It's been said that baseball is a game of failure, a sport in which a man who comes up short seven times out of ten can still be considered elite. And it's always felt like a bit of an old man's game too, at least compared to other professional sports. Guile and experience often win out over youth and athleticism.
But the numbers show us that baseball is getting younger, led by a phalanx of rising stars like Mike Trout (23), Andrew McCutchen (27), and Giancarlo Stanton (24). In fact, of the top 13 player in terms of oWAR, only two (Robinson Cano, 31; Jose Bautista, 33) have reached the age of 30.
This youth movement is becoming increasing evident when you take a look at the Cubs roster, where only 4 players (Kyuji Fujikawa, 34; Tsuyoshi Wada, 33; John Baker, 33; Justin Ruggiano, 32) are beyond the age of 30. You may have noticed that none of those are names on whom the Cubs have pinned significant expectations.
Reviewing last night's 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, we see a age lineup that looks like this: 29, 21, 25, 24, 28, 22, 32, 27, 24. That's an average of 25.78 years of age, which is a full year younger than that of the Astros, the youngest team in MLB right now.
And the thing is, the Cubs are only going to get younger. Sticking out like a sore thumb in that lineup is the 32, representative of Justin Ruggiano, minding the corner in RF. If I'm not mistaken, there's a 22-year-old tearing things up at that same spot in Iowa.
And either the 29 of Chris Coghlan or the 28 of Luis Valbuena will be replaced soon enough as well. That's because, despite the promotions of Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, and Kyle Hendricks (and the inevitable ascension of Jorge Soler), the Cubs have another guy waiting in the wings.
He'll turn the page of his 24th year (which means he'll be 23) prior to making his debut, but Kris Bryant is already performing at a level that borders on unreal. And as hard as this may be for some to swallow, it's that other-worldly talent that's as much to blame as Scott Boras or the arbitration clock.
I'm not here to debate the propriety of the Cubs' handling of either a stupid situation with baseball's CBA or their acrimony with a despised agent. I just want to look for a moment at Kris Bryant and what he's done across various levels of the MiLB system so far in his career.
Cubs fans had grown accustomed to Javier Baez's roller-coaster journey to the Bigs, his slump-and-jump stats as he adjusted to each new level. Bryant's travels, though, have been somewhat smoother.
Upon leaving the University of San Diego in 2013 after leading the NCAA in home runs (31), Bryant eased his career car onto the interstate and set the cruise control to about 15 MPH over the speed limit.
And every time he encountered a speed trap along the way, he simply flashed that patented smile and those baby blues and just kept right on going. 36 games in A-ball were enough for the Cubs to see that, as Bryant went .336/.390/.688 with an OPS of 1.078, 9 HR, and 32 RBI.
His 2013 road trip was a loop of sorts, as he traveled from Mesa to Boise to Daytona, then back The Grand Canyon State for the Arizona Fall League, of which he was the MVP. After a short break, Bryant packed up his bags and he moved to Tennessee. Double-A that is. Talent pools, prospect stars.
Normal people aren't supposed to get better as they move up through the ranks, but Kris Bryant is obviously not normal. He's the 3 Floyds beer of baseball prospects. In 68 games with the Smokies, he went .355/.458/.702 with a 1.160 OPS, 22 HR, and 58 RBI.
Ah, but the move to AAA Iowa was gonna be the one that finally got him. Surely, even the great Kris Bryant would get stopped on I-80, slowing his journey appreciably. And that did, in fact, appear to be the case early on when the phenom got out to a 1-for-11 start in Des Moines.
But just as a few detractors were starting to mouth their obligatory I told you so's, Bryant once again took a break from reality. In 52 games with the I-Cubs, he's hitting .322/.434/.672 with a 1.106 OPS, 17 HR, and 42 RBI. Oh, did I also forget to mention that he's walked 73 times this year (43 in TN, 30 in IA)?
Pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. I mean, we've all see them before, but the numbers are just absurd. Seeing them is like re-watching The Usual Suspects [spoiler alert!] knowing the whole time that Verbal Kint is actually Keyser Söze and still enjoying the twist.
And, as mentioned earlier, it's exactly the absurdity of Bryant's production that is factoring in the Cubs' decision to let Bryant marinate in the minors for a bit.
I had speculated a while back that an August call-up made sense for Javier Baez because of his aforementioned struggles. By bringing him up this season, the Cubs can allow him to work through his promotion slump when the games are relatively meaningless.
Because Kris Bryant is not expected to experience the same type of adjustment period, and because he has clearly mastered the minors, he can now work on little holes in his swing or his defense. He can focus on the few weak points that exist in his game so that when he does get the call to Wrigley, he'll continue to do what he has always done.
So rather than lament Bryant's absence in the Cubs' lineup right now, consider how good he'll actually be when he does join the team. And consider also that his promotion will mean more than an extra year of control and a way to stick it to Boras.
It will mean that the Chicago Cubs are taking a break from losing, and that will be a much-needed vacation for all of us.
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Filed under: Minor League News