Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant

Bryant ejected for first time as a pro

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
10:45
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Chicago Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant was ejected from Triple-A Iowa’s game against the Omaha Storm Chasers in the eighth inning on Tuesday night.

Bryant seemed to take issue with a called strike one, eventually striking out swinging. As he started to walk back toward the dugout, home plate umpire Chris Gonzalez threw him out of the game.

After the game, Bryant confirmed he said, “That’s on you” to the umpire before being ejected.

“I didn’t feel like I said anything to warrant that,” Bryant said. “I’m sure there were a couple pitches I could have hit to not get to that point. It was a heat-of-the-moment thing. It happens.”

Iowa manager Marty Pevey also was thrown out in coming to Bryant’s defense. At first he didn’t know that Bryant had been ejected, but as his player walked off the field, he went ballistic.

Pevey and Gonzalez went face-to-face for their argument before both Pevey and Bryant walked to the Cubs clubhouse down the left-field line.

“It was very G-rated, what he said,” Pevey said.

It was Bryant’s first professional ejection. The I-Cubs lost 7-6.

Big-hitting Bryant stays humble, unsatisfied

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
9:45
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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OMAHA, Neb. -- He’s the talk of the minor leagues this season, as he’s putting up huge numbers, but Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant doesn’t know it. Or if he does, he doesn’t care.

The third baseman is focused on two things: crushing baseballs and getting better as a defender.

“I guess it’s gone better than expected, I would say, but there are always times in the season where I felt like I could have done better,” Bryant said before Triple-A Iowa played Omaha on Tuesday. “Granted, the year I’m having so far is pretty good, but I’m just thinking back to times where there’s a runner on third, less than two outs and could have got him in. But that’s baseball. You can’t do it every time, but I just want to keep getting better.”

Bryant was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A last month, putting him one step away from the big leagues. He has to master one last level before being ready.

“Double-A off-speed stuff stays in the zone more often,” Bryant said. “Here, it goes in and out. You have to go up there with a little more focus and try and lay off those pitches. Sometimes you can’t.”

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriKris Bryant, pictured at spring training, is making a name for himself in the Cubs' farm system with 30 home runs this season.
It doesn’t hurt to have all-world, off-speed expert Manny Ramirez on the team, as Bryant has already picked his mind for how pitchers might throw to him.

Bryant hasn’t been successful every time at the plate -- it just seems like it. Between Double-A and Triple-A, he has gone two consecutive games without a hit just once all season. He hit .355 in 248 at-bats with 22 home runs for Tennessee, and he’s hitting .356 in 73 at-bats with eight home runs for Iowa heading into Tuesday’s contest. He has been a model of consistency in his first full year as a pro.

“He’s raised everybody’s level of play,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey said. “He’s been great.”

The Iowa Cubs are 13-7 since Bryant’s arrival, moving into first place in the Pacific Coast League’s American North Division. He’s a difference- maker, but his game isn’t all polished. His defense at third base needs some work before the inevitable call to the big leagues comes. That is if he stays at third base, a topic of much debate among fans.

“I definitely think it’s a challenge to stay at third base,” Bryant said. “I want to show people I can play there. Obviously, making silly errors isn’t going to help me.”

Bryant was referring to a ball that went through his legs in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Omaha Storm Chasers. His play might have been the difference in the game, as four unearned runs scored after the miscue. It was his third error for Iowa and 17th this season overall.

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McLeod: Not time to move Bryant to OF

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
10:42
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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With the addition of another highly touted infield prospect in Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs organization, vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod says it's still not time to move Triple-A slugger Kris Bryant from third base to the outfield.

The Cubs are thin in major league-ready outfielders but have plenty of infielders. That's why regular second baseman Arismendy Alcantara is playing more in center field as he did on Monday night against the Omaha Storm Chasers. Alcantara is most likely to see Wrigley Field first among the position player prospects.

Meanwhile, Bryant made his third error at Iowa on Monday and 17th overall this season on an easy ground ball through his legs that would have ended the second inning. Instead, four unearned runs were scored.

McLeod also discusses the infield/outfield situation and the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's last week.

Ramirez wants to be 'one of the guys'

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
11:07
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ESPNChicago.com Cubs beat reporter Jesse Rogers is following the Iowa Cubs this week as they take on the Omaha Storm Chasers. He reports on several of the Cubs' top prospects and their player-coach, Manny Ramirez.

OMAHA, Nebraska – If you’re still thinking the Manny Ramirez-to-Triple-A experiment is some sort of gimmick, you need to see Ramirez after two eight-hour bus rides in three days. The luxury of the major leagues -- with its chartered flights and five-star hotels -- is a distant memory. And he’s just fine with it.

“I know how to enjoy myself when I have a lot, and I know how to enjoy myself when I have less,” Ramirez said before the Iowa Cubs played the Omaha Storm Chasers on Monday after an all-night trip from Oklahoma City.

Ramirez has settled into his new gig as part-time player and full-time coach for Triple-A Iowa, and all he wants to do –- he says –- is have a positive effect.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsIowa Cubs player-coach Manny Ramirez has just as much praise for his prodigies as they do for him.
“When you help somebody and see them grow up and maybe down the road you’re going to be in your house and say, ‘Wow, I worked with this kid. Look at him now. He’s doing it.’ -- I think that’s great satisfaction,” Ramirez said.

