Today, the announcement came that many have been waiting weeks to hear. Kris Bryant, or #sparkle, as he`s commonly referred to on Twitter, in on his way to the final stage of the Minor Leagues.
Many consider the promotion to be long overdue, thanks to Bryant`s incredible performance to this point, but as the day arrived the weeks waiting seemed less important as our Bryant got the call. After all, there was little harm in holding Bryant down for a bit, to maybe work on his less-than-stellar third base defense and really give his bat the chance to mature. As Bryant predictably took home the Double-A Home Run Derby victory and participated in their midseason all-star game, it was made clear Double-A was no longer a challenge for the slugger, and it was time.
Bryant, according to multiple reports, will join Iowa for tomorrow`s game, with Chris Valaika starting at third base tonight. With a crowded infield situation at Iowa and Bryant`s future up in the air there will be much discussed in the coming weeks as we all watch and dissect Bryant`s progress.
One of the biggest question marks with the news of Bryant`s promotion is the Iowa Cubs` current starter at third base, Christian Villanueva. Villanueva won`t slide over to second base to accommodate Bryant, leading to a tough answer on how to handle the youngster. Unfortunately for Villanueva, the easiest answer could be the toughest for him.
Lots of questions about Christian Villanueva. No official word but i’m guessing, GUESSING, that he’s the odd man out and ticketed for AA.
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) June 18, 2014
While Birch is obviously just spitballin` here, this could very likely be the most probable outcome to make room for Bryant. Villanueva has struggled fairly significantly in Triple-A this season, posting a triple-slash of just .211/.283/.372 with an incredibly weak .656 OPS. Villanueva, just 23, isn`t “too old” for a Double-A trip, and would likely help him start to get back into a groove at the plate.
Even if Bryant comes out and kills it in Triple-A for the next few months, a Major League call-up should be considered very unlikely. Bryant, a Boras client, would be best to be held down until late April (April 20 to May 1 to be precise) next season, when the Cubs gain an extra year of control on him. But, a dominant showing could even set the Cubs up very well to maybe make a few splashes in the offseason, knowing Bryant will be up very soon.
Bryant`s timeline could also be sped up very quickly, if the Cubs actually start to let him learn to play the outfield. Bryant`s clearly athletic enough to handle a transition to right field as soon as this season, and with the Cubs` incredibly weak outfield crop, would have a spot open for him whenever his bat is ready. If Bryant would move to the corner outfield spot, it would open up an opportunity at third base for Villanueva, which would solve the problem discussed here already.
There was even an idea floated on Twitter, courtesy of CubsInsider`s Alex Walsh, suggesting a near-future alignment including Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara moving to the outfield, Javier Baez taking second base, Luis Valbuena at third and Starlin Castro at shortstop. That`s heck of an alignment right there, but would require a heck of a lot of coaching over the next several months. The Cubs have to find a way to fit all the most talented prospects and big leaguers into their positions, and this one makes a lot of sense.
While Tommy Birch reports that Bryant will be playing third, I believe there is a real reward to moving him to right field as soon as this season, potentially speeding up his “timeline” and giving Cubs fans a dream future outfield alignment of Kyle Schwarber, Alcantara, and Bryant.
Despite getting the call to Triple-A in June, there`s very little chance Bryant actually gets his Major League call even when the Cubs head into September. But, it will be an incredibly exciting summer to be following the Cubs` system with Schwarber climbing up the ladder, Alcantara and Baez trying to push for their Major League debut, the pitching prospects getting healthy again and trying to pitch their way up, and Bryant developing into a near-Major Leaguer.