Cubs fans love to ask. "Where is Baez going to play if Castro is at short?" "If Baez moves to third, what happens to Bryant?" "If Baez moves to second, what happens to Alcantara?" "Can Bryant or Olt move to first, and if so, what happens to Anthony Rizzo?" And when you factor in one or more of them possibly moving out to the outfield to make room, it only further complicated things.
The Cubs are in an enviable situation. Within the next calendar year, they may be attempting to get Castro, Baez, Olt, Bryant, Alcantara and Rizzo all into the same lineup. That may not be completely possible, but being able to use as many of them as possible all at once requires options, and that's what all of this is about.
Is Baez's future on the diamond at second base? No one knows, including Baez himself of the Cubs front office. But spring training is a good time to find out just how possible it is as an option. Can he play the position at all or is it an abomination putting him out there? Is it something he can achieve with a little experience or a lost cause? Essentially, is this a viable option?
Odds are that not all of these players will work out for the Cubs. That's why there are no real answers to these questions yet. Baez's future position may be determined more by the success or failures of Castro, Alcantara, Olt and Bryant than by his own ability. As the Cubs add these minor league prospects to the major league mix, there will be a number of moving parts. The more options given to them by the more players, the more combinations they have when it comes to the Rubik's Cube that will be their lineup for the next few years.
So when you see Baez playing second base in spring training, don't read too much into it. But unlike most spring training action, it does tell us a little something. The Cubs simply want to see what Baez can and can't do so they know what their options are once he gets to the majors. And with his bat knocking loudly on the door with each passing at-bat, this spring is likely their last chance to figure it out.