Almora, Bryant turn heads in Fall League

Kris Bryant's stock continues to rise with a dominant showing in the Arizona Fall League. Larry Goren/Four Seam Images/AP Images

MESA, Ariz. -- It's hard to find an Arizona Fall League observer who will say anything negative about Chicago Cubs prospects Albert Almora and Kris Bryant. Both are creating a buzz that should reverberate all the way back to Chicago.

"You're looking at two special kids," Mesa Solar Sox manager Bill Richardson said. "Getting to know them now, they are great-makeup guys. Great workers. Almora is a baseball rat. Bryant has power that you don’t see in young players."

Richardson works for the Angels so he has nothing invested in saying such nice things. Neither do the scouts who watch the games. No less than 10 who were polled say Bryant, in particular, is going to be a special player.

"He has total control of the strike zone, is very short to the ball and has power to all fields," one scout said.

Another added: "It's not an all-or-nothing swing. It's very controlled."

At 6-5, Bryant is drawing comparisons to some of the big third baseman who have played the game, like Troy Glaus. But his wide stance and big home runs -- he just missed hitting three in a game last Friday -- are drawing comparisons to former Cub Dave Kingman.

"I do see that Kingman reference but he controls that barrel a little bit more," Richardson said.

One scout said he was "shocked" at how agile Bryant is and many don't see an issue with him playing third base. Some think he could move to first, if needed someday, or of course the outfield.

No one is shocked by Almora's athleticism. The first-round pick of 2012 is back from an injury-plagued minor league season without any lingering issues.

"He's locked in," Richardson said of his .379 hitting center fielder. "He has all the tools and the ball jumps off his bat. Yeah, he has some weaknesses but he has weaknesses that a 23-year-old has. He's 19."

Bryant is on the faster track to Wrigley Field simply because of his age (21) and experience (three years in college). It's quicker to list the statistical categories he doesn't lead the Fall League in. Through games on Tuesday he led all hitters in batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, slugging percentage and extra-base hits. And third base hasn't been an issue after some talk of moving him to the outfield. He has yet to play out there.

"I don't see anything at all that says he's not a third baseman," Cubs Triple-A and Solar Sox coach Brian Harper said. "He's got a plus arm, is accurate and runs very well. To be a good third baseman you have to have an accurate arm and a good first step. He has both of those. I don't see any reason why he can't be a real solid big league third baseman."

But it's his bat that will get him to the big leagues and possibly turn him into a star. He's not there yet but all signs point to middle-of-the-order power that should play at Wrigley Field like Kingman used to.

"He could do some special things in that ballpark," one scout said.

Harper added: "He has line-to-line power, and the power in the big leagues plays through the middle of the field and he has that."

More than anything, the Solar Sox coaches are impressed with Almora and Bryant’s work ethic. Time and again, it's what keeps coming back to describe Bryant's rise to the Cubs' No. 2-overall pick in June.

"That's the sixth tool we don't talk enough about," Richardson said of both players. "Their insides match their outsides."

The Cubs have other players playing for the Solar Sox -- Richardson says pitcher Armando Rivero has a "live" arm -- but it's the hitters who are making noise. Led by Almora's four hits in his debut game two weeks ago, Cubs players accounted for 12 RBIs in a 13-3 win over Glendale.

"It was a special day, especially happening in Mesa," Richardson said. "I'm not surprised by the outcome because I know the talent. It's a good time to be a Cubs fan."

Even as an Angels' employee, Richardson can't avoid the hype.