Cubs

Cubs: The wait for Kris Bryant could be almost over

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Cubs: The wait for Kris Bryant could be almost over

Adidas put Kris Bryant’s image on a billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee, promising the mega-prospect will be “WORTH THE WAIT.”

It’s almost over. The Cubs have already crossed off nine of the 12 days needed to delay Bryant’s free agency until after the 2021 season, and injuries at the major-league level could help spring the third baseman from Triple-A Iowa.

If Tommy La Stella’s “side” injury lingers, and Mike Olt’s wrist doesn’t respond, could we see Bryant sooner rather than later?

“Maybe, yeah, we’ll see,” team president Theo Epstein said before Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. “We’ll just weigh all the factors.”

[RELATED - Kris Bryant tracker: Counting down the days until Chicago]

This doesn’t mean the Cubs will have Bryant’s big bat in the middle of their lineup on Tuesday night, but it does create a potential opening for this weekend’s series against the San Diego Padres at Clark and Addison.

Ideally, the Cubs would like a big-time prospect to debut on the road, in a less-pressurized environment, away from the Wrigleyville fishbowl. That’s why people around the team have pointed to next week’s trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as a logical spot for Bryant’s arrival.

La Stella is still feeling sore and getting treatment, and the Cubs have been fuzzy with the details. By the time Joe Maddon met reporters for his daily media session, the manager didn’t know if La Stella would be available to pinch-hit that night. After Monday’s game, the Cubs planned to discuss how long they could ride out the infielder’s injury.

The Cubs also scratched Olt from Monday’s lineup as he recovers from the 96-mph fastball that drilled his right wrist on Saturday night at Coors Field. As the Opening Day third baseman fell to the ground in the ninth inning of a victory over the Colorado Rockies, Twitter lit up with Bryant speculation.

“We’ll see,” Epstein said. “Obviously, his development is a hugely important factor, and then the needs of the big-league team, as well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Would Bryant first have to work on his outfield defense at Iowa before getting called up?

“It depends on the circumstances,” Epstein said.

Bryant put up 43 homers, 110 RBI and a 1.098 OPS during his first full season in professional baseball last year. He rode that momentum into the Cactus League, hitting .425 with nine homers in 40 at-bats and becoming arguably the most talked-about player in baseball.

In an age of overhyping prospects, Bryant is as close to ready as you’re going to find. He hasn’t lost focus at Iowa, hitting .381 with two homers through five games. 

Ever since the Cubs drafted Bryant No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, team officials have raved about his work ethic, emotional maturity and sense for being a good teammate.

“(I’ve said) that his performance, obviously last year, and then even during spring training, showed that he’s really close,” Epstein said. “And that we’re probably more likely to get him sooner rather than later. It just started, though. We’re trying to get him into a good rhythm down there.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”