On Monday night, Javier Baez became just the second player in the High-A Florida State League's 95-year history to hit four home runs in a game. The Daytona Cubs shortstop went deep in all four of his at-bats against the Fort Myers Miracle, a Twins affiliate. Here's his fourth home run, which came with two outs in the seventh inning off lefty Jose Gonzalez:
The 20-year-old Baez, who was the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, was rated the 16th best prospect in baseball prior to this season by both Baseball America and MLB.com and is one of now four elite hitting prospects that the Cubs have in the low minors. The other men in that group are Baez's Daytona teammate Jorge Soler, a 21-year-old Cuban rightfielder sure to draw comparisons to Yasiel Puig, 19-year-old centerfielder Albert Almora, who is raking in the Midwest League since returning from a broken hamate bone in his left hand, and the second-overall pick in this year's draft, University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, who is actually the oldest of the bunch and could prove to be the first to make the majors.
Baez isn't expected to reach the Show until 2015, but if there were any concerns about his development after a rough introduction to the FSL late last year (he hit just .188 in 86 plate appearances), he's gone a long way toward silencing them this season. His four-homer performance on Monday lifted his season line to .291/.339/.570. His lousy walk rate, the side-effect of an overly aggressive approach at the plate, remains a significant red flag, but he's largely replicating the line he put up in A-ball as a teenager last year. The power is obviously for real, and those .290 averages looks legit, too. In 593 minor league at-bats, admittedly at the lower levels, he has hit .292/.341/.549 with 29 home runs, 91 RBIs and 32 stolen bases at an 84 percent success rate.
If all four of those players develop the way the Cubs hope, they may have something of a position crunch with shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo both 23 and signed through the 2019 season, but that would be a problem Chicago would be happy to have.
Curiously, the only other player in FSL history to hit four home runs in a game was also a member of the Daytona Cubs. Rightfielder Ryan Harvey did it on July 28, 2006, also at Daytona's Jackie Robinson Park, which is indeed a homer-friendly ballpark. Harvey was drafted sixth-overall by the Cubs in 2003 and was a top-70 prospect prior to the 2004 and 2005 seasons, but he was unable to overcome a poor plate approach. In 2006, his age-21 season, he hit just .248/.290/.432 for Daytona. Two years later, he left the Cubs as a six-year minor league free agent, and after two years with the Rockies' Double-A affiliate in Tulsa, he washed out of affiliated ball entirely. Still just 28, Harvey is now the rightfielder for the independent Atlantic League's Lancaster Barnstormers.
The last minor leaguer to hit four home runs at any level was the Syracuse Chiefs' Michael Aubrey on May 14, 2011. Aubrey is another former first-round pick (11th overall by the Indians in 2003, the same year as Harvey) and top prospect (41st overall prior to the 2005 season), but his potential was dashed by injuries. Aubrey had already had his brief taste of the majors (15 games with the Indians in 2008, 31 with the Orioles in 2009) by the time he hit his four homers for the Nationals' Triple-A team at the age of 29, and he hasn't played in organized ball in either of the last two seasons.