Cubs promote Kris Bryant to Class AAA Iowa
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter June 18, 2014 11:29AM
Updated: June 18, 2014 10:36PM
MIAMI — Even on a day he didn’t play, Cubs prospect Kris Bryant overshadowed the goings-on at the major-league level, where the Cubs closed out back-to-back road series victories Wednesday for the first time in a year.
That says a lot about the top Class AA player and the Cubs’ lengthy rebuilding process.
But it also speaks to the increasing weight put on the shoulders of players such as Bryant as he gets closer to the majors. He was promoted to Class AAA Iowa, where he joins another top slugging prospect, Javy Baez.
“We’re aware of that,” said right-hander Jake Arrieta, whose 11-strikeout performance in a 6-1 victory over the Marlins was another reminder of what the Cubs have in mind as an end-game for this process.
“We saw all those guys in the spring. We keep track of them. I’m sure [Bryant] is going to continue to swing the bat well. And Baez, kind of on the same note. Those are two plus-plus bats with the ability to come up here and have an impact right away.”
It’s a strange, if not bittersweet, juxtaposition for some in the clubhouse. They see signs of several key pieces to president Theo Epstein’s long-term plan getting close but realize the likelihood that rotation workhorse and team leader Jeff Samardzija could be weeks away from being traded, along with another top-performing pitcher, Jason Hammel.
“Obviously, we have a couple guys on the trading block,” said Arrieta, who shrugged off one baseless rumor suggesting the Cubs were shopping him in trade talks, as well. “I look forward to having Jason and Jeff as teammates for as long as possible. Obviously, I would like them both to stay here, but Theo and [general manager] Jed [Hoyer] are going to do everything in their power to put the best team on the field, whether that’s keeping those guys or swapping them for prospects they feel can be here for a long time.”
That’s where a guy such as Arrieta would come in. On Wednesday, he improved to 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 18 starts since the Cubs acquired him from the Orioles in July in a trade for Scott Feldman. Arrieta (3-1, 1.98 ERA this season) is putting himself in the same frame of the Cubs’ big-picture vision as those big guns at Iowa.
“You can see the result. We’re playing pretty good,” hot-hitting shortstop Starlin Castro said of the feeling in the clubhouse knowing that the No. 2 overall draft pick last year has joined Baez. “As soon as those guys are here, we’ll play a lot better.”
Of course, it’s never that easy. It’s never automatic.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was the Class AAA hotshot long before fans even started clamoring for Bryant to be promoted. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket for two guys. Hopefully, when they come up, it’s our job to make them feel as comfortable as possible.”
Until then, the pressure grows as the attention mounts in a world that craves information 24/7.
“I’m hopeful that those guys are just concerned more about what they’re doing on the field because the landscape has changed,” said manager Rick Renteria, whose spotlight as a first-round draft pick in 1980 amounted to a phone interview from his local paper and a story by the Bradenton, Florida, paper when he arrived there for rookie ball. “Part of their growth is going to be understanding all this. I think they’ll do fine.”
Despite his measured outlook, Rizzo feels sure of one thing with Bryant.
“I think he’s going to really dominate Triple-A more than Double-A,” Rizzo said. “I thought Double-A was the hardest level, personally. And he’s way more polished than I was in the minor leagues.”