So is he helping? You won’t find a player or coach with the Iowa Cubs who says he isn’t. A tangible example came in a game against Colorado Springs, when third base slugger Kris Bryant was getting ready to hit.

“[Manny] knew what the pitcher wanted to do,” Bryant recalled. “He told me to look for a two-seamer middle away on the first pitch. It’s exactly what he threw, and I singled to right. It was cool to see results right after what he told me.”

It’s exactly what Theo Epstein envisioned when he hired Ramirez, much to the surprise of everyone in the baseball world, including Ramirez himself.

“It was a big surprise for me and my family,” Ramirez said. “He was honest. ‘We’re not going to have playing time for you or a spot in the big leagues, but if you want to come and help out, you can.’”

More than anything, the Cubs are hoping Ramirez’s work ethic rubs off. Iowa manager Marty Pevey says the hitter with 555 career home runs is at the ballpark by 11 a.m. for night games. His routine involves plenty of swings and sometimes just watching pitches from a machine, be it 100 mph or offspeed stuff.

“Every swing he takes in the cage has a purpose behind it,” Bryant said. “It’s cool to see how he goes about it.”

Ramirez has just as much praise for his prodigies as they do for him. He says Bryant reminds him of former player Richie Sexson -- at least in stature. He says Baez has more power at 21 years old than he or even Alex Rodriguez did.

“I’ve been telling him to go up the middle,” Ramirez said. “He’s only 21. He’s starting to figure it out. And Bryant? Oh my god. He’s unbelievable. He’s a classy guy.”

After taking a moment to recall the name -- after all, he’s only been with the Iowa Cubs a short while -- Ramirez says Arismendy Alcantara is going to be a “special player.”

Ramirez cites former players such as Dave Winfield and Robbie Alomar for helping him when he was coming up. Now he’s doing the same for the Cubs’ prospects.

“I think it’s a blessing to have someone with more experiences than you go about his business,” Ramirez said. “I’ve been telling them to watch the pitcher during the game, the situation in the game. Men on base, the count. They’re not going to pitch everyone the same, but you have to be ready and have a plan.”

Ramirez has shown he has at least some life left in his bat; he’s hit a home run and collected five hits in 19 at-bats. That’s not bad for a 42-year-old who just wants to be “one of the guys.”

“It feels great to have him here,” Baez said. “We learn a lot from him. He wants to be another player -- no different. That’s how he is. He’s been a nice guy just trying to help everybody.”

Bryant added: “He’s here really early to the park, in the cage working with us. He wants to be treated like everyone else.”

Ramirez has implored the players to stay away from the performance-enhancing drugs that got him in trouble -- or anything else that might trigger a positive drug test.

“Don’t take anything that is over the counter,” he said. “There are consequences. They are all professional. They know the testing is more painful [intense] than before.”

Will they listen? Will it help if they do? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain after those long, infamous, minor league bus rides: Ramirez is here to help and be one of the guys, above all else.

“Man, I’m just like a kid here,” he said. “They don’t care about [his status]. We just joke around all day. I enjoy every day, on the bus or at the stadium. That’s what I do.”

Russell debuts; Soler, Bryant, Baez homer

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
8:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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As former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija was making his debut for the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, so was the key player the Cubs got in return in the weekend trade for the All-Star right-hander.

Addison Russell went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts for Double-A Tennessee, while Cuban slugger Jorge Soler returned from a hamstring injury to belt a home run in the Smokies' 9-1 victory over Birmingham.

Batting third and playing shortstop, the 20-year-old Russell came to the plate several times with men on base but failed to drive any in. He was acquired Friday night along with pitcher Dan Straily and minor league outfielder Bill McKinney in exchange for Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel.

Soler followed Russell in the order, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs, including his first home run of the season in the sixth inning. Soler has been limited to eight games this season, spending most of the spring and summer in Arizona rehabbing two different hamstring injuries.

At Triple-A Iowa, meanwhile, both Kris Bryant and Javier Baez went deep in the Iowa Cubs' 5-4 victory over Oklahoma City. Bryant hit his eighth home run at Triple-A and 30th overall in the minors this season one day after being named the Cubs' minor league player of the month for June. Baez, who has picked up his game again since Bryant's arrival, went deep for the 13th time this season. Manny Ramirez also went 2-for-4 in the game.

Pitcher Kyle Hendricks was pulled from that game after two innings in anticipation of his major league debut later this week. The Cubs have already announced that lefty Tsuyoshi Wada will start Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds as the Cubs look to fill the rotation spots vacated by Samardzija and Hammel.

Righty Dallas Beeler made his major league debut last week, which means that, in less than two weeks, the Cubs will have seen three pitchers make their first starts in the bigs.

Cubs' sell-off (almost) over

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
3:30
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Addison RussellMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesWill the acquisition of Addison Russell mark the end of the Cubs' run as sellers at the trade deadline?
Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein chooses his words carefully, and just hours after making a July 4 blockbuster deal that sent popular pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for younger prospects, he declared this might be the last time the Cubs are sellers.

“We talked a lot about that internally as we went through this process,” Epstein said Saturday in a conference call with reporters. “We certainly hope this is the last year we’ll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline. Nothing would make us happier than being in the position that Oakland is in.”

Boom. Finally, a statement of progress in regards to the Cubs contending. He didn’t say those words last July or certainly not the July before that, but Epstein is just about out of veterans to trade, and fans are just about out of patience.

