Circle Thursday’s selection of Kris Bryant on your Cubbie calendars.
By choosing the power hitting third baseman from the University of San Diego with the second overall selection in baseball’s amateur draft, a new name has emerged on the list of prospects on which Cubs fans are placing their hopes and dreams.
This pick means more than any of the others. This is the second pick in the draft. The Cubs likely—and hopefully—won’t have another chance to draft a player this high in the future.
Kris Bryant has to be a success—not just for Cubs fans—but for this regime, highlighted by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, to show they truly are the scouting and development power they were brought to Chicago to be.
“I think it’s not hyperbole to say [Thursday] is the biggest day of this new regime’s tenure,” said Len Kasper, the Cubs television broadcaster on WGN Radio’s “Cubs Weekly” program a few weeks ago. “The number 2 pick is one that you can’t miss on.”
Kris Bryant can’t be Josh Vitters. He can’t be Ryan Harvey and he can’t be Luis Montanez either. Or Chadd Blasko, Mark Pawelek or Bobby Brownlie. Not if the Cubs plan to compete a few seasons from now, when many fans eagerly anticipate them turning the corner.
The 21-year-old Bryant led the nation with 31 home runs this past year, won the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year award, and set a University of San Diego record by blasting 54 round trippers in three college seasons. Despite the widespread belief that the Cubs would wind up with either Stanford ace Mark Appel or Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray, the Cubs opted to go for collegiate baseball’s biggest bat—after Appel went to Houston—and with Gray still available.
“Ultimately, as we came down to the last couple of weeks, and really kept talking about the player that we felt would be the best fit for us, it became apparent that Kris Bryant was going to be that guy,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, on Cubs Weekly. “He’s a big, strong, athletic position player that we feel has the ability to hit in the middle of our order for many years to come.”
McLeod knows the coaching staff at the University of San Diego well, and the organization thoroughly evaluated Bryant and the pitchers before settling on the San Diego slugger. McLeod said scouts compare him to Troy Glaus, who played 13 year major league seasons at third base with the Angels, Blue Jays, Cardinals and Braves, swatting 320 lifetime home runs.
If Bryant puts up comparable power numbers, he’d be a big win for the organization. Given his draft position, and the fact he’s a college hitter—considered the safest commodity to draft—it should be expected he’ll be on an accelerated path to the big leagues and will make a positive impact once he arrives at Wrigley Field.
Winning teams must—and most often do—make the most of their top draft selections. Will some miss? Sure. But if you need proof that the proverbial swing-and-a-miss on top draft picks will keep your franchise from building and sustaining success, take a look at who the Cubs have chosen in the first round over the last twenty years.
Look at the Cubs division, by comparison. Two of the Cardinals recent first round draft picks, Shelby Miller (19th overall, 2009) and Lance Lynn (39th overall, 2008), are high impact members of St. Louis’s rotation.
How about the Reds? Between 2007 and 2010, all but one player they drafted in the first or supplemental rounds is on a major league roster. 2007’s 34th overall pick is now Cincinnati’s everyday third baseman, Todd Frazier. Drafted 19 selections earlier was their everyday catcher, Devin Mesoraco. Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal—all first round selections—were sent along with Edinson Volquez in the trade that brought them Mat Latos, one of the National League’s best starting pitchers.
And Cincinnati has reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. The Cardinals, of course, won the World Series two years ago.
If Bryant, last year’s 6th overall pick Albert Almora, and the other top picks the Cubs have drafted and will select over the next few years make it, that “foundation for sustained success” line we’re already tired of hearing will ring truer than ever. The Cubs will be set up for years of consistent competitive play—at the very least—and may one day compete for that elusive World Series.
But if not, the organization will not be in much better shape than where it was left when the Theo trio arrived.
All Cubs fans can do right now is entrust the men running the organization to find the players with the talent and the makeup to succeed for a franchise starving for a championship. Early returns on Almora suggest he may have both. Bryant, too.
“I obviously think that I can play in the big leagues now,” Bryant said on a conference call the night of his selection. “I have that type of confidence in myself. But like I said, that’s not my decision. I’ll leave that up to the guys in charge.”
Hopefully, for the sake of Cubs fans—and the organization—those guys in charge are forced to bring Kris Bryant to Wrigley very soon. There’s a lot on his selection.
If Bryant ends up one of the key pieces of the Cubs eventual run to a championship as built by the new regime, this past Thursday will be a day to remember for the right reason.
If not, it’ll be one of the dates to explain why the Cubs are back at square one.