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kris bryant cubsThe Cubs’ farm system has the best collection of slugging prospects in baseball, and today we will take a look at the biggest power bat of them all. Even though he was just drafted this summer, Kris Bryant has already left his mark on not just the organizational rankings, but on the baseball-wide prospects ranking lists as well.

But before we get to the details, let’s recap the purpose of the Prospects Progress series. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.

Two questions tend to dominate any analysis of Bryant: where will he play, and can he continue to hit as he moves towards the majors?

Kris Bryant, 3B
Born: January 4, 1992
Acquired: First round of the 2013 draft (second overall pick).

Season Summary

Bryant played at three different levels after being drafted in 2013, and wherever he went he left fans and scouts talking in glowing terms about his power. When we look at the numbers, it is easy to see why. I’ll ignore the rookie level Arizona League since he stayed there for just two games and focus on his time at Short-Season A Boise and High-A Daytona. First of all, let’s establish the slash lines in all their gaudy awesomeness.

Boise: .354/.416/.692
Daytona: .333/.387/.719

That’s right, this guy slugged over .700 in the Florida State League, a league known for being tough on hitters. His wOBA (.495 with Boise and .491 with Daytona) and wRC+ numbers (209 with Boise, 212 with Daytona) only further drive home that Bryant is an offensive force to be reckoned with. Jim Callis was questioned in some corners for dropping the 80 Power label on him ahead of the draft, but so far he has done nothing to cast doubt on that lofty designation.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to what we can learn from these numbers. He did not play more than 18 games at any one level during the regular season, and he did not amass more than 77 plate appearances at any in-season stop. The sample sizes within each league really are not large enough to tell much of a story.

And while it is true that Bryant crushed the ball wherever he went, it is also true that he should have been crushing the ball wherever he went. Hitters drafted out of college are supposed to have success in the lower levels of the minors. We can’t fault Bryant for doing what was expected of him, but we can’t get too carried away heaping on the praise on the basis of those numbers either.

Or can we? When a guy posts wRC+ of 209 and 212, getting carried away is pretty easy to justify.

Future Outlook

Bryant has posted some elevated strike out rates, including one of 27.4% with Daytona, but I am honestly not sure how much stock to put in those figures. Since he did not play even three weeks worth of games at any one level, he never really had a chance to adjust to any of the pitching he saw. As we saw with Baez, an elevated strikeout rate can be a short term problem that diminishes over time as the prospect makes the necessary adjustments to his approach and learns how opposing pitching are going to attack him. Until he has that time to make adjustments within a level, I’m not sure we can say with any confidence that high K% are going to be a long term problem. It is, however, something we will be monitoring closely as Bryant moves into the 150 PA territory next season.

His power is absolutely not in question. At every level he has as many or more extra base hits as he did singles, and that in turn led to his incredibly high SLG and ISO numbers. For example, very few players ever post an ISO over .300; Bryant did so at both Boise (.338) and Daytona (.386). As a pure slugger Bryant is in a category shared by very few other players. He has the most power in the Cubs’ organization, and it is between Bryant and Miguel Sano for the most power in all the minors.

All in all, even with the caution injected by his strikeout percentages, Bryant looks to me like a hitter who has yet to be seriously challenged. I think he will continue his rapid climb up the organizational ladder in 2014. Look for Bryant to get a longer than expected chance to work out with the major league team in spring training followed by an assignment to Tennessee. If he is torching Double A the way he has every league so far by early June, he could find himself in Iowa by midsummer. A 2014 September call-up is a very real possibility.

Defensively, I have few concerns about his ability to stay at third base. One widely publicized game notwithstanding, accounts of his defense are generally more positive than negative. Right now the team’s priority should be to give him plenty of chances at third to see if he will be able to handle that position in the majors. Should circumstances force him into a corner outfield slot, his needed adjustment time could be minimal. That said, I doubt the Cubs will let his glove slow his arrival by a notable degree. If his third base defense appears to be too much of a work in progress when his bat is ready for the majors, then the Cubs will simply have themselves a new left or right fielder.

Prognosis

There is one final slash line worth mentioning for Bryant – his line from the Arizona Fall League. As of the time of this writing, Bryant is hitting .358/.436/.746 over 78 PA in 17 games. That’s good for an ISO of .388, a wOBA of .515, and an wRC+ of 213. His walk rate clocks in at an unsurprisingly healthy 12.8%, and his strikeout rate at a moderately concerning 29.5%. Once again, because 17 games is not much time to make any adjustments, I don’t think we need panic over that strikeout rate. It should be monitored with caution into the 2014 season, but until he has a chance to show that he is able (or unable) to make adjustments and bring that rate down there is not much point in dismissing him as a bust.

