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Kris Bryant feels he still has a shot at Opening Day roster spot

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After taking the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff (including ace Felix Hernandez) deep two times on Saturday, Chicago Cubs’ prospect Kris Bryant spoke to reporters about the question that just won’t go away: could he actually open the year in Chicago?

No, he won’t. But that’s not going to stop the question from being asked every time he goes out and does these Kris Bryant-like things. And, at least for his part, he’s sticking to the line of thought that ends with him at the Friendly Confines on April 5.

MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat recapped some of Bryant’s remarks on Saturday in a piece that can be found here. When she asked if he felt he had a shot at the Opening Day job, this was his response:

"“Absolutely — I’m still here, I’m still standing,” he said. “I come out here every day to try to get better at third base. I’m really confident over there and at the box right now. I’m seeing the ball pretty good. I don’t know what else I can say.”"

Now, the back-and-forth between Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, and the organization is well-documented by this point. His comments (which were relayed by the Chicago Tribune, among others) last week seemed to be the climax in the battle of “win now or win later” – at least that’s how Boras framed the issue.

"“Everybody in baseball is saying he’s a major-league player ready for the big leagues. I have players call me. Executives call me. The Cubs’ people want him there. Everyone says, ‘They cannot send this guy down.’ It’s too obvious. This isn’t a system choice. This isn’t a mandate. This is a flat ownership decision. Do they really want to win here?’’"

Now that’s a preposterous statement for several reasons.

First, and foremost, just because the Cubs are, in all likelihood, going to send Bryant to Triple-A Iowa to open the season does not mean that the organization doesn’t want to win. If anything, the fact that they’re willing to take the heat for such a decision, at least to me, shows that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer want to win more than anything.

When your star prospect has eight home runs in Cactus League play (when nobody else has more than four in all of Major League Baseball), and his OPS is over 2.000, expectations are just a tad high. When your team hasn’t won a postseason series in over a decade, those expectations grow to absurd levels. When your team is the Chicago Cubs – well – everything changes.

We’re only talking about a few weeks, which makes the whole discussion even more absurd. Sure, a season can be won or lost during that span, but it’s not like the Cubs lack other options that would more than fill the void left in Bryant’s absence early on. Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella would both do enough to keep the job warm for the young slugger – especially given the work they’ve turned in already this spring.

In Cactus League action this year, Olt, who seemed to figure things out during his stint in Iowa last summer, has been much-improved. It’s not so much that he’s increased his batting average – which was a mere .160 with the big league club in 2014. In fact, he’s batting just .231 11 spring contests this year.

The difference that matters is in his on-base percentage.

Last season in 89 games with Chicago, Olt limped to a .248 OBP. Needless to say, despite his impressive power, he showed poor plate discipline and, overall, didn’t regularly string together solid at-bats. However, this spring, he’s got a .375 on-base percentage – which is a nice place to start for the former Texas Rangers prospect.

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La Stella, meanwhile, has been downright sizzling this spring, compiling a triple-slash of .321/.387/.429 in a dozen Cactus League contests. His performance has entrenched him firmly in the battle for a spot on the 25-man roster – especially with Bryant likely headed to Iowa, along with struggling prospect Javier Baez – a topic that co-editor Nicholas Blazek tackled recently.

That’s two very feasible courses of action. The fuss and bother that has stemmed from a mere three weeks in April is confounding at times. It’s not as if this Cubs team lacks the talent apart from Bryant to keep the ship afloat in his absence early on.

With Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and new battery mates Jon Lester and Miguel Montero set to lead the charge in 2015, it’s time to come to grips with something: Kris Bryant is something special. He’ll be in Chicago early on this season – and that’s what matters.

Next: Kris Bryant goes deep twice in 12-10 Cubs win

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