You can make an argument for who the top prospect in the deep Chicago Cubs system may be, but it's going to be tough to make an argument against Javier Baez for which of their top prospects will be in the majors first. The ETA on Baez potentially jumped forward a few months with the report that he could start the 2014 season in Triple-A, according to Jake Seiner of MiLB.com.
The placement in the highest level of the minors would be an aggressive promotion for Baez, who has just 54 games in Double-A to his credit. The 21-year-old shortstop, however, hit 20 home runs and slugged .638 during his stint in Tennessee, giving the Cubs little reason to return him to the Southern League.
The only real question about Baez at this point is his positional future. The Cubs are still using him at short stop, and you have to think they will continue to do so in Triple-A, at least for the time being. Fellow prospect Mike Olt could factor into the equation as well. Olt is expected to compete for the major league job as the Cubs starting third baseman, but there's no guarantee that he'll win it. He could also grab a bench spot with the Cubs, but there is the chance that he begins the season back in Triple-A, playing along side Baez. If that's the case, Baez will be forced to stay at short.
Long-term, however, Olt won't be blocking Baez, who may be ready for the major league lineup already and should have no problem in the PCL proving that he's ready to take his power to Wrigley by mid-summer. Unless the Cubs sour further on Starlin Castro, Baez will have to slide to another spot on the diamond to get into the Cubs major league lineup, but no one on the current major league roster will stand in the way of Baez playing every day in Chicago once the Cubs determine that he's ready.
From a talent standpoint, scouts are split on whether or not he will be able to stay at shortstop, regardless of an organizational logjam. Scouts like his hands and his range is adequate enough to stick at the position for a few years. He's inconsistent at times, but so are many young players. His youth gets overshadowed by his bat, making it easy to forget he was in high school just three years ago.
Baez should be able to play shortstop in the majors for a few years, potentially sliding over to third base later on. That, of course, will be determined by the Cubs needs. He could also play second base and would probably be quite good defensively there, not to mention having a tremendous power profile for the position. He's got a left-side arm, however, and if he moves off of shortstop, third base is where he profiles best.
Regardless, the Cubs plans to start him in Triple-A signal that Baez is a part of the Cubs immediate plans even more so than we already thought. Assuming he continues to tear apart the minors the way he has thus far, Baez could now be a candidate to be called up after the passing of the Super-2 deadline, much sooner than we had previously expected. Even if he's not promoted in June, if he has even moderate success in Triple-A, it's hard to imagine the Cubs keeping him in the minors for much longer than that.