Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon will manage the great expectations for Kris Bryant

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Cubs: Joe Maddon will manage the great expectations for Kris Bryant

There are times where it feels like Kris Bryant would be a great stand-in for an updated version of the old “Superfans” sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”

Instead of obsessing over Mike Ditka and “Da Bears,” we’d get the boys riffing about Bryant hitting 100 homers this year once the Cubs take care of “Da Service Time.”

There’s a don’t-rule-it-out feeling around the team about Bryant making his big-league debut on Friday afternoon against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.

But everyone’s guilty of building up Bryant to the point where you wonder if Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect will ever be able to live up to these unbelievable expectations.

It’s the national writers, the beat reporters, the prospect gurus, the bloggers and pretty much anyone holding a microphone at Clark and Addison.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

It’s Theo Epstein’s front office selling The Plan and the business/marketing wing putting on those dog-and-pony shows for the media and season-ticket holders.

It’s Boras Corp. and the Major League Baseball Players Association using the Bryant case and posturing for the next rounds of collective bargaining.

It’s coming soon since Thursday marks the 12 days the Cubs needed to keep Bryant in the minors in order to set his free-agency clock to after the 2021 season.

“I’ve been around prodigies before,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The thing I like to do with young players like that is to really just try to emphasize you’re just one of the group.

“That would be the rhetoric from within. The rhetoric from outside’s going to be glamorous, glorious, hyperbole, whatever you want to call it. But from within, it’s got to be real.

“If it’s a Kris Bryant or if it’s eventually an Addison Russell or a Javy Baez – we have a lot of these guys – when they eventually get up here I really try to disarm that whole thing conversationally.

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“(You) try to reduce (everything to) my expectations are that you play hard, you do your work and you care.”

By all accounts, Bryant already checks those boxes at the age of 23. The Cubs loved his sense of purpose and professionalism coming out of the University of San Diego, where the 6-foot-5 third baseman/outfielder developed into a Rhodes Scholarship candidate and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Bryant led the minors with 43 home runs last year and crushed Cactus League pitching (1.652 OPS) this spring. He hasn’t moped around at Triple-A Iowa, going 8-for-24 (.333) with two homers and seven RBI through six games.

Is it fair to expect that Bryant will have to go through some struggles and adjustments once he gets here?

“My experience has been sometimes when they come up, they don’t,” Maddon said. “Only because they haven’t had a chance to process the whole thing. You just come up here and you almost have blinders on, in a good way.

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“You just go play like you’ve always been playing. Then maybe, eventually, the blinders become extended and more light’s being let in. And all of a sudden you notice things you hadn’t noticed before. And that’s where the struggle can occur.”

The Cubs wanted Maddon around this group because they saw the way he nurtured a talented core for the Tampa Bay Rays, creatively deflecting the attention, trying to reduce the pressure, boosting clubhouse confidence and pushing their development to the next level.  

“I really believe oftentimes when a young guy comes up, there’s that naiveté about it that permits you to perform like you always have performed,” Maddon said. “I love when the guy’s able to maintain that level of naïve-ness. Because once you start to get too sophisticated, you start overanalyzing the thing. That’s what can possibly become a problem.

“But whenever these dudes show up, I really believe that they’ll all come up here and contribute very quickly.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.