When is hot-hitting Double-A prospect Kris Bryant going to get promoted?
It's a popular questions these days. Some ask about the No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft going to Triple-A Iowa, while others want him at Wrigley Field now. He's been that good so far for the Tennessee Smokies, who have been on a nice run, improving their record to 20-14 after a 5-4 win over Birmingham on Thursday.
After hitting home runs seven, eight and nine the past two nights, Bryant leads the Southern League. That's three more than the next competitor. This early in the season, that's a decent gap. He also has nine doubles, a .328 batting average and he leads all hitters in slugging (.630) by nearly a hundred points. His OPS of 1.067 is the only one in the league above 1.000. If the season ended today, he would be on the short list for Southern League MVP.
If there is a negative, Bryant has 39 strikeouts, second-most in the league. But he's also walked 19 times, also among the leaders. The strikeouts shouldn't be a major concern. Bryant is big and will always have some high strikeout totals, though how he achieves those numbers is always important. Is he chasing bad pitches? In general, as long as the power and the on-base percentage is there then he's doing his job. He's also made eight errors at third base, so there's still work to be done on defense.
But he could be a special player. Making declarations about prospects in baseball is a dangerous proposition; so much can go wrong that isn't foreseeable. But if you can make a "can't miss" statement about a Double-A player, then Bryant is your guy. I never thought that about Javier Baez or Jorge Soler or even Albert Almora. They may all very well be All-Stars and/or even Hall of Famers in the making, but Bryant is the guy to go out on a limb for.
After seeing him at the Arizona Fall League in November, I declared he could and should start for the Cubs on Opening Day this season. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with the path the Cubs are taking with him. If it was good enough for Tampa Bay Rays slugger Evan Longoria when he came up, then it's good enough for Bryant.
One reason I like Bryant as a sure-thing -- if you can have one in this game -- is his ability to adjust rather quickly. Talking to the people around him since he became a prospect, he's always been his own best hitting coach, as he knows his swing better than anyone. That sounds simple but not all players, especially young ones, have that ability. It might be a trait reserved for those special hitters.
Bryant's slumps don't last long, and when he figures it out he goes on a tear, as he's currently doing for the Smokies. He showed that ability in college, the minor leagues last season, at the Arizona Fall League and now in Double-A. It's the main reason I think he could be at Wrigley Field right now. There's no doubt he would face some struggles, but sooner rather than later he would be better for it.
The other reasons I like Bryant so much are all the other little things that go into being a success. His work ethic, his intelligence, his athleticism and his grounded nature are just a few of them. But none of that happens without his natural talent.
"I've always been blessed with power," Bryant said this past spring.
Current Cubs third baseman Mike Olt is going through his own maturing process. Fortunately, the Cubs haven't hit the panic button with him and haven't sent him back to the minors despite a .184 batting average and 28 strikeouts in 76 at-bats. If there is a difference between Olt and Bryant as a prospect, it's that ability to adjust and figure things out. Olt might be doing it now, coming off his first multihit game since mid-April, but Bryant is the type to do it quicker. Would Bryant really be hitting worse than .184 right now if he was in the majors? I don't think so. But again, there is nothing wrong with paying your dues.
Which brings us back to the question, when does Bryant get promoted? Unless the Cubs unexpectedly change their minds, he's not going from Double-A to the majors. They've repeatedly said that no one is skipping a level. Just as we can use Anthony Rizzo as a barometer for when Baez might get promoted to the Cubs, we can use Baez as a template for Bryant. He moved from Class A to Double-A last season on July 6. Then started this year at Triple-A. Is Bryant on the same path?
Don't count on a promotion soon just because he's hot right now. Not only does a player need to dominate his level, he also must turn his weaknesses into strengths -– or at least eliminate them as much as possible, before being promoted. Bryant's defense alone will keep him at Double-A for a while longer. Plus, the Cubs never want to go backward. They want to be sure when they promote someone, and a month into the season isn't enough. That July date sounds better than May. Or maybe it will be even later.
Already the journey for Bryant has been fun to watch, from college MVP to Fall League MVP to the top of the hitting charts of the Southern League. The only thing a hungry Cubs fan wants to know is, "What's next?"