Chicago Cubs’ 3B prospect Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 rule 4 draft, is almost unanimously accepted by experts as baseball’s top prospect. In a world where most prospects ride one or two particularly strong aspects of their game, Bryant is a true 5-tool player.
Even with under 300 plate appearances at triple-A, it’s clear that Bryant’s skills make him major league ready. He has displayed supreme power and an advanced approach at the plate, belting 43 HR in 2014, having split service time between double-A and triple-A.
Bryant’s defensive metrics check out as well, making him stand out as a generational talent in an already stacked Chicago Cubs minor league system.
As far as prospects go, Bryant is the real deal.
It seems obvious that he’ll make his MLB debut in the coming season, but the Cubs will be careful with how they manage their prized prospect. As it is with all prospects, Bryant will begin accumulating MLB service time as soon as he makes his debut, which will affect which year he becomes a free agent. However, what makes this situation unique is it seems unlikely that Bryant will ever need to be demoted to triple-A and could have immediate impact at the major league level.
His longevity and relevance in the bigs will not be in question, and this brings up a tricky choice for the Cubs. When do you call Bryant up to the Major League squad?
As it stands now, if Bryant were to crack the big league roster right out of spring training (which is 99% unlikely), he would become a free agent in 2020 at the age of 29. This leaves him ample time in his career to score a massive free agent payday.
On the other side of the coin, the Cubs could delay his promotion and thus slow his service clock time, extending his free agency to 2021. The extra year of control could save the Cubs millions of dollars in the future, as Bryant could be a mega-star by that time.
Even MLBPA president Tony Clark said he would”pay very close attention” to Bryant’s situation, as it is the MLBPA’s job to enforce whether players are being “artificially held in the minors to manipulate service time”. Cubs’ president of baseball operations Theo Epstein then responded to the quote:
I was a little surprised,” Epstein said, soon turning sarcastic. “I haven’t talked directly to Tony about it, so I’ll withhold comment. But I didn’t know we needed players association permission to send a player to the minor leagues who’s not even on the 40-man roster and has less than 300 plate appearances at Triple-A. That’d be a new one to me.
Epstein brings up a fair point in that the Cubs are allowed to manage their assets how ever they’d like , especially one with only one full year of professional baseball experience. It seems likely that the extra year of control over Bryant is Epstein’s priority at this time, but will have a baseball related answer as to why Bryant does not crack the opening day roster.
In the mean time, Mike Olt is the current front-runner for the Cubs’ hot corner job after Luis Valbuena was traded in the off-season. He’ll be watched closely, as his performance will directly affect Bryant’s call up date. Olt had faced struggles last season, and has even had his vision brought in to question because of his poor results, but has apparently been making strides in the early sections of spring training.
Olt could make a fine stand in at 3B for the Cubs while they hold off on Bryant’s promotion, but ultimately the job belongs to Bryant in the future. Don’t be surprised to see him get some action in the outfield in an effort to acclimatize him to the bigs either.
Backed by a whack of young talent, veteran leadership, and newly acquired pitching guru Jon Lester, the Cubs will certainly be worth watching in the coming season.