“Being sellers is not what we want to do, so if we’re going to do it, we need to make it count,” he said in acquiring Addison Russell and Bill McKinney from the Athletics. “We need to get a player back that significantly impacts the organization. Helps change the landscape, helps make our future a heck of a lot better.”

That player is Russell, who joins Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara as the next wave of infield prospects. Russell was ranked higher than any of those players by ESPN.com heading into the season. A hamstring injury has limited him, but the talent is still there.

“He’s a two-way player with tremendous instinct,” Epstein said. “His natural swing is geared toward right-center field, and he can hit that direction with power.”

This deal may not happen without the “shift” in baseball, according to Epstein. Hitting is becoming a rarer commodity, while pitching is making a resurgence around the league. The subtraction of performance-enhancing drugs has changed the landscape. The Cubs are gobbling up the most-wanted commodity and will eventually have to do what the Athletics just did -- acquire pitching when they’re in a pennant race.

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For Bryant, Ramirez an idol and role model

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
7:31
PM CT
By T.J. Rushing
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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DES MOINES, Iowa — Although he was raised in Las Vegas, current Iowa Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant grew up a Boston Red Sox fan.

Now, with the recent arrival of Red Sox great Manny Ramirez at the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A affiliate as a player-coach, Bryant has a hero to hang with.

“When he was coming into Colorado for the first game [with Iowa], I looked up his career highlights on YouTube, and there’s so many good memories of him,” said Bryant, who has put up eye-popping numbers of his own this year in the minor leagues. “I grew up watching the Red Sox -- they were my favorite team -- and to watch him in the World Series and all the good and the bad times with him, it’s just been great.”

When Ramirez was with the Red Sox from 2001 to 2008, Bryant was between the ages of 9 and 16.

“It’s just surreal, you don’t really grow up thinking that you're going to play with a guy like Manny Ramirez, but it’s been really cool so far,” said Bryant, noting he and Ramirez are actually similar hitters.

“I had a lot of favorite players growing up, but he was definitely one that I liked to watch," the 22-year-old said. "He was a right-handed hitter, I’m a right-handed hitter, and he hits for a lot power, and that’s kind of my game too. He was definitely a guy I grew up watching.”

At 2014 midpoint, still about the prospects

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Dallas Beeler, John BakerAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh"You feel you're watching future Hall of Famers," Dallas Beeler said of his Iowa teammates.
CHICAGO -- The first scheduled Sunday off for the Chicago Cubs in 82 years comes one game before the midway point of the season. Their record is about the same as this juncture last year, but is the feeling different?

It is when you consider that Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are having All-Star-type seasons, as both entered with their doubters. Their resurgence alone gives better hope for the Cubs' future -- something you couldn’t say a year ago. All the hype we keep hearing about the farm system is on the verge of paying off. Or at least it’s on the verge of showing us what the prospects are all about.

No, we won’t see Kris Bryant at Wrigley Field this year, and there’s a chance we won’t see Javier Baez either. That’s all right. As has been said many times, no player’s development was ever hurt by spending too much time in the minors. And we are at least finally getting to see some of the fruits of the Cubs' labor down there. If you had 41st-round pick Dallas Beeler making his debut before some of the other, more heralded prospects, you knew something the rest of us didn’t.

It was one start on one afternoon, which he didn’t even win, but Beeler was a sign of hope Saturday when he gave up one unearned run over six innings in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old right-hander is the first of a slew of names that will be here soon enough.

“They’re good,” Beeler said of his teammates at Triple-A Iowa. “They’re good. It’s fun to pitch behind them, knowing you have that good of players in the field, and when they come up to bat, there’s always that chance for that big surprise. You never know when it’s going to come, but it comes often.”

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant and Theo Epstein
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTheo Epstein looks to have hit gold with Kris Bryant, but Cubs fans will have to wait for next year to see the young slugger.
Glad Beeler said that, because whenever you overly praise prospects, you feel a little silly. So many players have had success in the minors only to fail in the majors. Many have played for the Cubs. But there is at least one who has a different feel than the rest. Bryant is a franchise-changing player in the making. Now I feel a little silly.

Beeler played with Bryant in the Arizona Fall League and at Triple-A Iowa, where the third baseman picked up where he left off in Double-A: smashing baseballs.

“Awesome,” Beeler said. “They're excellent players, unbelievable ballplayers. You can't put into words. You feel you're watching future Hall of Famers when you see them play.”

That kind of sounds like he’s talking about one player in particular. Baez might not have that same feel he had when he was ripping it up in spring training, but Bryant certainly does. And don’t forget about 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. Cubs president Theo Epstein sounds even higher on him than he was on Bryant last year at this time. If Bryant is Epstein's Jacoby Ellsbury, then Schwarber might be his Dustin Pedroia. The straw that stirs the entire clubhouse. And Beeler isn’t even the most touted pitching prospect. That could go to Arodys Vizcaino or Kyle Hendricks.

What does all this mean? Not much for the Cubs in the coming second half, but hopefully for next year and beyond. As noted in this blog, the Cubs' turnaround won’t look as gradual as it really is. Ninety losses will turn into 90 wins quickly -- if things go right.

“There’s been parity for a number of years,” Epstein said. “Once the television numbers got into the game, [it] allowed the smaller markets to tie up their young talent, some of the [collective bargaining agreement] changes. You’ve seen increased parity in the league.”

