Of course Kris Bryant belongs in AAA.
It was one week ago today that I wrote the words Kris Bryant should be in AA. This just further confirms something I've mentioned quite a few times this year, and that is that I am baseball's George Costanza. My instincts seem to be consistently wrong, as shown in the past. So I suppose it was no shock that I was wrong about Bryant staying in AA for an extended period of time to work on defense. Thankfully, this provides the opportunity for me to be wrong in answering a number of other questions.
It would be a pleasant surprise if Kris Bryant made his major league debut this season, but I have to admit to being scared of 29-year-old free agent Kris Bryant. My guess remains that late April/early May 2015 is the earliest we see in Bryant in a Chicago Cubs uniform. However, as Javier Baez has shown, production in AAA is not guaranteed, and Kris Bryant still has things to accomplish in Iowa before he can come up to the big leagues.
As usual, the answer to the larger question lies in the answers to two other questions. Question one is how will Kris Bryant hit in AAA? Brett at Bleacher Nation is quick to point to the example of Javier Baez as a player that destroyed AA and then struggled in AAA. Comparing players is a very dangerous game, but in this case the fact that Baez and Bryant are vastly different hitters is so important to remember.
Pitchers in AAA are very different beasts from pitchers in AA, and, honestly, in most cases the stuff in AAA is not any better than AA (some might argue that it is step down). AAA pitchers tend to be older and what they offer over AA pitchers is the ability to work a gameplan. They are capable of pitching backwards.
Baez's super-aggressive approach was exposed by these smarter pitchers who are able to pitch more than just throw the ball. Bryant's strengths, besides his prodigious power and blue eyes, are his approach and ability to make adjustments. The difference between Bryant and Baez couldn't be any more startling when we watch them side by side in Iowa.
I've made the argument that Bryant might actually increase his production upon arrival into AAA. The reason for that is the shift from the Southern League to the Pacific Coast League. The Southern League is considered a haven for pitching, between the quality of prospects that routinely work their way thorugh it and the ballparks that they play in. The Pacific Coast League is known for the gaudy numbers put up by AAAA players like Brian LaHair.
Kris Bryant's trip to Colorado Springs in just over a week ought to highlight this point quickly. AJ Walsh pointed out that Bryant's high BABIP might result in a decline in the rate stats, but the amount of hard contact that can be expected from Bryant mitigates that point to a degree. If Bryant remains hot-hitting in AAA, it will be awfully hard to justify keeping him down.
That leads to the second question: where is Kris Bryant going to play? AJ Walsh laid out two or three different scenarios. The Cubs could demote Christian Villanueva and give Bryant third base in Iowa. They could move Bryant to the OF. Or they could play Bryant at third, shuffling others around him and Baez.
I think the most likely option you will see is Villanueva playing at 1B, 2B, and DH in Iowa. Alcantara will see a slight uptick in times in CF, and will play SS when Baez gets a day off. There really is no reason to rush Bryant to the majors at this point, and allowing him to develop as a 3B provides tremendous future value to the Cubs.
So my expectation is that Kris Bryant will remain in Iowa through the 2014 season. He will destroy the PCL and will work hard on improving his defense at the hot corner. But again, since I am baseball's George Costanza, I half expect Bryant to be a weak-hitting RF in a couple of weeks.
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