What is clear from those numbers, though, is that he is still not really being challenged. So far he has easily lived up to his pre-draft billing as an impact bat in the making.

It is tough to put a ceiling on Bryant right now because he has not spent very long in any one place. I suspect he will always be a higher strikeout, higher walk rate kind of hitter, and that he will continue to hit more than his fair share of extra base hits as he moves up the ladder. Until he is finally challenged and stays in one league for a couple hundred plate appearances, though, I hesitate to say more than that.

To me Bryant looks like a major league slugger in the making, and one that is a fairly safe bet, given his current level, of reaching the majors. Cub fans should be very happy at the prospect of seeing Baez, Rizzo, and Bryant anchoring the middle of the order one day in the not too distant future.

  • jh03

    Bryant is rapidly becoming one of my favorite players. You know how sometimes there’s just those players that make you feel happy inside when they succeed? He’s one of those for me.

    • Tony_S

      Very well said, totally agree. I’m dating myself, but he makes me excited to root for him the way I did Sandberg, Moreland, Dernier, Dunston, Grace, etc. when I was younger. In my fan mind, everything about him screams “legit”

  • Featherstone

    Love it. Another top bat in this year’s draft please.

  • md8232

    Good article Luke. Can you use Bryant’s college strike out rate to guesstimate his pro rate?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Not really. Too much variability within the sample to establish any meaningful confidence intervals.

  • ssckelley

    I wonder what we could get out of him in a trade.

    • Professor Snarks

      You’re trolling.
      :-)

  • JM

    Sorry to ask an ignorant question, but could someone please define the slash numbers, wOBA,wRC+, and ISO for me?

    • Drew7
      • The Dude

        Nice link. I’m getting a better grasp of how these numbers describe a hitter’s ability but I’m not at the point where I can see a wOBA, or wRC+ and understand how well, or poor a player is producing, uless it’s a simpe comparison.

        Bryant’s wOBA is phenomenal, and the wRC+ is simply insane!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I talk quite a bit about wOBA in this edition of This Week In The Minors.

      http://www.bleachernation.com/2013/06/30/this-week-in-the-minors-the-great-bat-mystery/

      I have on my to do list writing a reader’s guide to the newer crop of stats, but it has been on that list for two years and I still haven’t gotten to it.

      I will. I promise. In the meantime, feel free to toss a thread in the Message Boards saying “help help what is wRC+?” and I think you’ll get some great responses.

      • The Dude

        Thanks, Luke. I look to forward to reading what you have to say in your statistical guide. For now, the fangraphs link and your breakdown of wOBA will help. To me, it’s not just understanding of how the statistic tries to capture a player’s performance, but also how the numbers can be interpreted at a glance, that I appreciate about both articles I checked out.

        With the weighted stats, I like how they take into account different variables, instead of merely combining percentages.

  • Eternal Pessimist

    His OPS ranking in Arizona just dropped to second place in the fall league…poor guy is having quite a slump.

    • ssckelley

      But he has not struck out the last 2 games!

      • jt

        I hear he looks tentative in the on deck circle

        • Jono

          HAHAHA

  • Professor Snarks

    We just may have to accept the fact that Bryant and Baez are going to be higher strike out kind of guys. Let’s hope they get their k rates under 25%, and continue to hit the ball hard. They’ll still be extremely valuable. I could see a year or two where the three guys Luke mentioned will combine for 100 home runs.

    • ssckelley

      I am less worried about Bryant, I believe we will see that SO rate decrees as he makes adjustments to wooden bats and professional pitching. He made the adjustments in college, as a freshman his SO rate was 23% and down to 16% as a junior. Every level he has played at as a professional he was not been given much of a chance to adjust. Baez makes some of the same adjustments, only his SO rate always starts off alarmingly high (+35%) and then it comes down.

  • Rebuilding

    Is there anyone left that wishes Appel had dropped to us instead of Bryant? It seems the “small school” red flag really wasn’t considering playing college anywhere in California is prob better competition than the Big 10. Bryant is going to be a monster in a game of declining power. For me he is the #2 prospect in the game behind only Buxton

    • Featherstone

      I think Oscar Tavares would like to have a word with you given his production at higher levels of competition, but yeah I think Bryant is definitely a top 5 prospect in all of baseball.