That means the Cubs can pull off what the Milwaukee Brewers are doing right now. Or the Toronto Blue Jays. Or the Seattle Mariners. But unlike those teams -- potentially -- the Cubs plan on sticking around for a number of years instead of getting that one- or two-season surge. The rebuild has been slow, but contending might not be. Yes, the Cubs will have to spend money like those other clubs have, but one headache at time.

So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, the Cubs will have to settle for competing in the minors. Triple-A Iowa has been on a streak since you-know-who arrived and are closing in on first place in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division. The Cubs were pleased their top guns got a chance to feel playoff baseball at Single-A Daytona last year, when it won the Florida State League championship.

Now it might be Iowa’s turn. At that point, several apprenticeships should be complete -- or close to it. So take a deep breath and allow Epstein to work his July magic one more time.

You’ve always got Iowa to follow.

“The locker room is always positive,” Beeler said. “It’s a good team down there.”

That will do for now.

Bryant, Baez named to Futures Game

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
7:24
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
ESPNChicago.com
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Javier Baez and Kris BryantUSA Today Sports, Getty ImagesShortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant will represent the Cubs in Minneapolis.
CHICAGO –- The Futures Game rosters were announced Tuesday, and two Chicago Cubs prospects headline a loaded field of minor league talent. Third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez, his teammate at Triple-A Iowa, earned the honor for the Cubs.

"That's got to be one of the biggest honors of my baseball career so far," Bryant said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "Just to be considered a future star in this game is very humbling and I really can't wait to share that game with Javy and it should be a fun couple of days for us."

Bryant was promoted to Iowa this past week and has already managed to hit five home runs (with a robust .952 slugging percentage) in just six games. Bryant merited the call-up after putting up a .355/.458/.702 line with 22 home runs and 20 doubles in 68 games in Double-A. The flaws in the tall slugger’s game are his questionable defense at third and his high strikeout rate (he has 86 over two levels this season), but he more than makes up for those with his elite power.

Although the strikeouts will likely always be part of his game, many talent evaluators believe the combination of Bryant’s makeup, work ethic and advanced approach at the plate will mitigate those issues and help him adjust more quickly than the average talent as he makes his way to the big leagues.

After tearing through two levels this past season, Baez has struggled at Triple-A this season. He is hitting just .229 with only 18 walks, compared to 91 strikeouts. Even with the slow start, however, Baez, who might be the best power hitter in the minor leagues, does have 11 home runs and is slugging a respectable .424. After suffering a rough first 29 games, in which he posted a line of .145/.230/255 while striking out in 36.9 percent of his at-bats, Baez has slowly started to turn things around.

In his past 37 games, Baez is still striking out a lot (31.1 percent of the time), but when he has made contact, he has done damage, and he has delivered a strong .894 OPS with eight of his home runs in that span. Although it’s his elite bat speed and awe-inspiring home run power that should carry him to the majors, Baez continues to hone his aggressive approach. With Triple-A pitchers unwilling to throw him fastballs in the zone, the young shortstop is starting to learn to wait for his pitch, instead of chasing and trying to send every offering 500 feet.

Baez will play for the World team, while Bryant will represent Team USA. Both managed to find themselves in the top 10 of Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list earlier this month.

Also considered likely to represent the Cubs were second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, who has recently seen some time in the outfield, and pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Both are having strong seasons at Triple-A and could make an appearance at Wrigley in the second half of the season (as could Baez). However, the star power provided by Baez and Bryant was clearly too much to pass up.

The Futures Game will be held Sunday, July 13, at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Promotions (generally) come with walks

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
7:46
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – As Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant tears up Triple-A pitching after doing the same in Double-A, the question is going to come up more and more: When is the right time to bring him, or any prospect, up to the majors?

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein declared last week he couldn’t “foresee” a scenario where Bryant would make it to the big club this season. But based on the team’s own logic about young players, perhaps he’ll reconsider. That and the fact Bryant has four home runs for Iowa already.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant has 43 walks to 85 strikeouts this season -- a solid ratio by today's standards.
“Sometimes there is a rush,” Epstein said. “You take a guy that is still young for his level at Triple-A and he starts to produce decent numbers. Then I see people speculate, ‘Oh, he should be up here, he can help now,’ but you have to look beneath the surface a little bit. If a player [for example] is still struggling with off-speed pitches but he manages to put up respectable numbers, it might not be the right time for him to come up here and all of a sudden get abused by those pitches and have it set back his development. It’s not so much the production as it is where they are on the learning curve with their greatest issues.”

That makes sense. Then Epstein explained the simple metric the Cubs look at most.

“A lot of time you can get clued into that by looking at their walk rate and their strikeout rate,” he said. “If a guy isn’t doing a nice job controlling the strike zone ... if they haven’t mastered that in Triple-A, it might not be the right time for him to come up here. It all depends on the individual, but just because a player is having some statistical success at Triple-A doesn’t mean we’re in a rush to promote him, especially if they are young for their level.”

Epstein didn’t name names, but he easily could have been referring to top Triple-A prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara. At .226 with just 11 home runs, shortstop Baez isn’t having much statistical success -- and his walk-to-strikeout rate isn’t hiding some underlying positive season. He's taken just 16 free passes while striking out 91 times -- a walk for about every 5.5 strikeouts. That doesn’t scream command of the zone.

