Kris Bryant, Third Baseman/Outfielder, Chicago Cubs
2014 season (Minors): 138 G, 492 AB, .325 BA, 43 HR, 110 RBI, 15 SB, 1.098 OPS
It doesn’t take much to explain to someone just how good Kris Bryant is. One look at his 2014 Minor League numbers will drop jaws. And then there’s this unbelievable spring training where he hit a Major League-leading nine home runs in 14 spring games.
After leading the Minor Leagues in homers, Bryant was an obvious invite this spring for the Cubs, even though they had no intentions of him making the Opening Day roster. But in 40 at-bats this spring, Bryant had 17 hits, with nine homers, three doubles, 15 RBIs and a simply ridiculous .425/.477/1.175 slash line. Throughout the month of March, Bryant’s stock has risen as high as anyone’s, and the call for him to start the year in the Majors grew to deafening heights.
The problem for the Cubs is a simple one, with what they thought would be a relatively simple solution. Whenever Bryant plays his first big league game, his service-time clock begins, which affects team control. A year of MLB service is equal to 172 days, and prospects that are called up are under team control for six years of service time. So all the Cubs had to do since he’s not on the 40-man roster is assign him to the Minors following Spring Training, then wait 12 days into the 2015 season and call him up. Thus, the Cubs can wait until April 17th to call up Bryant and they gain an entire year of team control for a hitter who looks as though he’s ready to destroy Major League pitching today.
But after this incredible spring, and with every win as valuable as the next in a year that the Cubs are looking to make their first trip to the playoffs since 2008, can Chicago afford to leave Bryant down in the Minors for 12 days? They can probably manage, but the pressure from fans and the media to break the mold, forfeit a year of service and start Bryant on Opening Day was strong. It ultimately was not strong enough for team president Theo Epstein, however, and the Cubs assigned Bryant to Minor League camp on Monday.
The bottom line is that, whether the Cubs decided to set a precedent in a push to alter the service clock rules or not didn’t matter in the long run. Bryant will be up in the bigs in April, and there is nothing showing he isn’t ready. Honestly, all signs point to Bryant coasting to a National League Rookie of the Year Award. Steamer projections have him hitting 24 home runs and 63 RBIs in 105 games. If all goes to plan, he probably plays more games than that, and 30 home runs as a rookie isn’t out of the question.
But again, he is still just 23 years old and has yet to see a pitch in the Major Leagues, so while the hype is justified, it’s also reasonable for Epstein to stick to his guns. In 13 years, Epstein has never put a player on an Opening Day roster who hadn’t played in the big leagues previously. There’s reason to believe Bryant could benefit from a few more Minor League at-bats rather than get thrown right into the fire while it’s burning hot and all eyes are locked on him.