Cubs: Bryant, Stanton and the popularity of power prospects


Cubs: Bryant, Stanton and the popularity of power prospects

It's hard to imagine any prospect getting more fanfare than Kris Bryant got before his MLB debut last week.

Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan would agree, even after watching Giancarlo Stanton make his debut in 2010 as a baseball-crushing 20-year-old.

Stanton debuted with the then-Florida Marlins just 10 days before Coghlan's 25th birthday, the year after Coghlan took home the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

In Coghlan's eyes, the hype for Bryant was on another level, even though Stanton - a consensus Top 5 prospect leading into 2010 - was demolishing balls at almost the same rate as the Cubs' young slugger.

"When Stanton came up, it was a huge deal," Coghlan said. "It was like, 'Hey, this dude hit 40-something homers,' same thing as Kris.

"But when Kris came up, it was like a whole different planet. I mean, he's on ESPN and everywhere. So he has to deal with a lot of those pressures."

[RELATED: Kris Bryant embraces the hype, lives up to expectations]

The entire baseball world had been waiting on Bryant's call-up for what seemed like an eternity after the game's top prospect led all of professional baseball with 43 homers in 2014 and then again in spring training with nine longballs.

The media helped play up Bryant-mania, but there were so many other factors, from the popularity of social media to the lack of power and offense in the game today.

Stanton hit 39 homers in 2008 as an 18-year-old playing in A-ball, but the world was a different place back then. Minor-league home runs weren't broadcast on Twitter and nobody was asking the Marlins prospect to star in commercials before even taking an at-bat in the big leagues.

Bryant filmed a Red Bull commercial just days before his promotion and the 23-year-old may be a huge motivation for changing the service time quota in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

[MORE: Early on, Kris Bryant showing off star potential]

But even with all the hoopla surrounding Bryant, Coghlan thinks it's only a matter of time before another prospect comes along and demands even more attention.

"In five years, there's gonna be some new guy that's going to be even more hyped than Kris was," Coghlan said. "Because that's just the way the game has evolved with social media and everything.

"People didn't used to be that big as prospects. Fans didn't know prospects. There was no draft on TV. The game just keeps evolving like that."

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.