Kris Bryant will be worth wait for Cubs

All eyes will be on the young slugger, who is considered MLB's top-rated prospect. Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- The newest Baseball America was piled up on the Chicago Cubs' clubhouse table Wednesday afternoon. The face on the front is a familiar one, Kris Bryant, the publication's biggest crush and its obvious Minor League Player of the Year.

Bryant's name has probably been uttered by reporters as much as any actual Cub this season as he put together a season for the ages in Double-A and Triple-A. For an organization laser-focused on the future, Bryant's promise is as important as the videoboard going up in left field.

On Wednesday, Bryant finally showed up in the flesh at Wrigley Field, months after Javier Baez electrified a wan fanbase with big swings and big misses, weeks after Jorge Soler one-upped Baez with a power-packed, all-around game.

Alas, Bryant wasn't in uniform. Well, he was, but it was the uniform of a minor leaguer on the rise: jagged hair, ballplayer jeans, a young face. Typically, a teammate said, he dresses in head-to-toe Adidas gear because he's got a sponsorship deal.

As reporters talked to Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng, Bryant walked down to the field with an entourage that included the Cubs' Big Three -- Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod -- his girlfriend and his father.

Bryant was at Wrigley to accept the organization's minor league hitter of the year award, another signpost honor that means absolutely nothing the day Bryant comes to the Cubs for real.

The 22-year-old Bryant hit .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers in 138 games between Tennessee and Iowa. It's an awe-inspiring season for anyone, but in the grand scheme of things, it just supported what the Cubs already knew: He's a monster.

Bryant said he hasn't paid attention to his numbers since high school, calling batting average "the devil."

Bryant won just about every award there is to win in the past two years: The Dick Howser, the Golden Spikes, Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, USA Today Minor League Player of the Year. If the Cubs keep him stashed in Des Moines, he could probably take the 2016 Iowa Caucus.

But all of those honors are ephemeral. They make parents weepy, and agents and farm directors rich, but Bryant's goal isn't to win minor acclaim and earn fawning Twitter followers.

"With the awards, I kind of just throw them in my room," Bryant said. "They're not something I can hold onto. They're just a piece of hardware."

Bryant's season ended in Triple-A, the product of baseball's convoluted rules that limit a player's earning potential. He should've been up here getting his feet wet in the majors with Baez and Soler. But, the baseball reporters say, he might have to start next season in the minors so he's up fewer than the 172 days that would make it a full season of experience.

The Cubs will say he needs to work on playing outfield or polishing his play at third. It's a process, as they say.

Given the Cubs' constant bragging about how how much money they're going to have in the coming years, it's eye-rolling to think about this team worrying about player control (i.e. money) in a time when Tom Ricketts will have his Scrooge McDuck vault of money, but that's how baseball works. A year trumps a month. It makes sense.

Bryant said it was "bittersweet" to come to Wrigley as a fan, though he allowed the novelty was kind of cool. I asked him if he was "envious" of his teammates.

"I don't think that's the right word," Bryant said. "I'm definitely happy for 'em, but at the same time, you want to be in their shoes someday, and I sure hope that day comes soon. But we're all in this together. We all want to win a World Series."

Ah, the World Series talk. If I were Epstein, I'd ban those two words until the Cubs win the National League Championship Series. The pressure can be too much. In 2008, Cubs players talked openly about playing in the Series, how good it would feel to win in Chicago, and the pressure crushed them in the divisional round.

But hey, you've got to have goals, right?

The dour mood around Wrigley has definitely shifted (except for the part-time employees getting hours cut with no explanation) after two-plus years of thumb-twiddling as fans and Cubs players waited for the prospects to develop. There's a dissonance to the plan, one that the beloved baseball executives understand. They know the on-field product is overpriced and at times embarrassing, and they know their plan is going to pay dividends as soon as next year when, as one executive put it, the Cubs probably won't be contenders, but they'll be fun to watch.

Of course, that organizational attitude bothers some players. Why wouldn't it? There were Cubs scratching their heads at Kyle Schwarber's visit to Wrigley overshadowing Jake Arrieta's one-hit shutout on the front page of a local paper.

Bryant said he gets occasional texts from his buddy Logan Watkins about the preponderance of questions he gets in Chicago about Bryant.

"I've talked more about him than myself since I've been up here," Watkins said. "But I get it. That guy's a superstar, or he's going to be."

Watkins said it's not just media. His friends and family ask what it's like to play with him.

"Even in Iowa, it was, 'What's it like playing with Javy and Kris Bryant?' 'It's great, I mean, but we still play the game, too,'" he said with a chuckle.

This happened in 2012 when Anthony Rizzo was tearing up Triple-A. When Rizzo arrived, Reed Johnson joked he was going to stand by him all game so everyone knows he's "still in the league."

"If you ever want to get on TV, just stand by Kris Bryant," Watkins said.

While the players will try to bust up Bryant in the clubhouse, they wanted him up here yesterday. That's why Rizzo has been so outspoken about pushing prospects. Of course, that's why Rizzo has bosses who know baseball, too.

The actual Cubs, especially the ones with futures here, are more sick of hearing about tomorrow than the season-ticket holders and beat writers.

"I get why everyone's so excited, we're just as excited to play with him up here," Watkins said.

Bryant is polished off the field, as well; a baseball junkie with a focused, involved dad, Mike, an ex-minor leaguer himself, who talks about "micromanaging" Bryant's at-bats to find out precisely how he's being pitched.

If you're worried about a hyped prospect failing, don't. This guy's different. Cubs execs say he's the most polished prospect they've ever seen. Watkins said Bryant is unflappable.

"He's such a good kid, he just wears it when we give him [stuff] all the time," he said. "He smiles and laughs it off."

It'll be interesting to see the reaction if and when the Cubs start Bryant in the minors after spring training. He's obviously ready, and Chicago is ready for him.

Wait 'til next May?