So….. Kris Bryant is pretty darn good. Everyone knows this. But, just how good has his season been this year and should he be promoted to Triple-A Iowa?
First let’s take a look at his season numbers: Bryant leads the Southern League in 8 offensive categories. Yes, freaking 8 categories! He is also in the Top 3 of three more categories. He has done everything for the Smokies this year. He is hitting for average and leading the Southern League to the tune of .349. Bryant is hitting for power. He leads the league in both HR and SLG%, with 15 and a .667 mark, leading the league by 5 HR’s and 130 points in slugging. Bryant is also getting on base. Once again he leads the league in OBP and is 3rd in Walks. His .452 OBP leads the Southern League by .18 and his 30 BB are only 2 behind the leader. Since he his on base so much he is leading the league with 44 runs, which is 9 ahead of the man in 2nd. With both his Slugging and OBP prowess he is leading the league with a whopping 1.117 OPS. 2nd place, is teammate Rafael Lopez with a .942 OPS! To go along with his Slugging Bryant leads the league with 124 total bases and is tied for 3rd with 14 Doubles. Oh, and Kris Bryant is striking out, he is 3rd in the league with 60 whiffs. Put this all together and you see a player who is clearly at a different level than his Double-A counterparts. So what is he still doing in Double-A Tennessee and why is he not in Triple-A Iowa?
Christian Villanueva is currently the starting Third Baseman in Iowa. Although he is off to a slow start, he is far more superior defensive player than Bryant. Villanueva has a line of .230/.289/.382 in Iowa. He had a slow start in April and seems to be turning a corner here in May with a line of .260/.309/.420 with 5 doubles and 3 HR. Villanueva is also a legit 3rd Base prospect who hit .261/.317/.469 in Double-A Tennessee last year. And is ranked as the Cubs #13 Prospect by Baseball America. Villanueva was acquired from the Rangers along with Kyle Hendricks for Ryan Dempster in 2012.
As you can see it is not just as simple as calling Kris Bryant up to Triple-A what do you do with Villanueva? Do you send him down to repeat Double-A, which he showed he could handle last year? Or do you move Kris Bryant to the outfield and leave Villanueva at 3rd? Or do you let Bryant continue to mash Double-A pitching and call him straight up to the Big League’s?
To answer the first question, I think it would send a bad message to Villanueva by sending him down now when he starting to turn the corner and is starting to hit better in Triple-A. He’s already proved he can handle Double-A. Now I don’t know what his mental makeup is but he could regress if he is sent down.
Another possibility is moving Bryant to the outfield, where most scouts believe he will eventually settle. So why not speed up his development and let him learn to play Right Field. This might seem like a logical option, but Kris Bryant wants to play third base and the Front Office has shown they will let a player stick at a position until proving they can’t handle it.
Finally, does Kris Bryant even need to play in Triple-A? The Front Office has been pretty adamant that they believe a full season at each level is important to the progression of prospects. Javier Baez has gotten at least 200 ABs at each level before being promoted. Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Antony Rizzo, and Junior Lake all fit this mode as well. But unlike all these guys Kris Bryant is an advanced college bat, with a good approach at the plate. So are there exceptions to the rules the FO has put in place?
Time will tell on the approach the Cubs will take with Bryant, and a lot of it will shake out after the Draft which is next week. With all the promotions and demotions throughout the organization as the draft concludes, short season leagues start, and players start getting traded. Until then we can continue to enjoy Kris Bryant crushing baseball and dream of what the future may hold.