Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs sent two of the best three or four prospects in all of baseball to minor league camp, and simultaneously optioned a former top ten prospect to AAA Iowa. That’s where each of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez will start the season, together, and it was a savvy move to coordinate their cuts from big league camp. That’s particularly true for Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the front office understanding that the former would grab most of the headlines and generate most of the mindless grumbling, while the latter would actually be a sufficiently big story – less expected, and more immediately impactful – to tamp down the Bryant reaction.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Cubs manager Joe Maddon spoke with the media about the decisions, and you can read/listen to their comments here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.
Among their thoughts, together with my own …
- Epstein said that there was healthy debate about how to approach the Baez decision, but, ultimately everyone agreed that it was in the best interests of both the player and the team for him to go to Iowa to continue working on his offense. Every other part of his game is excellent, and Epstein thinks Baez is really close to being where he needs to be offensively. As we’ve pointed out before: this happens to young players, even big-time prospects. Sometimes they come up, they see and learn some things. Then they go down to work on what they’ve learned, and come back up. It’s exactly what happened with Anthony Rizzo, at the same age as Baez, and in the same time frame of the season. It happens. Of course you wish Baez had come up, blown the doors off the place, and taken off from there. That didn’t happen, and now you just have to hope he really takes to heart the things he needs to do at Iowa. It’s impossible to predict how long he’ll be there, by the way, so I’m not really going to try.
- It sounds like from Maddon’s comments that Baez is taking the decision well. That’s the right first step to getting him to really buy in, and do what he needs to at Iowa. There are a lot of things that need to be accomplished to get him there, but we’ll know if Baez is having success if his strikeout rate drops at Iowa, and he doesn’t entirely lose his power.
- Epstein indicated that Bryant was almost ready to contribute meaningfully at the big league level, so, assuming health, I wouldn’t expect to see him down for long. But you already knew that. The presumption all along was that Bryant would start in the minors, since, as Epstein has said, that’s what he’s always done with young players. They make their Major League debut at some point after the season is underway, and they’ve had a chance to get into a rhythm in the minors.
- Maddon admitted that, of course, you’d want a guy like Bryant in your lineup, but, given his relative youth, there’s plenty of time, and there are some areas he can work on.
- On Russell, Maddon has little to say, because the 21-year-old shortstop is so accomplished that all he needs to do is keep doing what he’s doing. It sounds like Maddon saw the same thing most of us have seen this Spring: Russell simply looks like a guy, regardless of his age or his previous minor league level, who is ready to play in the big leagues. And, to be candid on my own take, he looks like he’s ready to play at shortstop. What that means for Starlin Castro, whom I very much like, I don’t know.