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.”
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.”