Cubs should avoid major mistake with Kris Bryant
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist June 11, 2014 10:52PM
MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 27: Kris Bryant #77 of the Chicago Cubs watches from the dugout during the spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Cubs Park on February 27, 2014 in Mesa, Arizona (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 469338805
Updated: June 12, 2014 12:48PM
The impulse is natural. Some of you Cubs fans want to see Kris Bryant in the big leagues right now. You’d like a better reason to keep living than Mr. Potato Head Keychain Day on June 22 at Wrigley Field.
I get it. The current blip of Cubs’ success aside, this has been a dreadful season that figures to stay dreadful. Bryant, meanwhile, is tearing it up at Class AA Tennessee. His 22 home runs, 55 runs batted in and .357 average were leading the Southern League by a wide margin heading into Wednesday’s action. What, you’d like to know, is the holdup?
It’s this: Do you really want to deprive Bryant of the knowledge, experience and pharmaceutical know-how of Manny Ramirez at Class AAA Iowa? Hey, just kidding! But there is no good reason to buy the kid a plane ticket to Chicago. I recommend a long, cold shower for those of you who want the Cubs to bring him to the big leagues any time soon.
Bryant might end up being the superstar the franchise hopes he’ll be, but it’s hard to see a whole lot of good coming out of a June call-up or a July call-up or any kind of call-up besides the September kind. Same with Javier Baez and the other big-time prospects in the system, about whom your more “involved’’ Cubs fans know much too much. There is no rush here.
The early reports are that Bryant’s swing is big-league ready. His glove? Not so much. He has 13 errors in 57 games at third base.
If you’re the Cubs, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t commit to an austerity plan in the name of building a farm system and then rush along young players because you want to put more people inside Wrigley. If you wanted to put people in the seats this season, you would have fielded a major-league team at the major-league level.
Same with those of you Theo-Epstein-is-god true believers: You can’t defend the approach of the Cubs president of baseball operations and then turn around and ask to see a hurry-up offense that brings youngsters to the majors as soon as possible.
The Bryant-to-Chicago calls were already loud, but then came Tuesday, when Pittsburgh called up 22-year-old outfielder Gregory Polanco from Class AAA Indianapolis. The Pirates sold 5,000 extra tickets for his debut, which happened to be against the Cubs, which happened to spur more conversation about Bryant. See what the Pirates are doing, the chatter went. Maybe the Cubs should follow suit, fans said.
(Isn’t it funny that the small-market Pirates are seen as a model for the Cubs, who are located in the third-biggest city in the country?)
The Cubs aren’t the Pirates, who have struggled this year after going 94-68 last season. There is no team for Bryant to help at the big-league level, the way there is for Polanco. Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, is not the missing piece to a team that is close to winning regularly.
For any rookie, the likelier outcome than wild success is badly bruised confidence, as we’ve seen throughout baseball history. Remember the clamoring for Felix Pie, Bobby Hill, Corey Patterson and all the rest of the Cubs’ “stars of the future’’ when they were minor-leaguers? How did that turn out?
There’s no doubt the franchise felt public pressure to call up those players to the big leagues. It’s hard to come up with an equal to Cubs fans in terms of over-valuing new players. I’m thinking specifically here of Kosuke Fukudome after his first three games or so in Chicago. If I recall, fans were learning Japanese so they could write a Hall of Fame speech for him in his native tongue.
And now Bryant is the Next Big Thing. How about we give him some room to grow? Wednesday night was his 100th career minor-league game, which isn’t much.
There is nothing to suggest that Epstein is toying with the idea of bringing up Bryant in the near future. It would run counter to everything he has said about building the organization the right way and making sure the base is strong.
Ramirez will report soon to Iowa, where he’ll be a player/coach. If Bryant ever makes it to Class AAA, he can pay attention to Ramirez’s approach to hitting and not much else. More importantly, he can put in the time to make sure he’s ready when the call from the Cubs comes.