The bats are arriving in Wrigley. Arismendy Alcantara dazzled at second base and now is the full time center fielder for the Cubs. Javier Baez is settling in near the top of the order, and Jorge Soler is all but certain to arrive any day now. The Cubs under this front office put a great deal of value on Triple A, so the odds of Addison Russell appearing in Chicago this year are between slim and none.
Of the biggest of the bats, that leaves Kris Bryant, who is arguably the best of them. When does he get the call?
Iowa Cubs : 64-58
Iowa just can’t shake Omaha. As we move into the final weeks of the season, those two teams are still locked in a tie with Oklahoma City just two games back.
And as luck would have it, the Cubs don’t face Omaha again for the rest of the year. They do start a long home stand on Tuesday, though, and given that they travel to Reno and Tacoma when those home series end, this week might be Iowa’s best chance to put the division away. I’m not saying they have to sweep Las Vegas and Salt Lake… but they could really stand to sweep Las Vegas and Salt Lake.
Tennessee Smokies : 24-24
The Tennessee Smokies are back in first place, but by only by a single game. Worse, the last place team in the division is only two games back. This division appears likely to go down to the wire.
Addison Russell is the third significant prospect to anchor the Smokies lineup this season, but the Tennessee playoffs hopes do not rest on him alone. Finally, after a seemingly endless array of injuries and delays, the backbone of the championship winning Daytona rotation are in action in Tennessee. Corey Black has been the rotation stalwart all season, but now C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson have both rejoined him. Ivan Pineyro, the fourth pitcher of that Daytona rotation, is on a rehab assignment in Arizona. Once he makes it back the Tennessee pitching staff will finally, for the first time since April, be at full strength.
A homestand against Huntsville takes up the majority of this week. It will be the next to last homestand of the season.
Daytona Cubs : 27-19
It wasn’t the best of weeks for Daytona, but at the end of it they still hold a three game lead over Yankees’ affiliate Tampa. Their magic number is twenty with twenty one games left on the schedule.
And that schedule is, for the next week, pretty rough. After wrapping up a home series against Lakeland on Monday, they welcome in Brevard County for a doubleheader on Tuesday. After an off day they travel to Brevard County for another doubleheader, then hit the road for Tampa. They will not have another off day until August 28, just before the end of the season.
Kane County Cougars : 28-20
Kane County is back in first… sort of. The Cougars are part of a three way tie in the top spot along with Cedar Rapids and Wisconsin. The next team, Peoria, is four games back. Since the Cubs Low A team has already punched their playoff ticket, winning the second half outright is not as critical as it is for, say, Daytona, but winning both halves and sailing into playoffs on a hot streak sounds like a good plan to me.
The Cougars wrap up a series with Cedar Rapids today, then head home to start a home stand against Quad Cities on Tuesday. After that comes a weekend series in Wisconsin.
Boise Hawks : 6-10
The Hawks are fading a bit. They are fourth of four in the division and are five games behind Salem-Keizer. Given the nature of their upcoming schedule, I would be a little surprised if the Hawks made the playoffs.
After a three game home stand against Eugene to start the week, Boise goes on the road until August 23. Road wins are hard to come by in the North West League, but if the Hawks are going to have a chance to win this division they will need a lot of them on that extended trip. They do have a homestand to end the year, but that won’t help if they aren’t very close to the top at the start of that stretch. This week will be critical for Boise.
Arizona Cubs : 4-7
The Cubs are not out of playoff contention, but they are in next to last place, under .500, and moving in the wrong direction. The Rookie Level affiliate now sits six games behind the leading Giants, and with just a few weeks left that gap is going to be tough to close.
The middle of the country features prominently on the schedule this week, with games against the Rangers, the Indians, and a doubleheader against the White Sox.
From an offensive baseball standpoint, Bryant is just about ready to go. His swing and plate approach have remained relatively unchanged this season, and he hasn’t suffered any major injuries. He is already a more patient and disciplined hitter than Baez, so I don’t see the Cubs asking for more in that area prior to a call up either. As far as the bat is concerned, he’s ready.
The glove is a different story. Some reports have Bryant flashing Gold Glove potential at third base, but the guy I saw looked more like potentially above average. Regardless, what he needs most at third base are repetitions and those can come in the majors just as well as in Iowa. I’m not concerned about questionable defense costing the Cubs a few runs the rest of this season, so there is real reason not to let him learn on the job. And if he does go to the outfield, the same reasoning applies. There just isn’t much of an argument against a promotion as far as the glove is concerned.
Fatigue, though, could be a factor. It is very, very common for minor league players, even really good ones who take conditioning very seriously, to tire in August of their first full season as a professional. If fatigue is a factor in the case of Bryant, then I am absolutely on board with leaving him in Iowa and shutting him down at the end of the season. A few weeks worth of major league at bats are not worth risking a fatigue related injury that could impact his readiness for next season. He can still report to spring training with a shot at earning a major league job even if remains in the minors the rest of the year.
If fatigue isn’t a factor, though, then the only argument I can think of that may keep him down is the roster slot. Forty man roster slots are a resource, and the Cubs will have to decide if it is worth burning one of those slots to give Bryant a few weeks head start on solving major league pitching. It is easy to find players that can be removed from the roster, but making a decision to spend a roster slot isn’t simply a matter of picking a guy and giving his slot to Bryant. There are Rule 5 concerns to think of, as well as the timing of potential free agent signings, the (unknown) roster situation of the PTBNL coming from Oakland, and so forth. I could see that answer going either way, and in all honesty I could agree with either decision. Personally I’d rather see him in Chicago, particularly if the Cubs are going to try him as a third baseman next season, but I also recognize the value of roster slots and would not argue if the Cubs opted to conserve that resource for now.
Notice that I did not list adding a year of control to the reasons to keep Bryant out of the majors. It is a factor and that should factor into the math somewhere, but I don’t think it is likely to be a deciding factor. Looking around baseball, it is pretty abnormal for young star-caliber players to reach free agency without having signed some sort of an extension that buys out some or all of their arbitration years. Bryant, due to his signing bonus, may not be in any hurry to sign such a deal, but I think odds are good that he eventually will. And, once signed, that deal will probably extend the Cubs control a year or two anyway. That extra year of control looks very important now, and it is a factor, but I think that importance will vanish before it really kicks in regardless of if the Cubs get it.*
So where does that leave us?
If the Cubs are at all concerned that fatigue may be a factor, then I would argue for leaving Bryant in Iowa until the end of the minor league season and reevaluating then. If fatigue is not a factor at all, then pick a day, any day, and get him on a plane.
*[Brett: An obligatory response that I offer here is that, even if an extension is in Bryant’s future, the number of years the Cubs control will dramatically impact the price of that extension, and the number of years the Cubs can get Bryant to sign up for. It still matters, and, for me, is enough to swing the argument the other way (when also considering development, fatigue, defense, limited pro experience, 40-man roster spot, etc.). Pleased to see a reasonable take in the other direction, though. We just disagree.]