Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Bryant should be Cubs' starting 3B in 2014
By Jesse Rogers
Kris Bryant made an immediate impact in his debut with Class A Daytona on Tuesday, hitting a home run.
CHICAGO -- While the Chicago Cubs are being patient with their highly touted group of minor league prospects, 2013 first-round draft pick Kris Bryant should not be one of them.
If he continues this development all the way through spring training, Bryant should be the Cubs' Opening Day third baseman in 2014.
He's already creating buzz after just a few weeks as a professional, dominating low-Class A ball with a .354 batting average, a .416 on-base percentage and a huge final week in the Northwest League for the Boise Hawks. He was named player of the week after batting .529 just before being promoted to high-Class A Daytona. In his first game there Tuesday -- after most certainly a busy travel day -- he homered.
Bryant doesn't have huge holes in his swing, and he'll take his walks. He proved that both in college and in the pros so far.
But hitting home runs is what he does. After leading all college players with 31 home runs -- 10 more than the runner-up -- he's brought that power to the pros. He hit four in 65 at-bats for Boise while the team leader had seven in 173 at-bats as of Wednesday. Then came his Tuesday shot in Daytona not long after getting off the plane.
Bryant's age and experience, along with the opportunity that awaits him, are the major reasons he should win the job in 2014.
Bryant will be 22 by Opening Day next season, and he's much more seasoned than some of the other Cubs prospects. Javier Baez is still 20. Albert Almora is 19. And even though Jorge Soler is 21, he's played much less baseball over the past few years than Bryant, including this season due to injuries. Bryant played major college baseball at the University of San Diego.
And Bryant plays a position that doesn't need years of seasoning at the minor league level nor does he need to switch positions like others may have to this winter. If the Cubs get crowded at third base someday, Bryant could move to the outfield, but it was Junior Lake who made the move when they drafted Bryant, not Bryant, who is ready at third base now.
More than anything, though, the opportunity for Bryant to win the job out of spring training is realistic simply because there is no one standing in his way. Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom and the hot-hitting Donnie Murphy are holding a spot until Bryant or perhaps Mike Olt is ready.
Olt was acquired in the Matt Garza trade but was slowed by injury and an awful year in the minors. At Triple-A with Texas this year, he hit .213 with 11 home runs in 230 at-bats. After the trade, those numbers have gotten worse. He is hitting just .141 for Triple-A Iowa. Olt could rebound next spring, which would make for good competition, but Bryant is moving fast while Olt is stuck in quicksand.
Now you might think this goes against Cubs president Theo Epstein's organizational philosophy. He and general manager Jed Hoyer have stated repeatedly that they want their prospects to get the proper seasoning in the minor leagues and accomplish certain benchmarks at each level before being promoted. That doesn't have to apply to everyone, not when there is a glaring hole at a position at the major league level.
Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten recently said his team would have started the year with phenom Yasiel Puig in the majors if not for a logjam of veteran outfielders. Puig came up when there was an injury. The Cubs have no such problem. Third base is wide open. Let Bryant take his licks right away. Then come 2015, when other prospects are arriving at Wrigley Field, the hope would be that Bryant is more established and the rebuilding process is that much further along.
The only downside would come if Bryant struggles mightily. How would it affect him? If he was sent back to the minors -- more than likely his first demotion of his baseball career -- how would he handle it? There's always a risk, but people close to Bryant say he's mentally tough.
Any kind of pronouncement like this regarding a Class A player has to come with a qualifier or two. If Bryant struggles mightily the rest of this month or, more importantly, next spring, then maybe starting on Opening Day at Wrigley Field isn't the right move. But if he simply holds his own and proves in February and March that he was worthy of being the No. 2 overall draft pick, then the job should be his.
The Cubs' search for a third baseman should be over.