CHICAGO -- Ever since Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant was drafted No. 2 overall in 2013, Cubs brass has used Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria as a template for him. Longoria was drafted third in 2006, made it as high as Double-A that season, then played at Double- and Triple-A in 2007 before getting called up early in 2008. That could be about the same path Bryant takes from 2013-2015.
“It worked for me,” Longoria said before the Rays played the Cubs on Saturday. “I think they evaluate every individual differently.”
But that doesn’t mean Longoria liked waiting. As a two-year major college player at Long Beach State, he was more advanced than others, in the same respect most college players are more mature when they hit the professional ranks. Longoria hit .299 with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2007, his final year in the minors. Bryant has that mature feel to his offensive game and persona as well – and he’s exceeding Longoria’s numbers. He’s hitting .341 with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs with about three weeks left in the season.
But, like Longoria, Bryant isn’t likely to see the major leagues in his first, full professional year. Not surprisingly, Longoria joins Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo as a proponent of a quick ascension to the big leagues, if it’s deserving.
“The earlier you can get that experience at the major league level I think it bodes well for you in the future,” Longoria said. “Some of the prospects over there have proven they can play at every level.”
Longoria was well aware of Bryant as well as the Cubs' most recent call-up, Javier Baez.
“They waited until after that Super 2 deadline, right?” Longoria said of Baez.
That’s a reference to an arbitration deadline that has come and gone, giving Baez three full years after this one before he’s eligible for the process. Cubs fans undoubtedly don’t want Bryant to have to wait that long next season, but they should be alright with a mid-April call-up, which would make him a free agent after 2021 instead of 2020.
“We were talking about how if you have a college kid, those guys can be moved a little faster than a high school kid,” Longoria said.
Bryant’s path is similar enough to Longoria’s that you can expect about the same timeline into next season for the former, except for different reasons. The Rays seemed intent on waiting to call Longoria up in 2008, but Willy Aybar got hurt and they deemed Longoria the only player who could play third base. They called him up on April 18, 2008, and while there could have been monetary considerations to the timing, they eliminated those by immediately signing Longoria to a sixyear, $17.5 million deal. With club options, it was worth up to $44 million.
“I think I felt more pressure the way that it happened in 2008 when I didn’t make the big league team out of spring training and then signing a contract when I was called up,” Longoria said.
That’s where the similarities could end between Longoria and Bryant. As has been well-documented, Bryant’s agent is Scott Boras, not exactly a hometown discount kind of guy. As prospects go, Bryant is as close to a sure thing as possible. That’s probably why the Cubs would presumably consider locking him up as early as they can. He probably won’t let them down. More likely, his performance could exceed an early contract signing.
“If a guy can help you win, you call him up,” Longoria said. “That’s more about us being selfish, because if we see a guy at the minor league level that can help we want them up.”
Of course, that’s not the case with Bryant. Yes, he can help the Cubs win some games now, but not anything like a division or playoff spot. It’s what team president Theo Epstein referenced on Friday.
“In his first full pro season, not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things," Epstein said, "but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost.”
That’s not the case, so Bryant stays the course like Longoria did in his first full pro season. But a long-term contract like the one Longoria signed might have to wait.
“If you’re playing up to the potential that you have, then I think you move him (up),” Longoria said. “But every player and team is different.”