Should Kris Bryant Be The Cubs' Opening Day 3B In 2014?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All right, that's a provocative question. Let's examine it in detail, shall we?

Let's make a few stipulations about the question I'm posing in the headline to this article before you start commenting:

  • The answer to the question is probably "No."
  • But the answer to the question could be "Maybe," if...
  • ... you carefully examine the issue from a number of different standpoints.

Which is what I intend to do here. I'm not necessarily advocating Bryant to start 2014 as the Cubs' third baseman; obviously, he's played very little at the professional level and the current management team seems to think that most players need more time in the minor leagues, perhaps up to a full season in Triple-A, before they can become big-league regulars.

But let's put that aside for a moment and take a look at some of the reasons why giving Bryant at least a shot at starting 2014 in Chicago might be a good idea.

First, he's got the confidence to play at a high level, as reported by Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com not long after he was selected in this year's draft:

Minutes after the Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall, Kris Bryant got on a conference call with the Chicago media and said he thought he could play in the big leagues right now.

Having quoted that, I think we can mostly dismiss it. Of course a draft pick like that, a player like that, is going to have confidence like that. It doesn't necessarily mean he's ready to play at the big-league level. However, Bryant's play since he signed and has quickly moved up to High-A Daytona has shown he can dominate the low levels of the minor leagues. As of Friday, he's hitting .333/.381/.679. Granted, that's a small sample size, just 84 at-bats. He's 28-for-84; 16 of the hits (nine doubles, a triple, six home runs) are for extra bases.

And yes, that's just the lowest levels of the minor leagues. Bryant won't play at a higher level before 2014. So what makes me even write this article?

First, there's Jesse Rogers' ESPN Chicago column from Wednesday, which lays out the case for Bryant to be the Cubs' third baseman next year. Here's Rogers' argument, boiled down into three paragraphs:

Bryant will be 22 by Opening Day next season, and he's much more seasoned than some of the other Cubs prospects. Javier Baez is still 20. Albert Almora is 19. And even though Jorge Soler is 21, he's played much less baseball over the past few years than Bryant, including this season due to injuries. Bryant played major college baseball at the University of San Diego.  

And Bryant plays a position that doesn't need years of seasoning at the minor league level nor does he need to switch positions like others may have to this winter. If the Cubs get crowded at third base someday, Bryant could move to the outfield, but it was Junior Lake who made the move when they drafted Bryant, not Bryant, who is ready at third base now.  

More than anything, though, the opportunity for Bryant to win the job out of spring training is realistic simply because there is no one standing in his way. Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom and the hot-hitting Donnie Murphy are holding a spot until Bryant or perhaps Mike Olt is ready. 

It's not an unreasonable argument, despite Bryant's relative lack of pro experience. Here's something to remember: Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft this year. Players drafted that high have some expectation of becoming stars, or even superstars, at the major-league level. And players that have that sort of talent often get to the big leagues by age 22. Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are examples of players who have done that -- two years younger. Note, I am not necessarily claiming that Kris Bryant has the talent level of Trout, Machado or Harper, though it would be great if he did.

Here's one other comp to remember: Troy Glaus. Many made comparisons between Glaus and Bryant; Bryant has a similar build and size to Glaus, plays the same position and has similar offensive skills.

Glaus didn't sign until very late in the year he was drafted, so he didn't play professionally until the next year (1998). After two-thirds of a year in the minors that year, he was playing for the Angels at age 21, and two years later he was an All-Star, leading the American League in home runs.

I'd also like to say something here about the "service time" argument. The "extra year of control" argument is why Anthony Rizzo wasn't called up until late June 2012, and why Jake Arrieta spent two extra weeks at Iowa before being recalled to start Friday's game against the Cardinals, and to spend the rest of the season in the rotation. I take a fairly dim view of this, and a good example is Rizzo's contract, which bought out all his arb years and into his free-agent years at a reasonable price.

If you're going to do that, and if the player's good enough, what's the point of avoiding the "Super-Two" year? If Bryant is as good as everyone thinks he is, why not just let him play at the big-league level?

The counter-argument, of course, is that you could destroy a young player's confidence by putting him against competition he's not ready for. (Call that "The Gary Scott Argument", though Scott didn't have nearly as much talent as Bryant does.) That's a legitimate concern.

Again, please read this carefully. I am not necessarily advocating for Kris Bryant to be manning third base for the Cubs on Opening Day 2014. But neither would I say "absolutely not." I think it's an intriguing idea that the brass should at least consider, particularly, as Jesse Rogers points out, because the other options for that position aren't that appealing (with the possible exception of Mike Olt). At the very least, Bryant should get a spring-training non-roster invitation and play some big-league spring-training games. There's certainly no harm in that.

Now it's your turn. Would you dismiss this idea out of hand? Or at least consider it? Vote in the poll, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

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