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javier baez kris bryantIt’s pretty awesome to know that the Chicago Cubs’ unquestioned top two prospects are both at AAA. That means they’re on the doorstep of the bigs, and it’s also nice to know that most around baseball regard those two players at top ten prospects in the game as a whole. In most ways that matter, this all makes the following discussion totally academic and unnecessary. The guys are studs, and they’ll get to Chicago when they get there. I could probably stop there.

But it’s Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, man. People want to talk about them because they’re exciting prospects. And I’m right there with everyone else, because it’s not like I can stop myself from swooning like a teenage girl with a new smartphone (#Sparkle, #GetOffMe, #BaezAfterDark).

Presently, Bryant is sporting a .333/.414/.765 line at AAA through 14 games, with 6 homers, 16 strikeouts, and 7 walks. Baez is at .239/.305/.430 (a huge jump from where he was a month ago) with 11 homers, 25 walks and 100 strikeouts. The kicker for Baez is what appears to be an adjustment phase he’s going through: while his strikeout rate is still an uncomfortably high 32.8% at AAA, it’s 30.1% since the start of June, and 23.3% over his last 10 games. His walk rate over that latter stretch, by the way, is a robust 20.9%. Is that just a small-sample blip? Maybe. But, given what we know he’s working on, it could be the start of some significant movement.

Over at CSN, Dave Kaplan has a fun read about how the scouting world sees Bryant and Baez, as each is performing well right now at AAA. By a narrow margin, Kaplan says the scouts with whom he spoke still see Baez as the better long-term player. It sounds crazy, given what a monster Bryant has been, but you’ve got to keep in mind that Baez is younger, plays shortstop, and has at least as much offensive upside.

As I said, this is truly an academic discussion, since both players are studly prospects, and it’s not easy to pick one over the other. You do it only if having the discussion requires it.

So, having established that the duo is very close in future projections, with Baez narrowly ahead, does that mean Baez arrives first in the bigs? That was certainly the expectation coming into the season, but Bryant’s meteoric rise figures to have changed the equation.

Baseball America discusses this very issue with a long, thoughtful take on Baez and Bryant. Ultimately, BA sees Bryant as the first to arrive, and your bonus prospect porn selection:

Bryant’s defense has also been a revelation. There was some thought that Bryant would be able to stick at third base, at least in the short term, but might need to move to the outfield before too long. The reviews of his defense this season are much better than that. He looks to be a solid long-term presence at third base with excellent agility with some scouts saying he may have gold glove ability there. He’s committed more errors than one would like this year (14 in 62 games in Double-A), but scouts see no long-term problems and he’s been flawless since his promotion to Triple-A.

Bryant as even an average third baseman in the big leagues, with his offensive potential, could be an enormous boon to the Cubs. This is the first indication we’re getting from scouts who’ve observed Bryant over a large enough sample to feel comfortable evaluating his defense that he could stick at third for a long time (as opposed to starting there for a year or two before moving to the outfield full-time – or moving even sooner than that). If this is true, and the Cubs agree, they may decide that the reason Bryant needs a little more time at AAA, regardless of his offense, is to make sure he’s ready defensively to hand third base every day, as soon as he’s called up.

As for the arrival question for the duo, I still think the Cubs would love it if the answer was “both at the same time.” The weight of attention and pressure either one would feel arriving in Chicago by himself would be absolutely enormous. I know these are poised young men who’ve already received far more attention than is probably healthy for anyone their age, but coming up to Wrigley Field, especially if it were late in the year when they’d be the only story? Crushing. And, if there were struggles – even stupid, small-sample, meatball-focusing struggles – things could get ugly, and development could be impacted.

Further, I still think the ideal timeline for these guys, absent alternative development needs, is arrival in late-April, early-May next year. If they are ready for it, that would allow the Cubs to get each player for most of 2015 – when some good things could happen, but there wouldn’t necessarily be an expectation that good things could happen – while still preserving that extra year of team control six years down the road.

It remains possible that these guys need more time at AAA, and we don’t see them until mid-2015. On the balance, I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s possible. And, hey, flaming out is still technically possible, too, though, again, it seems seriously unlikely for talents like these who are already at AAA.

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