MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Like his power, excitement for Bryant hard to contain

Like his power, excitement for Bryant hard to contain

CHICAGO -- The wait is over for Cubs fans. No, not that one.

But the Cubs have promoted Kris Bryant -- MLB.com's No. 2 prospect -- and he's expected to evolve into the centerpiece of Theo Epstein's assault on baseball's Holy Grail, the 107-year World Series drought.

Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 Draft, is a power-hitting third baseman who easily could have been called up either last September or for the start of the 2015 season. But while debating the timing of his arrival -- actually triggered by a hairline fracture in the right wrist of Mike Olt, who was keeping the position warm for him -- and the quality of his fielding, it's possible we might have undersold his immense potential to drive balls over the reconstructed bleachers onto Waveland and Sheffield avenues.

• Get an authentic Kris Bryant Cubs jersey

University of San Diego coach Rich Hill has watched Bryant more closely than anyone other than his parents the last five years, and he is still amazed at the polish Bryant developed as a hitter to go along with what scouts call easy power.

When Bryant led the NCAA with 31 home runs in 62 games in 2013, he was doing it with bats and baseballs designed to tone down a high-scoring college game. Hill says Bryant would easily have hit "over 50'' in the earlier era, when Pete Incaviglia set the NCAA record with 48.

"He was hitting home runs at an alarming rate in the dead-ball, dead-bat era of college baseball,'' Hill said. "Nobody was even close to him. Nobody's come close since.''

Bryant wasn't going to the plate with a homer-or-bust approach, according to Hill. He took his walks on the regular occasions when pitchers tried to get him to chase bad pitches, but he crushed the few that were designed to challenge him.

"I was Tony Gwynn's teammate [at San Diego State] and it was kind of the same thing as Tony's junior year,'' Hill said. "Every AB it was kind of jaw-dropping -- how he took pitches, even if he missed a pitch, he fouled it back. It was special. The thing I noticed about Kris was his junior year, when he got a mistake, which he very rarely did -- they never pitched to him -- but when he got a pitch he could drive, he hit it out. That's the real sign."

Epstein on Bryant's development

Bryant, who at 23 is actually older than former Las Vegas Little League teammate Bryce Harper, will give first-year Cubs manager Joe Maddon another right-handed masher to hit in the middle of the order. While Maddon may drop Bryant in the order on Friday against the Padres to let him settle in, he will likely wind up joining right-handed-hitting rookie Jorge Soler, who homered twice on Monday against the Reds and has hit seven in his first 32 Major League games, as a bookend on one side or the other next to the left-handed-hitting Anthony Rizzo, who hit 32 home runs last year.

Bryant heads to Chicago with some swagger. He hit a three-run home run for Iowa in a rain-shortened game in New Orleans on Thursday night, his third in his last five games, and has hit 55 home runs in 181 games during a race from the bottom of the Cubs' system to the top. Bryant entered that game with an astonishing slash line of .328/.427/.665, the only downside being 205 strikeouts to go along with 99 walks.

Bryant won college baseball's Golden Spikes Award in 2013 and then was MVP in the Arizona Fall League after the Cubs signed him. Maddon and Bryant's teammates raved about his combination of confidence and humility throughout Spring Training, when he was the most productive hitter in the Cactus League.

Bryant batted .425 with nine home runs, three doubles and 15 RBIs in 40 at-bats. His agent, Scott Boras, was incensed when the Cubs sent him to Triple-A Iowa rather than giving him a plane ticket back to Chicago for Opening Night against the Cardinals, and Bryant told reporters he was disappointed. But by delaying his arrival until Friday, the Cubs will limit his service time this season to a maximum of 171 days, one short of what is deemed a full season. That means they control Bryant's rights through at least 2021, not 2020.

Epstein consistently said that Bryant needed more time in the Minors to develop, citing his inconsistent fielding at third base and a desire that he play some outfield. But Maddon has said he believes Bryant can be fine at third base.

Despite using five third basemen in their first six games, the Cubs are off to a 5-3 start after splitting a two-game series with the Cardinals and winning series against the Rockies and Reds. There will always be debate about whether the Cubs would have called up Bryant this soon or made him wait longer if not for Olt's injury.

Tommy La Stella, another third-base option, went on the disabled list earlier this week and will be joined on Friday by Olt. He had tried to play through a wrist injury he suffered when he was hit by a pitch last weekend, but an MRI showed a hairline fracture.

Turns out the Cubs have a pretty good option in their farm system.

Maybe one of the best options they've ever had.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.