Second baseman Alcantara is a more subtle case because there are plenty of good numbers in his offensive game this season at Iowa. He’s hitting .286, has 10 triples and a .843 OPS. Not bad for a middle infielder. But the Cubs front office won’t like his 69 strikeouts to just 19 walks. It’s not as bad as Baez, but it might be holding Alcantara back from a promotion.

Then there’s Bryant. Compared to Baez and Alcantara, he’s ready for the majors now. Between Double- and Triple-A this season, he has 43 walks and 85 strikeouts. For the best power hitter in the minors through the first half, those numbers are respectable. If he can keep his rate at less than two strikeouts for every walk, Bryant will be on his way. Remember, baseball has changed over the years. Strikeouts are more acceptable now.

“Hitters are going to strike out,” Epstein said. “That’s just modern baseball. Most hitters strike out 20 percent of the time now, which was unheard of when we all started. That’s the way it is now.”

And as the book “Moneyball” showed, walks are more in the spotlight now, too. If the walks don’t come with the strikeouts, then a promotion isn’t coming, either.

Bryant unlikely to join Cubs this season

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
3:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Just days after promoting Kris Bryant from Double-A to Triple-A, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein all but shut the door on a major league promotion for Bryant this season.

"I don't foresee a scenario where he would be up this year," Epstein said Friday before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I don't think it's the right thing to do in someone's first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances, both in terms of the player and what's going on with the big league team."

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant has 32 home runs in his first 105 minor league games.
So the door isn't completely shut, but after just 105 professional games for Bryant, the Cubs aren't in any hurry to see him take that last step. Then again, in those 105 games, he has 32 home runs -- including one in one game at Triple-A -- and 92 RBIs while hitting a composite .347.

"He accomplished a lot of the developmental goals we set out for him at Double-A," Epstein said. "We felt like a promotion to Triple-A to continue to challenge him would be good for him in the long run. He still has some things to work on, but seeing some more advance pitching ... will be good for him. It's the next step in his development.

"It would be a tremendous accomplishment to dominate Double-A, then go to Triple-A and continue his development and stay healthy all year and be productive all year. If we can look back and say he did all those things in his first pro season, we would be thrilled."

As for Bryant's defensive position, he'll remain at third base for the time being, where he's made 20 errors in 99 games over two summers. Epstein indicated a position switch would be based on the needs of the Cubs at the time. Right field would be a possibility.

Epstein also said that 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber will play mostly in the outfield this summer, although he was a catcher in college. Schwarber was promoted to Single-A Kane County earlier this week.

"We'll have him see a lot of time in left field, have him catch about once a week, maybe twice a week, DH some so we can keep his bat in the lineup," Epstein said. "We'll sit down at the end of the minor league season and see whether that's an appropriate time to make a [position] call."

The Cubs love Schwarber's bat. In his first five games as a professional, he hit three home runs for the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League before being moved up. His bat might tell the story of where he plays, considering a catcher takes more time to get to the major leagues due to defensive responsibilities.

"If we decide he looks good in left field, and his development path with the bat might be so fast that there's not going to be time for the defense behind the plate to catch up, then we might even go in another direction and be a candidate for the [Arizona] Fall League like Bryant was last year," Epstein said.

Prospect Bryant homers in debut -- again

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:25
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant did it again.

Bryant
After hitting a home run in his Single-A Daytona debut last season, his first game in the Arizona Fall League, his first Cactus League game in spring training and his debut this season for Double-A Tennessee, Bryant went deep to right field for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday night, one day after being promoted.

The Iowa Cubs won 6-2 over El Paso while the No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft went 1-for-4 with his 23rd home run of the season on a 3-2 count. The first 22 were hit for Double-A Tennessee.

"I went up there thinking I was due," Bryant told reporters. "I haven't hit one in a while."

Bryant won the Southern League home run derby Monday before his promotion to Triple-A. At the time of his promotion, Bryant led the Southern League in every major offensive category, including batting average, home runs and RBIs.

Bryant batted fifth on Thursday, two spots behind 2011 top pick Javier Baez, who went 1-for-3 with a walk. Baez hit 37 home runs last season combined between Single-A and Double-A. Bryant is on pace to surpass that mark between Double-A and Triple-A. Baez has just 11 this season with a .217 batting average.

The Iowa Cubs are 36-35 in the Pacific Coast League, 3.5 games out of first place in the American North Division.

Cubs a phone call away from real progress

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
1:29
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- As days go for the Chicago Cubs and their fan base, Wednesday was one of the good ones, and not just because they won their second consecutive road series while completing a long trip with a 5-5 record.

The bigger steps in the rebuilding organization came when they promoted slugger Kris Bryant, along with pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero, to Triple-A Iowa. A smaller step happened the day before when 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber was sent to Class A Kane County after ripping up Northwest League pitching for a few days.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
AP Photo/Tony FarlowKris Bryant made quick work of Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs are on the move, but when it has a real effect in the major league standings is still anyone's guess. Javier Baez, Bryant, Vizcaino and others are just a phone call away from making it to Wrigley Field, and that's when the real progress begins. Could we see any of them in the majors before year's end? At the very least, the answer is a fluid one.

The only drawback to a Baez and Bryant September call-up involves service time. A player who accrues 172 days on the 25-man roster during the season uses up a year toward free agency. There's about 183 days in a baseball season, so a team can avoid using up a year by calling up a player a few weeks into the season. The Houston Astros took this approach with prospect George Springer this season.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a similiar path, as he accrued just fewer than 172 days of service after his first two call-ups in the majors, once for the San Diego Padres in 2011 and once for the Cubs in 2012. The Cubs also avoided Super Two status with him by calling him up in late June 2012. Teams can avoid arbitration for three years instead of two by calling a player up by a deadline that typically falls in late June or early July.

