Bryant likely to start season at Double-A

CHICAGO -- After spending just 36 games at the lower levels of the minor leagues in 2013, third baseman Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs' top draft pick in 2013, is expected to start this season at Double-A Tennessee.

"Kris probably has a good chance at starting at Double-A," Cubs scouting director Jason McLeod said Wednesday. "I don't think it's dead-set, but he played a lot this year to earn the opportunity to go there."

Bryant earned it by winning honors as the top collegiate player in 2013 as well as MVP of the Arizona Fall League. In between, he hit .336 with 9 home runs combined at three different stops in the minors. Now the No. 2 overall pick last summer will make the jump to Double-A where he will play third base.

"I have the confidence in myself to go out there every day and compete against the best," said Bryant, one of 15 Cubs prospects who worked out indoors at Northwestern on Wednesday. "I think if you have that type of confidence then sky's the limit."

Cubs brass has often said their prospects need to "dominate" at every level before advancing. If Bryant can dominate Double-A there's no reason to believe he won't move up to Triple-A in 2014. That puts him a phone call away from the big leagues.

"If they're ready, then they're ready," McLeod said. "We're not going to rush them up. We're in this for the right reasons and the long haul."

It's still a longshot that Bryant actually sees Wrigley Field this summer in any role other than a spectator, but he is on track. And if it doesn't happen in 2014 then 2015 should be his year.

"No pressure," Bryant said. "If you let pressure creep in then you're not having fun."

Here's a look at some of the other promising prospects the Cubs brought in early for a rookie development program in advance of the fan convention being held this weekend.

Javier Baez, SS

2014 projection: Triple-A Iowa

Baez was the talk of the minors in 2013 after hitting a combined 37 home runs between Single-A and Double-A, will start 2014 at shortstop in Triple-A Iowa. He was asked if he believes he can make it to the major leagues this season after hitting 37 home runs and driving in 111 last season at Single and Double-A.

"If I had the year I had last year, probably yeah," he said. "I just have to be patient and work hard."

Though Baez will play shortstop during the season, McLeod reiterated the notion he'll be moved around the infield during the spring. Expect him at second and third base while playing outfield was ruled out.

"We hear stuff but we don't decide what they're going to do with us so we just have to wait," Baez said.

Baez made 44 errors last season at shortstop and says he's spent the offseason "getting bigger and working on my defense."

Kyle Hendricks, SP

2014 projection: Triple-A Iowa

The organization's minor league pitcher of the year has been on the rise since coming over in a trade in 2012. He finished 2013 in Iowa racking up a 13-4 year with a 2.00 ERA. He could be a longshot to make the team out of spring training.

"You're always thinking about it, but you can't think about it every second or else you won't get anywhere," Hendricks said.

Hendricks hasn't had the publicity some other prospects have received as he's not an overly powerful pitcher, but he's had success nonetheless.

"I don't think about and don't care to be honest," Hendricks said. "I'd rather fly under the radar."

Hendricks returned to Dartmouth this offseason to earn a degree in economics which he says could be useful if he ever becomes an agent. But right now he's focused on being a Cub.

"I'm honored to be in this organization," he said.

Jorge Soler, OF

2014 projection: Double-A Tennessee

Soler's 2013 season was cut short by injury but he says he's fully healthy and more "prepared" for the rigors of professional baseball.

"My offseason preparation has been a focus," Soler said through an interpreter. "(I don't) foresee any problems this year."

Soler had other issues in 2013 including a suspension for a bat-wielding incident directed toward an opponent. He also didn't hustle the way his Single-A manager preferred.

"I understand (I have) to respect the game and things like that will not happen and should not happen," Soler said.

Soler received bad reports during the Arizona Fall League for not hustling, but McLeod indicated the Cubs told him to take it easy as he was coming off a leg injury that ended his minor league season prematurely.

C.J. Edwards, SP

2014 projection: Double-A Tennessee

Edwards burst onto the Cubs scene after being acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade in July. He helped the Cubs' Single-A Daytona team to a championship and will move up the ladder.

He's 6-foot-2 but only listed at 155 pounds so he may not get noticed like others.

"My first start, everyone looked at me like 'Who is this kid, he's probably not breaking 80 (mph),' he recalled. "I struck out the first seven batters and everyone was like 'Do we play defense?'"

Edwards agrees he has to put on weight to sustain a long career.

"Anything I see I eat," Edwards said. "Last (Tuesday) night at the [Blackhawks] game I had Italian sausage, cheese fries, Sprite, Coke and a hot dog with cheese on it. I'm trying to gain weight."

Albert Almora, OF

2014 projection: Single-A Daytona

The Cubs' No. 1 pick of 2012 had his season cut short due to injury at Single-A Kane County but had a strong Arizona Fall league so he'll move up the ladder one rung to High-A ball in 2014.

"You want to get here as fast as you can, but it's whenever they think I'm ready," Almora said.