No surprise: Bryant ranked No.1 among prospects

CHICAGO -- Adding to an already impressive amateur and minor league resume, Kris Bryant was ranked No. 1 in ESPN.com’s annual preseason prospect player rankings released on Thursday.

Bryant moved up from No. 15 in 2014 after taking home minor league player of the year honors with a combined slash line of .325/.438/.661/1.098 split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He hit 43 home runs and drove in 110, vaulting him to the top spot. He and the Cubs are committed to him playing third base right now, despite a 6-5 frame that might be best suited for the outfield.

“I think he’ll be able to play third,” ESPN.com prospect expert Keith Law said. “He’s a better athlete than people give him credit for. He was an adequate high school shortstop. He can handle third. He’s never going to be Adrian Beltre but you never need him to be.”

Law released his Top 100 player rankings one day after declaring the Cubs have the best farm system in the game, in part, because of Bryant. Other top 100 prospects employed by the Cubs include Addison Russell who ranks No. 4 on the list, while outfielder Jorge Soler comes in at No. 14. First round pick of 2014, Kyle Schwarber, ranks No. 90 in his first appearance on the list. Law isn’t convinced Schwarber will be a major league catcher, though he agrees with the strategy of trying him there.

“If I was them I would have done the exact same thing, but I think there’s a 10 percent chance he catches in the majors,” Law said.

Absent from the list in 2015 are Cubs’ prospects Albert Almora and CJ Edwards. Both cracked the top 100 last year but Almora fell out after ranking 28th while Edwards was 67th in 2014. Almora walked just 14 times in 508 at-bats last season split between Single-A and Double-A, giving Law some doubts. The Cubs say they tried to make some adjustments early in the season with him -- not unlike Starlin Castro the previous year –- but things didn’t click. He did show more pop, producing nine home runs and 60 RBIs. Meanwhile, Law doesn’t view Edwards as anything more than a bullpen arm after an injury-plagued year, though he did pitch well in limited innings in the Arizona Fall League.

Bryant and Russell remain the key prospects with the former likely to make his major league debut early in 2015. Law projects 30 home run and .400 on-base potential for him while “challenging for MVP awards once he has a few years in the majors.” Bryant won top collegiate player at the University of San Diego in 2013 before ripping up low minor league pitching during the summer. That fall he won Arizona Fall League MVP and then he was named minor league Player of the Year in his first full season as a professional in 2014.

Russell ranks high despite an injury-plagued year which limited him to 68 games. Still, Law writes Russell is a “true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at shortstop.”

Bryant and Russell are expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa while Soler is slated as the Opening Day right fielder. Schwarber’s first full year as a pro will most likely begin at Double-A Tennessee alongside Almora and Edwards.