The details aren't as important as knowing this: If the Cubs want to save money down the line and still call them up in September, then they'll need to tack on those days to playing time in the minor leagues next season, unless the Cubs simply plan on starting them out of spring training, and that's not likely.

For example, 22 days of time in the big leagues this year basically means 22 more days in the minors next year to avoid a year toward free agency and/or Super Two status. It might be worth it, as the Cubs could leave a player such as Bryant in the minors for that long anyway. If both Baez and Bryant are actually going to break camp with the Cubs next spring, then getting them a cup of coffee with the team this season makes sense because service time won't matter. Most likely you'll see both next season, but not out of the gate.

However, team sources indicate the recent promotions aren't part of some long-term plan that was locked in months ago. Yes, the Bryant promotion made sense as the Southern League took its All-Star break, but Schwarber and Bryant were on track to spend more time on their respective teams.

The Cubs had obviously changed their minds when they concluded there was little more Schwarber needed to do to get his timing down while playing for the Class A Boise Hawks, so he got promoted after just a few days. And Bryant long ago proved he needed a bigger challenge than Double-A pitching, leading the Southern League in batting average (.355), home runs (22), RBIs (58), on-base percentage (.458) and slugging (.702).

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So even if the Cubs aren't planning a call-up for their major prospects, it doesn't mean they can't change their minds. That's assuming performance dictates a promotion, of course. Bryant, in particular, has proven to be a fast learner. If his history has shown anything, it's that he'll have an adjustment period at Iowa, then once again prove he's a special hitter by turning the tables on Triple-A pitching.

If individual prospects are being dubbed as saviors, then Bryant is the face of the movement right now. His ability, work ethic and attitude are unmatched in the Cubs organization, and he could be the next great player in the major leagues. Of course, Baez was thought of in similar fashion until his struggles in Iowa this season so Bryant has one more thing to prove.

A reliever such as Vizcaino or a starter such as Kyle Hendricks are more likely to see the major leagues sooner rather than later. Impending trades should open a few spots on the staff, and a player such as Vizcaino was only really in the minors to get innings in after missing so much time with arm injuries. His sub-2.00 ERA this season combined with his electric arm screams another promotion before season's end. Hendricks might simply get a chance because he's next up among those getting ready to make their debuts.

Yes, Wednesday was a good day, but minor league promotions should never be the headline-makers they are for the Cubs. The next time the Cubs make that kind of news should finally have a real effect on the long-term plan because we'll see some of these players at Wrigley Field.

Then we'll really start to find out if the front office has chosen the right talent for their infamous rebuilding strategy. Until then, they're just minor league players, as much as they do generate headlines.

Bucs' phenom debuts; Cubs wait on theirs

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
PITTSBURGH -- He popped out to short in his first major league at-bat on Tuesday night, but that didn’t stop Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Gregory Polanco from getting a nice hand from the fans.

[+] EnlargeGregory Polanco
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar While Pirates phenom Gregory Polanco made his debut Tuesday, Cubs fans will have to wait patiently for Kris Bryant.
First came a standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box, then another round of applause as he headed back to the dugout. He also got cheers when he made his first routine catch on a fly ball to right field by Chicago Cubs infielder Darwin Barney in the second inning.

This is what bringing up a heralded player looks and sounds like for the Pirates faithful, who have been waiting for Polanco to help their underachieving team this season. He was hitting .347 at Triple-A Indianapolis when he was called up to replace the ailing Neil Walker late Monday night.

The Cubs' fan base is waiting anxiously for their version of Polanco, but there will be no dramatic Wrigley arrival, despite the pleas of the diehards. Not yet, at least.

“We’re aware of it,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said before Polanco’s debut, which saw the Cubs beat the Pirates 7-3. “We’re aware of the passion. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative. We have to continue to work to make the right decisions for the organization. Logical, rationale, and that’s not always the way fans want us to go about it.”

That sounds a lot like Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer. Huntington said “emotion” needs to be removed when making “these kinds of decisions.”

Indeed, the problem many Cubs fans have in regard to their own stud prospect -- in this case, Double-A third baseman Kris Bryant -- is that emotion already has been removed. Logic, not emotion, suggests a man that leads a league in all offensive categories needs a promotion.

“I want to see Bryant when he’s ready to be seen,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “I’m not going to base our thinking on what other people are doing.”

So no matter how many prospects make it to the big leagues in winning or losing situations, don’t expect it to have much effect on the Cubs' thinking. George Springer of Houston, Oscar Tavares of St. Louis and Polanco are just a few names that have made it to the show this year. Bryant isn’t expected to be one of them.

A trip to Triple-A Iowa is about as far as Bryant will go this season, and that’s not likely to happen for another month.

“Maybe it’s time to get him out of Knoxville and a little closer to Des Moines, but the good thing about being a player is it's always in your hands,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said of Bryant. “When you master one level, you’re ready for the next one.”

No one had an answer for when mastering a level has been accomplished. If .357, 22 home runs and 55 RBIs in 63 games isn’t mastering it, what is?

“It’s not my decision to make,” Anthony Rizzo said. “I don’t know when guys are ready and when they’re not.”