      • cubfanincardinalland

        I predict Taveras will be a big time bust. I have heard he is prima donna central. 21 years old, he is already on his fifth agent. Quit is winter ball team in the middle of the season last year. Cardinals don’t mention this when in their constant hype machine about their prospects.

        • Featherstone

          Oh he definitely has some red flags associated with his makeup, but his numbers don’t lie. I think he will also be a bust, but he has performed well at a higher level than bryant and will most likely see the Majors this year.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Even f he is a prima donna, then so what? That will have zero effect on how he plays the game, as many a successful athlete has shown in the past.

          • Can’t think of a cool name

            Prima Donna, does this mean he likes to dress in woman’s clothes? Always fun to take a swipe a a Cardinal.

          • miggy80

            From what I saw of Oscar Taveras this year, when he came to Des Moines, was quite impressive. Looks like the game comes real easy to him.

    • Professor Snarks

      You may be a bit early on your #2 prospect status, but I wouldn’t be shocked if going into 2015, he’s the #1 prospect in all of baseball. (depending on how much, if any, major league time he gets.)

    • ssckelley

      So far I like how the draft turned out. But had the Cubs gotten either Appel or Gray I am sure we would have been just as excited about their potential.

      • Professor Snarks

        Yep.
        You love the one you’re with.

        • On The Farm

          But the grass is always greener on the other side

  • Joycedaddy

    Haven’t been this excited for a prospect debut since Mark Prior. Corey Patterson and Felix Pie didn’t have that “it” feeling to me, but Baez & Bryant do.

  • OCCubFan

    Another great write-up by Luke. Thanks.
    Being a Cub fan, I have seen one or two or a hundred prospects disappoint. I am concerned about Bryant’s K rate. Even though he has yet to be challenged, he has struck out nearly 30% of the time at each of the 3 levels at which he has played. Although he has just 70-something ABs at each level and that is a SSS, in aggregate he has over 200 ABs. Hansman posted a link to a study showing the success rates for minor league players as a function of the K and BB rates. It should be required reading whenever someone starts to get enthusiastic about Baez and/or Bryant.
    I am hopeful about Bryant, but concerned.

    • ari gold

      I completely agree. His SO rate is in Brett Jackson territory. I think we’ll know a lot more by June of next year. You don’t need a very large sample for SO rates. They normalize pretty quickly. I’m cautious about getting to excited about him or Baez until we see the SO rates come down.

    • Eternal pessemist

      If the graph has SO:BB ratio on one axis and OBP on the other it would be very interesting. bryant/baez have rare power and should any prediction must emphasize this as well.

      • Professor Snarks

        I say k % on one axis, and OPS on the other.

        If (I know, not likely) both these guys had the same OPS in the pro’s, the k-rate would be tolerable. Not ideal, but tolerable.

        Besides, don’t advance statistics say that k’s are not any different than any other out? If they can hit .270/.280, k’s wont matter.

        • hansman

          You are correct, a K is the same as any other out. However, Ks can tell us something about a hitter. If you have a lot of Ks, you may have trouble getting the barrel of the bat on the ball and making solid enough contact to get the ball into play. Or you may have a terrible batting eye (which would be supported by BB rate) and are swinging at pitches you have no business swinging at.

          Also, having a higher K rate reduces the number of balls in play that can fall for a hit. If you have a .300 BABIP at a 20% K rate and suddenly your Ks jump to 30%, your production is going to go down because you have now lost 20 balls that are falling in as hits a year.

      • jt

        you would have to have a sample that made OPS dependent upon number of K’s to graph them. Such that: as K’s increased (or decreased) something would happen to OPS.
        *
        At the MiLB level the concern is contact. Many fear that high K rates at that level may indicate the lack of ability to make contact. If a batter is maintaining a BA of 0.270 at the MLB level for a long period of time then there is less of an issue.
        A few days ago, Doc eloquently posted as to different types of mechanisms driving different types of hitters. He mentioned that high K’s coinciding with a high BB could indicate that the batter is just searching for a pitch to drive and is taking a few strikes that he could probably hit but not hit hard. Batting with 2 strikes leads to more K’s than hitting the ball in play earlier in the count. But if he can work the count to 2/2 or 3/2 then he may just get that magic pitch to drive.

