Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

kris bryant smileSending Kris Bryant down to Triple-A Iowa for a minimum of 12 days to receive a seventh year of team control (and small dose of baseball reasons, too) has been the most poorly kept secret of spring. Even Adidas seemed ready to go as soon as the decision to start Bryant in the minors was made official.

But what will the Cubs really be missing? How good is Bryant really expected to be this year?

Bryant’s WAR projections are as high for a rookie as we’ll see. ZiPS has Bryant at 4.2, while Steamer has him at 3.3, FanGraphs’ Steamer/ZiPS blend has him at 3.4, and PECOTA has him with a 4.5 WARP.

Average them out and the projection models are forecasting a 3.85 WAR season from Bryant. This seems to be a tall order for a player who has yet to make a plate appearance in the big leagues.

Since 1984, there have been 38 players worth 3.9 WAR or more in their rookie seasons, per Six of the 38 players worth 3.9 WAR or more in their rookie seasons were third basemen.

The list: Kevin Seitzer (1987 Royals, 5.5), Chris Sabo (1988 Reds, 5.1), Evan Longoria (2008 Rays, 4.8), Scott Rolen (1997 Phillies, 4.5), Eric Hinske (2002 Blue Jays, 4.0) and Nolan Arenado (2013 Rockies, 3.9).

Sabo, Longoria, Rolen and Hinske each won Rookie of the Year honors. Seitzer finished second to Oakland’s Mark McGwire, while Arenado finished seventh in 2013, when the award was won by Jose Fernandez.

Hinske is an interesting name to note, as he is on the Cubs’ coaching staff and could probably lend some guidance if (or when) Bryant makes the transition to the outfield. Hinske played 425 games at third base from 2002-05 before mixing in duties at first base and in the outfield beginning in 2006.

Still, Hinske isn’t the most notable Rookie of the Year to make the move from third base to the outfield.

Brewers slugger Ryan Braun slashed .324/.370/.634/1.004 with 34 home runs, 97 RBI and a 154 OPS+ in 113 games after being called up May 25, 2007.

Braun found himself on a fast track to the bigs after being drafted fifth overall in 2005, making 864 plate appearances in 199 minor league games. As of now, Bryant has made 740 PA in 174 games.

Despite an amazing year at the dish, Braun was a detriment in the field, posting a -3.0 dWAR and a -28.5 UZR (worst at the position) all while making 26 errors (16 of them on throws).

Braun hasn’t spent time at third base since.

That kind of cautionary tale could explain why the Cubs could deem it necessary to get Bryant some work on the defensive end at the minor league level before making his big league debut.

If the Cubs called up Bryant as soon as his 12-day cameo in Iowa expired, he would be available for 153 of the 162 games of the 2015 season. If Bryant is kept down for only nine games, he would be available to play in 70 of 76 of the Cubs’ games against NL Central opponents — which amounts to 92 percent of games against division rivals.

Of the 20 Rookie of the Year winners to post a 3.9 WAR or better, nine did so in seasons in which they played 149 games or fewer.

With there being a lengthy enough track record for comparison, Bryant could find himself among good company once his time in Iowa is comes to an end — even if he misses some games in the process.

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