Rizzo took the diplomatic approach, but he’s on record for moving guys up quickly if they prove themselves. He didn’t like being artificially held back for financial reasons, and, besides, the Cubs could use the help.

Samardzija was diplomatic about it, as well. He was asked if Bryant should skip Double-A and come right to the majors.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsCubs prospect Kris Bryant has dominated at Double-A but but doesn't appear close to a promotion to Triple-A Iowa.
“Probably not,” Samardzija said. “He hasn’t been here [in the organization] that long. I know Starlin Castro did it and had success early, but every situation is different.”

Huntington said weighing the needs of the team and the athlete play a part in the decision, and the team won out when they called Polanco up. But he claims the Pirates didn’t want to make the move. There was more learning to be done and they might need Polanco in Pittsburgh much more than the Cubs need Bryant right now.

“One of the best attributes for decision-makers in sports is patience,” Huntington said. “Patience to stay with a guy when he’s struggling a little bit, patience to stay even-keeled when a guy is going through the roof.

“Performance spikes -- good or bad -- shouldn’t drive our decisions. That’s very hard to do. Especially when you’re losing. We felt the pressure in ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, and we feel it again now.

“You can’t rush this process,” Huntington continued. “You can expedite it to an extent, but you can’t rush this process.”

The difference with the Cubs is they don’t have players clogging things up in front of Bryant, or even Javier Baez, once they move him off shortstop. There are jobs just waiting for them.

Renteria wasn’t sure what’s easier for a heralded rookie, breaking in with a team in contention -- like Polanco is with the Pirates -- or when there is no real pressure to help win games, as when Bryant or Baez will appear.

“In either case, when a young player comes to the big leagues, I don’t think he’s thinking about whether their team is in contention or not,” Renteria said. “The initial response is, ‘I’m really happy to be in the big leagues.’”

That was the exact feeling Renteria had when he broke in with the Pirates as a first-round choice in 1986. The difference is he came up in September and Barry Bonds, among others, had come up earlier that season. Renteria flew under the radar. Bryant and Baez won’t.

The bottom line when it comes to Bryant is different from any other prospect the Cubs employ -- and likely different from most in the game, including Polanco. Consider:

He’s more mature and smarter about his own game than any of them. His presence would cause the same kind of stir that Polanco has created in Pittsburgh and Springer is stirring up in Houston. If there was any player that could deal with the ups and downs and come out better for it, it’s Bryant.

“Without a doubt,” Samardzija said. “Any time you bring a guy up that has impact, he makes a difference. We’ve seen that a little bit with Neil Ramirez even.”

With all due respect to Ramirez -- who has a live arm -- home runs will energize a team a lot more than a nice slider. Bryant is that guy. The Cubs want him to struggle in the minors so he won’t have to struggle as much in the majors. That doesn’t seem to be happening in Double-A.

“Never struggling is always a good big league plan if you ask me,” Samardzija joked. “That’s tough to do. Last thing you want is have a kid over the level that he’s at though.”

So the waiting game continues while other cities celebrate their prospects’ arrivals. Patience is the word of the moment for this Cubs franchise. But you knew that already.

“Fans don’t want to hear about patience, they want to hear about wins,” Huntington said. “But this isn’t like other sports. One or two players can’t take a bad team and make them good.”

Draft 'a good couple days' for Cubs

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
8:32
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Jeff SamardzijaBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesJeff Samardzija allowed two runs in seven innings Saturday as the Cubs' win streak hit five.

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs have put together a nice five-game winning streak -- Saturday's 5-2 defeat of the Miami Marlins the latest in that string -- and earned their third and fourth series victories of the season in the process. They’re getting strong starting pitching; their young, powerful bullpen arms have delivered impressive performances; and the offense has given the fans some excitement with a pair of walk-off wins.

However, the focus this weekend wasn’t on the suddenly strong play of the big league club. A Cubs organization that is still squarely focused on the future wrapped up 40 rounds of the draft Saturday afternoon, the first 10 of which might turn out being one of the stronger in all of baseball.

Scouting director Jason McLeod seemed pleased with how things turned out.

“It’s been a good couple days for us,” McLeod said. “We’re excited about the guys we were able to draft over these three days. We felt [Friday] we were able to get some high-upside, talented, young high school pitchers mixed in with the college group that we did. I said a couple days ago that we were going to make a run on pitching and certainly we’ve done that.”

The Cubs used eight of the first 10 selections on pitchers and at one point drafted nine consecutive arms. Many expected the run on pitching heading into the draft; the surprise was the selection of Kyle Schwarber, a catcher out of Indiana University, with the fourth overall pick.

It was suggested that the Cubs made the pick with the intention of signing Schwarber under his slot value while targeting a high-upside, over-slot high school arm in the second round. While Schwarber will likely come at a discount, the Cubs were adamant that the pick was made based on talent and not financials. However, they were certainly high on polished high schooler Jack Flaherty, but the Cardinals selected the California right-hander with the 34th pick. Unfazed, the Cubs quickly changed directions and took senior Jake Stinnett out of the University of Maryland with their second-round pick.

Normally in the draft, when a college senior is chosen, it’s assumed that the pick was made so the team could save some money and redistribute those funds toward other selections. However, Stinnett is a rare case.

