Amidst the constant narrative of the strength of the Cubs farm system has been an equally constant caveat, an undercurrent of trepidation spawned by the failures of the past. However irrelevant the comparisons may be, talk of The Next Big Thing invariably brings up a litany of names forgotten by all but Cubs fans.
While Pie and others may have left a bad taste in our collective mouth, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, a young man known affectionately as Meatball, are out to prove that this isn't just another case of the sizzle being better than the steak. By taking advanced college hitters in the past two drafts, the Cubs have also eliminated at least some of the guesswork and uncertainty of the prospect process.
In Schwarber, they made a selection based on affordability and speed to market. Schwarber may not have as high a ceiling as some of the players drafted around him, but he's got a higher floor. But that's not to say the number 4 overall pick is the draft equivalent of fast food, far from it. His advanced plate discipline and underrated athleticism give him the ability to move out from behind the plate, likely to a corner OF spot.
And while 14 home runs might not be an eye-popping total, don't sleep on the young man's prodigious power. In the 2013 College World Series, Schwarber narrowly missed becoming the first person ever to put a ball over the centerfield fence at Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park, a place where home runs go to die.
And earlier this year, Louisville sports journalist Rick Bozich wrote about another prolific blast off the bat of the former Hoosier:
The distance painted at the top of the center-field wall is 402 feet. The dark batter’s eye wall in center extends at least another 40 feet above the eight-foot barrier. The baseball cleared the batter’s eye by perhaps 15 feet, soaring majestically toward the railroad tracks that wind beyond the outfield fence.
That's like Glenallen Hill strength right there. I hope Ricketts has plenty of extra light bulbs for those new signs in right, because when this big lefty eventually gets called up, he's surely gonna use them for target practice.
And Schwarber's got makeup that neither traditional stats nor advance metrics can measure. At the risk of further indicting myself as some sort of Hawk Harrelson disciple, the kid's got both the will and the ability to win. As Exhibit A in my argument, I submit to you the fact that he made IU baseball relevant.
When one thinks of Indiana University, it's basketball (Bob Knight, THE Assembly Hall, 5 national titles) that first comes to mind. Even soccer (8 national titles) and swimming and diving (Mark Spitz, 6 titles) have captured their share of the limelight over the years. But baseball? If Schwarber can elevate the game in Bloomington, perhaps he can do the same in Chicago.
After looking like a man among Boise, batting .600 with 4 HRs in 5 games, Schwarber was called up to Kane County. He went 1-3 with an RBI in his debut, but it was his first AB, a long fly-out to the track, that seemed to draw the most attention. So we've got a polished college hitter with good psychological makeup tearing up the minors. Sound familiar?
At this point, the biggest difference between Schwarber's rapid ascension and that of Kris Bryant appears to be the side of the plate from which the two sluggers impose their will. Well, that, and the eyes. And that smile. I mean, Schwarber's no troll, but there's a reason they call the guy meatball.
I'm not even sure Bryant has a nickname, since most onlookers are simply too mesmerized to come up with one, staring in slack-jawed awe as baseball's Brad Pitt continues to destroy baseballs and melt hearts at a maddening clip. Of course, now he's going to be doing so from a home base of Des Moines, rather than Eastern TN.
In his debut with the I-Cubs, Kris Bryant did what Kris Bryant does, going oppo in the seventh inning for his first AAA home run. After taking two strikes to begin the at-bat, Bryant worked the count full before driving the sixth pitch over the right field wall. It was the third ball he had hit to right (two fly outs) after striking out in his first trip to the plate.
My colleague, Gunther Dabynsky, had expressed doubts about Bryant's readiness for AAA, but it doesn't appear the Cubs are too worried about the glovework at this point. Besides, even questionable D couldn't quiet the noise of Bryant's bat as he mocked AA pitching to the tune of .355/.458/.702 (the latter of which is particularly fitting for a kid from Vegas) with 22 HRs and 58 RBI in just 68 games.
Oh, he also won the AA All-Star Game home run derby. Maybe Bryant is not as much Brad Pitt as Matthew McConaughey, since everything he touches these days turns to gold. Would that Kyle Schwarber could play the role of Jared Leto in this dynamic duo. Well, except for the emaciated transvestite part.
Could these two be a modern-day version of Sandberg and Grace, or maybe Sosa and Alou? That might be asking too much, but we're Cubs fans; we're supposed to maintain unreasonable hopes and dreams. But until these guys slow down, the hype is going to keep coming.
And each new exploit means that these guys are getting another step closer in their journey to 1060 W. Addison Street. It's sure fun to write about what Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are doing in the minors, but I am looking forward to removing the "prospect" tag when referring to them.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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