        • jt

          or what hansman said

        • Eternal Pessimist

          I think I should have recommended a graph of MLB success on one axis vs SO/BB on the other axis, and then 5-6 graphs of this with different OPS (or OPS +) ranges. Certainly they high OPS prospects are going to have far better success, though it would be interesting to see what the high SO’s do to those chances.

          • jt

            “I think I should have recommended a graph of MLB success on one axis vs SO/BB on the other axis,”
            –Eternal Pessimist
            A good imagination rooted in sound principles can discover a whole bunch of unthought of stuff.
            sounds like a project…

    • hansman
      • OCCubFan

        Yes.

      • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/653cc0c5f0eded621ab13b4f631de7da.png Cizzle

        Didn’t expect to see Jeimer at the top of that list.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I don’t think we should look at Bryant’s season as a composite of 200 ABs for one reason.

      As we saw in the case of Baez, given a chance good minor league hitters can and will make adjustments that reduce their strikeout rate over time. We don’t know that Bryant would do so, but we don’t know that he wouldn’t either. Before he really had a chance to start adjusting he was looking at a completely different league.

      When he hits 150-200 PAs in one league, though, I’ll be looking at that trend line very carefully.

  • Spriggs

    Hoping he is in the lineup today… it’s been lots of fun watching him this fall. If the Solar Sox win their last two games, they are in the Championship game this weekend! That game will be on TV.

  • GoCubs

    Anyone know Dave Kinman’s career SO rate?

    • Spriggs

      He definitey reminds me of a young Kingman!

      • GoCubs

        I think Bryant will have better BA & OBA then King Kong.

        • Eternal pessemist

          Kong swung and missed a lot…but he was hanging onto a building spire with one hand!

    • Tony_S

      Thank you for this.

      I’m less concerned about Bryant’s k rate specifically because I think his absolute FLOOR is a 3 outcome hitter, I’m thinking worst possible comps are Pedro Alvarez and/or Mark what’s his name, played 3B for Baltimore and I think Cleveland. Reynolds, Mark Reynolds (I’m too lazy to delete all that). That skill level plus what seems to be a mature approach and some natural leadership qualities, yes please. Obviously I’m thinking (and hoping for) much more, but as a cheap, controllable piece, I’m happy with that contribution, and I think he’s a KEY piece

  • miggy80

    “Cub fans should be very happy at the prospect of seeing Baez, Rizzo, and Bryant anchoring the middle of the order one day in the not too distant future.”

    Hmmm no mention of Castro. Luke, do you know something we don’t?

    • matt

      He’s not a middle of the order type bat…

      • miggy80

        Middle of the order or not I don’t see how you leave Castro out when you’re talking the future lineup.

        • Cubbie Blues

          Because he was specifically talking about the “middle of the order”. Castro is a 6,7 or even 8 hitter on a very good team. Most likely a #7. He doesn’t have a lot of pop, he doesn’t walk much and he isn’t particularly fast.

          • miggy80

            Has the potential to get 200 hits per year, is signed for the next 7 yrs. How do you leave him out? Rizzo was mentioned and he has a .412 SLG% compared to Starlins .404 SLG%

            • Cubbie Blues

              Check out their ISO and you will find the answer to their power differences.

              • miggy80

                I guess I just don’t understand how you can leave Castro [a player who is signed for the next 7yrs (and they say will still fill out his frame like Miguel Cabrera)] off of a list of potential “middle of the order” guys (and we are talking at least two years down the road) when the precursor was “Cub fans should be very happy at the prospect of seeing”.

                • Mike F

                  No disrespect to you but the whole idea of mentioning Castro in the same sentence with Cabrera is absurd. Sort of like the argument that kept occurring when all the Starlin HOF stuff was going on. Castro may develop further from here, but it won’t be in Chicago, no way befriending and babying him further will work, they did that 4 years and this whole mean old Dale Bear is ridiculous. Castro is a talented kind who plays very dumb and has been so pampered he sees no reasons he should have to change. and surrounding hi with Alfonso and Aramis didn’t help. What the Cardinals have is a very smart no-nonsense tutor in Molina that might. But left in Chicago he’s a 7 or 8 and going to hit below .260….

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          I was specifically talking middle of the order, not overall lineup, and Castro today does not look like a middle of the order hitter on a team that features Baez, Rizzo, and Bryant (not to mention Soler and possibly Olt).

          Don’t read into that anything that isn’t there. If I were talking about 2 or 7 hitters, Castro would have been in the mix.

