PHILADELPHIA — Are Kris Bryant’s days as a third baseman numbered?
“No,” manager Joe Maddon said before heavy rains postponed Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. “You could still see him at third base some, too. But you’re probably going to see him out there a lot. I can’t deny that. But he’s not done playing the infield by any means yet.”
That night’s lineup at Citizens Bank Park would have featured Bryant in left field and Javier Baez playing third base, and we’ll see what Maddon comes up with for Friday’s doubleheader.
The Cubs have the luxury of experimenting with a versatile group of young players after building such a big lead over the San Francisco Giants (nine games) and Washington Nationals (9 1/2 games) for the National League’s second wild card.
But all these options don’t come without risk — a point Scott Boras recently made when asked about Bryant, his client who has lived up to the hype as a likely Rookie of the Year (23 homers, 86 RBIs) and potential franchise player.
This was before the super-agent called out the New York Mets over Matt Harvey’s innings limits, creating a tabloid feeding frenzy. The interesting part here is that the Cubs and Boras are on the same page.
“The thing I don’t like about infield/outfield is arm slot,” Boras said. “When the ball comes off your fingers — that snap that you have — in the big leagues the pace is so fast you don’t want your throw to get long. You want your throw to stay in here and go. That’s a reflex.
“So if you change that reflex when you put him in the outfield, it’s a big problem about what it does to the shoulder, your reflex and that kind of thing. That part is concerning.”
Bryant understands all this and gained exposure to the outfield at the University of San Diego, where he developed into the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Maddon also sees the big picture and doesn’t want an All-Star third baseman to change everything in the outfield.
“I’ve been watching that,” Maddon said. “Theoretically, you never want an infielder’s hand to go below his waist as he throws. (With) outfielders, you’ll see them let their hand go below their waist to get a longer arm in the outfield and throw.
“So what I’d like him to do is take his infield arm stroke and go in the outfield with it. Don’t try to get any more length in the outfield just because I’m trying to make a longer throw. That’s it.”
Ever since spring training, Maddon has been intrigued by Baez and what his game-changing infield skills could mean for a team that doesn’t have that many naturally gifted defenders.
Bryant’s response: Whatever I can do to help the team win.
For a 6-foot-5 slugger, Bryant has been better than advertised at third base. (Remember when the Cubs wanted him to get into a “defensive rhythm” at Triple-A Iowa in early April?)
Bryant is athletic with surprising speed and the ability to read the ball off the bat and take good first steps in the outfield. Maddon will be paying attention.
“That’s what I’m always concerned about,” Maddon said. “I’ve been even watching his throws back in the infield. It seems to be fine. I’m not getting any negative feedback from the trainers. But that’s always my No. 1 concern — that they change their arm stroke based on the position. There’s been no negative yet.”