Baez takes Maddon's words to heart as he prepares for 2015

Baez takes Maddon's words to heart as he prepares for 2015

MESA, Ariz. -- In January, Cubs manager Joe Maddon traveled to Puerto Rico to see Javier Baez play. The infielder wasn't doing that well, and Maddon delivered a pep talk.

"He wasn't sure if I was kind of like giving up because I was struggling," Baez said Saturday. "I was coming out to try to get better and come to work every day. He came over there, and I was trying to get better and working on my swing. He was very impressed."

Maddon told a Puerto Rico newspaper at that time that Baez didn't need to try and impress the manager during his visit.

"I said, 'Hit a couple singles, and above all, I want to see you smile,'" Maddon said.

What Maddon also emphasized to Baez, 22, besides shortening up his swing, was how to deal with 0-for-4 days when each at-bat ends with a strikeout.

"I was kind of struggling over there [in Puerto Rico] with the strikeouts, but the reason was that I was still working on my swing and trying to find some mechanics with my swing," Baez said. "Hopefully, I can keep getting better over here."

The Cubs hope playing winter ball will give Baez a head start on the 2015 season. He batted .169 over 52 games last season, with 95 strikeouts in 213 at-bats. Baez is projected as the starting second baseman, but the Cubs also have Arismendy Alcantara and Tommy La Stella on the roster.

"I know the fans and whomever are expecting a lot quickly, but I just want Javy to come out and try to get better every day and stay in the present tense in working on things," Maddon said Saturday.

Outlook: Baez, 2B, CHC

Maddon's scouting report from Puerto Rico included good footwork, lateral mobility, throwing ability, plus a "take-charge attitude" on the field. What's also encouraging is that Baez was playing second and Maddon has heard that he's an even better shortstop.

Eduardo Perez was Baez's manager there, and gave good reviews as well. It's just a matter of being patient now, Maddon said. The Cubs' manager, who has worked with a sports psychologist since the 1980s, likes to talk about how important it is to nurture the mental side of the game is. Baez is still learning.

"We were just talking more about stuff out of baseball, how to handle everything, and how to work," Baez said of his conversation.

The infielder did take a positive step this offseason physically by losing 15 pounds.

"I feel weird running, because I lost a lot of weight," Baez said. "I feel good, I feel good to go and I'm ready to go."

That's what Maddon and the Cubs want to hear.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.