  • Cubbie Blues

    Luke, any thoughts on Jason Parks tweet about Bryant not needing any time in AAA? He thought Bryant would be called up mid-summer.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      No comment until Bryant shows me he can hit at Double A or higher.

      I’m not questioning Parks, but that’s an extremely aggressive promotion path, even for a collegiate hitter. I need to see more before I can get behind it.

  • Andy

    Asked of Dave Cameron at Fangraphs: Cubs/Cards do the implausible and swap Castro for Miller. Thoughts?

    Dave Cameron: Miller has far more value than Castro.

    • SH

      But he only plays once every five days!

      • Eternal Pessimist

        …but during that one in 5 days he affects 100% of the batters performance (while they fielders (other than the catcher) affect a small portion of each at bat (defensively).

    • mjhurdle

      The thing that scares me about that is how the Cards handled Miller in the postseason.
      No one in STL ever got a decent reason why Miller, a Rookie of the Year candidate, was MIA in the playoffs.
      It upset quite a few Cards fans and analysts, and there has yet to be a good reason why they kept him on the playoff roster, but never pitched him (except an inning in the Pit series i think).

      • hansman

        For such a brilliant manager and a genious organization, it was really a boneheaded move to leave 2 pitchers sitting in the bullpen with nothing to do.

      • Mike F

        I’ll explain that pure and simple. The GM has been pretty clear, he’s going to trade his young pitching for a shortstop and wants a young cost controlled player they can grow. There’s no doubt they didn’t want Miller hurt ala Garza…. There has been a lot of hint and speculation that Miller might have an arm issue of some sort the last 2 years. The Card GM has really been the one to make clear he’s going to trade some of his young pitching and baseball insiders have been pretty clear about all of this since the whole hub bub around the world series started

        • mjhurdle

          1) mozelak has not said that he is “going” to trade his pitchers. he is definitely looking into that market, but from what the media here is saying, the asking price has been very high. the Cards have been linked more to Drew and Lowrie in the last couple days than the rumored trades for Tulo or Andrus. Anything is possible, but there is just as much chance that they keep all of their young pitchers and fill the SS gap with a FA.
          2) If Miller was hurt, why was he on the WS roster? Both him and Mujica were on the roster, and both only pitched one inning. Why waste 2 spots for pitchers that you do not intend to pitch? Also, if Miller has a mysterious injury, why was he warming up in the bullpen during Game 6 after the outcome was all but decided?

  • Sect208row15

    It will be nice to have players I can excited about. When D.lee and Ramirez were popping or Sori would have a crazy week it was fun to watch a Cubs game. This current roster is blah. I’m paying my 10% for season tickets today knowing this team sucks. Hate to give them up because when sustained success happens I want to be there. Thats the definition of insanity. Paying 12,000 dollars again for a lousy team. Two years ago I was fooled. Last year I knew they would suck. I should open a web

  • will

    Brett r u going to write about the cubs marlins prospect swap rumor

  • hansman

    “His walk rate clocks in at an unsurprisingly healthy 12.8%, and his strikeout rate at a moderately concerning 29.5%.”

    The K rate is concerning but he is putting up video game numbers AND walking at a decent clip.

  • Mick

    I think it will be pretty telling where Bryant will play if Soler gets traded this offseason but, could you imagine a lineup of:

    Almora
    Alcantara
    Soler
    Rizzo
    Bryant
    Baez
    Olt
    Castillo

    • Professor Snarks

      Switch Castro for Olt, then switch the middle guys to Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, then Soler. That’s perfect. :-)

  • ruby2626

    FWIW a friend of mine was at an AZ fall league game. He told me that after the game Bryant hung around so long signing autographs and talking to people that the security told him he needed to stop because they wanted to go home. With the exception of Soler’s bat incident our top prospects seem to be very high character guys w great work ethics.

  • Sam

    I hope the Cubs keep all of their top prospects. I wouldn’t mind eventually seeing Bryant in left, Almora in center and Soler in right. Baez at 3rd, Castro at short, Alcantara at 2nd, and Rizzo at first. I think that would allow all of their top prospects to stay with the organization, and I hope this is a lineup we can see in two years.

    • Mrs. Howell

      I think Alcantera would be getting a lot more attention if we weren’t so stacked 1-4…plus CJ Edwards.

      • Blublud

        Alcantara(this Is the correct spelling) gets plenty of attention.

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