Cubs a phone call away from real progress

CHICAGO -- As days go for the Chicago Cubs and their fan base, Wednesday was one of the good ones, and not just because they won their second consecutive road series while completing a long trip with a 5-5 record.

The bigger steps in the rebuilding organization came when they promoted slugger Kris Bryant, along with pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero, to Triple-A Iowa. A smaller step happened the day before when 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber was sent to Class A Kane County after ripping up Northwest League pitching for a few days.

The Cubs are on the move, but when it has a real effect in the major league standings is still anyone's guess. Javier Baez, Bryant, Vizcaino and others are just a phone call away from making it to Wrigley Field, and that's when the real progress begins. Could we see any of them in the majors before year's end? At the very least, the answer is a fluid one.

The only drawback to a Baez and Bryant September call-up involves service time. A player who accrues 172 days on the 25-man roster during the season uses up a year toward free agency. There's about 183 days in a baseball season, so a team can avoid using up a year by calling up a player a few weeks into the season. The Houston Astros took this approach with prospect George Springer this season.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a similiar path, as he accrued just fewer than 172 days of service after his first two call-ups in the majors, once for the San Diego Padres in 2011 and once for the Cubs in 2012. The Cubs also avoided Super Two status with him by calling him up in late June 2012. Teams can avoid arbitration for three years instead of two by calling a player up by a deadline that typically falls in late June or early July.

The details aren't as important as knowing this: If the Cubs want to save money down the line and still call them up in September, then they'll need to tack on those days to playing time in the minor leagues next season, unless the Cubs simply plan on starting them out of spring training, and that's not likely.

For example, 22 days of time in the big leagues this year basically means 22 more days in the minors next year to avoid a year toward free agency and/or Super Two status. It might be worth it, as the Cubs could leave a player such as Bryant in the minors for that long anyway. If both Baez and Bryant are actually going to break camp with the Cubs next spring, then getting them a cup of coffee with the team this season makes sense because service time won't matter. Most likely you'll see both next season, but not out of the gate.

However, team sources indicate the recent promotions aren't part of some long-term plan that was locked in months ago. Yes, the Bryant promotion made sense as the Southern League took its All-Star break, but Schwarber and Bryant were on track to spend more time on their respective teams.

The Cubs had obviously changed their minds when they concluded there was little more Schwarber needed to do to get his timing down while playing for the Class A Boise Hawks, so he got promoted after just a few days. And Bryant long ago proved he needed a bigger challenge than Double-A pitching, leading the Southern League in batting average (.355), home runs (22), RBIs (58), on-base percentage (.458) and slugging (.702).

So even if the Cubs aren't planning a call-up for their major prospects, it doesn't mean they can't change their minds. That's assuming performance dictates a promotion, of course. Bryant, in particular, has proven to be a fast learner. If his history has shown anything, it's that he'll have an adjustment period at Iowa, then once again prove he's a special hitter by turning the tables on Triple-A pitching.

If individual prospects are being dubbed as saviors, then Bryant is the face of the movement right now. His ability, work ethic and attitude are unmatched in the Cubs organization, and he could be the next great player in the major leagues. Of course, Baez was thought of in similar fashion until his struggles in Iowa this season so Bryant has one more thing to prove.

A reliever such as Vizcaino or a starter such as Kyle Hendricks are more likely to see the major leagues sooner rather than later. Impending trades should open a few spots on the staff, and a player such as Vizcaino was only really in the minors to get innings in after missing so much time with arm injuries. His sub-2.00 ERA this season combined with his electric arm screams another promotion before season's end. Hendricks might simply get a chance because he's next up among those getting ready to make their debuts.

Yes, Wednesday was a good day, but minor league promotions should never be the headline-makers they are for the Cubs. The next time the Cubs make that kind of news should finally have a real effect on the long-term plan because we'll see some of these players at Wrigley Field.

Then we'll really start to find out if the front office has chosen the right talent for their infamous rebuilding strategy. Until then, they're just minor league players, as much as they do generate headlines.