It's hard to blame Chicago Cubs fans, really.
After all, they've had to wait what is now going on 106 years for their team to win a World Series. And now that the team sports one of baseball's best farms systems, fans are more or less being told that they have to wait a little bit longer—amid what's shaping up to be a sixth straight losing season—before they get to watch any of their premier prospects make it to the North Side.
Indeed, the Cubs are overflowing with young offensive talent in the minors, including shortstop Javier Baez, second baseman Arismendy Alcantara and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. But perhaps the one prospect who has become the most eagerly anticipated to reach the Bigs is also the newest member of the bunch.
Despite being drafted No. 2 overall barely a year ago, Kris Bryant is playing so well that the fervor and expectations in Chicago are skyrocketing—rather quickly and not at all quietly—in anticipation of his looming, inevitable arrival in the major leagues.
As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune wrote this week:
...at some point, the losing at Clark and Addison needs to quit looking so tactical. At some point, the Cubs need to stop violating the basic tenets of sports that say the best players play and franchises have an obligation to put the most competitive teams on the field.
And it is almost impossible to argue that Bryant, a product of the University of San Diego who hit a whopping 31 homers on his way to winning the 2013 Golden Spikes Award as the nation's best amateur player, isn't one of the 25 best players in the Cubs organization based on his performance in his first full professional season.
Let's put the 22-year-old's 2014 numbers—all of which have been accumulated while wrecking the Double-A Southern League for the Tennessee Smokies—into a spiffy, easy-to-read table:
|Where Kris Bryant Ranks in the Southern League|
|*Minimum 100 PA|
Ummm, that's ridiculous. Not only is Bryant leading the league in just about every single offensive category, he's also well out in front in some of them. For instance, his 57 runs scored are 16 more than the next-highest total, his 84 hits are 10 more than anyone else and his 22 homers are almost twice as many as the second-place total (13).
Talk about trying to force the big league club's hand. And don't think the decision-makers haven't noticed.
Here's what general manager Jed Hoyer recently told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago: "Looking at the numbers he has put up in the month of May, it is fun. We tell every young class to go dominate (at their level), and (Bryant) is certainly doing that."
Plenty of people believe Bryant is ready—more than ready—for Chicago and that he would bring some much-needed buzz to Wrigley Field immediately. Bryant would more or less be a tangible embodiment of the promise and hope from a rebuilding process that is a handful of years in the making.
Former big league Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth, now an analyst for CSN Chicago, can be counted among that group:
My personal opinion, I'd love to see these young kids get up here and get a chance to play...You gotta learn it up here, you gotta play up here, you gotta learn if you can stand on your own two feet at the major-league level. So the sooner you get these guys going, that's when the process really starts.
Alas, it seems that none of the folks who want Bryant in the Bigs—like, now—work in the team's front office. Despite all of the above, the Cubs brass continues to insist that Bryant's ETA is a bit longer than just about every Cubs fan wants to hear.
To Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein, who are tasked with rebuilding the Lovable Losers, Bryant represents more of the future than the present. And while that's understandably frustrating for fans, it's also part of the plan, which involves bringing up this wave of elite young talent together so it can congeal into a legitimate contender, in both 2016 and beyond.
As Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune wrote this week:
The urge to promote Bryant from Tennessee to the majors would go against the patience that president Theo Epstein has stressed with the Cubs' prospects, and the early struggles of Javier Baez at Triple-A Iowa serves as evidence not to consider skipping the Triple-A level.
Plus, it's not like Bryant doesn't have elements of his game to hone. Quite often that lip-service excuse is floated out even when a top prospect's development is complete, but it is simply said so that the player's service-time clock can be started later, thus delaying free agency and/or arbitration by a year.
In Bryant's case, his defense at third base remains a work in progress; some expect that he'll eventually have to move to a corner outfield spot—in part because of what should be an overcrowding on the dirt, but also because Bryant might be better suited there.
And with all of that crazy, change-the-game-with-one-swing-of-the-bat power comes quite a lot of swing and miss. Bryant has struck out 73 times in his 278 trips to the plate this season, which translates to a 26.3 percent strikeout rate. For an advanced college hitter, a rate that high isn't damning, but it's also something that should be cleaned up while he's still in the high minors so it doesn't cause problems once he's a big leaguer.
So it remains to be seen exactly when Bryant will reach Wrigley. This coming July? During September roster expansion? On Opening Day 2015?
It also remains the decision of Epstein, Hoyer and others in charge of a franchise and a fanbase that has waited long enough to simply win again, much less win it all again.
In that sense, then, the Cubs and their fans are in the perfect position when it comes to Bryant's arrival. Waiting just so happens to be what this organization and those who obsess over it do best.
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