“He was an athletic kid who was a conversion -- he went into Maryland as a third baseman/pitcher,” McLeod said. “So he doesn’t actually have as many innings under his belt as a lot of college pitchers do. This year was actually his first full season as a starting pitcher and he goes out and leads the ACC in strikeouts, big-time ground-ball rate, throws a lot of strikes. He’s already a physical guy that’s athletic and he’s a younger kid, for a fourth-year player in college, he’s actually at junior-age, he’s only 21. We felt all of those things lead to someone who’s still on the rise as a pitcher.”

[+] EnlargeKyle Schwarber
Larry Goren/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKyle Schwarber appears headed for a corner-outfield spot when he enters the professional ranks after playing catcher and outfield at Indiana.
Chicago's focus on high-upside high school arms began in the fourth round with the selection of lefty Carson Sands. The Cubs tabbed another lefty in Justin Steele in fifth and right-handed fireballer Dylan Cease in the sixth. All three were rated higher than where they ended up being selected, with Cease possibly the best of the bunch, with a fastball that touches 97 and a solid curveball and changeup.

When picking high school players who fall in the draft due to contract demands, there’s always a concern about whether they’ll end up signing. Not only would failing to sign a player mean a wasted pick, but any player chosen in the first 10 rounds has a specific amount of money tied to his draft position. If such a players goes unsigned, the team loses both the player and its slot money, meaning the club won’t be able to redistribute those funds toward other picks.

“These are kids that were rated very highly and had strong college commitments,” McLeod said. “But, through the due diligence of our scouts -- communication [is important], certainly in this system of the draft, you have a pool of money, you have to work hard to make sure it fits within the parameters. And we did and we feel like we got three talented young players that we think we’ll be able to sign.”

Cease missed most of the season after suffering an elbow injury and opted to have platelet-rich plasma injections rather than surgery. However, McLeod said the team believes he’ll likely have to undergo some surgical procedure, possibly Tommy John, and made the pick with that in mind.

“We also know that coming into the year he was arguably a top-15-type pick in the draft,” McLeod said. “Where we were in that area of the draft, we felt that looking at who we selected, if we use our money wisely it's an opportunity there to hit real big. We know that there's risk, he's a high school right-hander, will probably have to have some sort of procedure on his arm. But to get that kind of talented player in the sixth round, we certainly felt it was worth it.”

McLeod also appeared quite optimistic that the Cubs would be able to sign their 22nd-round pick, Joey Martarano, a third baseman with huge power, who plays football at Boise State.

“We're going to make a good run at him,” McLeod said of Martarano, who is slated to be a redshirt freshman linebacker in the 2014 season. “It's a different situation there in that they don't have baseball at that school, but he is a guy that was well-known on the amateur circuit in high school because he's so strong, physical, right-handed power. That one actually is one that we're going to try. It might be a situation where he plays football still and goes down and plays baseball in the summer.”

The selections of Martarano and Cease, along with the other high school arms, were all made possible by the fact that the Cubs took Schwarber and Stinnett early. However, McLeod reiterated that they didn’t reach for either, particularly Schwarber. McLeod surprised many Thursday when he said the powerful lefty was second on their draft board behind No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken.

“I’ve always said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that certainly holds true in the draft,” McLeod said. “There may have been teams that had Kyle Schwarber 10th or 15th on their list, but, like I said, he was No. 2 on ours. You do your work on the signability, for sure, and what you think a player will sign for, you have those kinds of discussions. But that’s not what’s going to be the determining factor for us on where we’re going to place a guy on the board or if we’ll pick him.”

Despite being pretty athletic for his 240-pound build, it’s likely Schwarber will have to move from behind the plate and into a corner outfield spot, with left field being the probable destination. After selecting Schwarber on Thursday, McLeod admitted that he might move quickly through the system, but cautioned about setting expectations too high.

“I think Kris Bryant has set the bar high and really we need to step back and look at some reality,” McLeod said after Thursday’s first round. “I don’t want people think he’s going to be in double-A, doing what Kris is doing, this time next year. But we do feel, with his profile and the way that he handles himself as a hitter, that he can move pretty quickly.”

Bryant, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, continues to light up the Southern League and went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and a walk Saturday, bringing his season line up to an eye-popping .353/.460/.701.

Despite their recent winning ways, Jeff Samardzija, who tossed seven strong innings in Saturday’s victory over the Marlins, and the rest of the big league Cubs aren’t bothered that the attention appears to be focused on the kids. In fact, they look forward to the day when guys like Schwarber and Bryant get to Wrigley nearly as much as the fans.

“I think we all know what we have coming in the minor leagues and I think everyone’s excited to show what they have,” Samardzija said. “Then when they start coming, we’re all a part of it. That’s what everyone wants. You don’t want to put all this hard work in and battle to where we’ve been to where we are now with help coming, then not be a part of it. So everybody’s excited and is just ready to keep this going.”

While he took an optimistic tone Saturday, it’d be an upset if Samardzija is around when the kids arrive, as many expect him to be dealt this summer. However, with the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro producing at a high level, there appears to be some legit talent at the big league level for the kids coming through the system to complement.

And though the Cubs still sit nine games below .500 and near the bottom of the National League, a five-game winning streak and a fruitful draft left many pointing toward a future that could be bright sooner rather than later at Wrigley Field.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Starlin Castro
BA HR RBI R
.280 11 52 41
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 20
RBIS. Castro 52
RA. Rizzo 59
OPSA. Rizzo .892
WJ. Hammel 8
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104