Bryant a major star in minors, but Cubs in no rush


It was a year ago today that Kris Bryant was waiting to hear his name called in the Major League Baseball draft. He didn’t have to wait long. His name was the second one called, by the Chicago Cubs. He received a signing bonus of $6.7 million, as per MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement rules designed to curb spending.

On Wednesday, Bryant was getting on a bus with the Tennessee Smokies. The Smokies had just beaten Michael Jordan’s old team, the Birmingham Barons, 4-1 at Smokies Park in Kodak, Tenn., just south of Knoxville. They were headed farther south to Jacksonville, Fla., to begin a five-game series against the Jacksonville Suns.

It would take about eight hours to get there. Perhaps a utility infielder would play a harmonica at the back of the bus.

If you clicked on a little logo on the Smokies’ schedule, you could book a room at the Best Western where the Tennessee ballplayers would be staying.

Next year at this time, you might have to click on a Waldorf Astoria logo to stay where Kris Bryant is staying, or some other hotel logo followed by five stars.

Bryant has been tearing the cover off the ball at Double-A Tennessee. He is coming off a streak in which he hit home runs in five consecutive games. So it would seem only a matter of time until the former Bonanza High slugger by way of the University of San Diego makes his debut with the Cubs.

A lot of Cubs fans wish it were now.

A guy named Mike Olt is the current Chicago third baseman, at least most of the time. Olt is hitting .158.

Kris Bryant is hitting a Southern League-leading .348 for the Smokies, with 19 home runs and 51 RBIs. If the season ended today, he would win the triple crown. Bryant leads the Southern League in a whopping nine offensive categories.

The Cubs, however, say they are in no hurry to promote Bryant. The Cubs are never in a hurry, it seems, having last won the World Series in 1908.

Cubs fans, on the other hand, do not give a hoot when a prospect’s free-agent clock begins to tick, which probably is the main reason why Kris Bryant continues to ride the bus for long stretches of time.

This is what Cubs manager Rick Renteria said about Bryant the other day: “He’s doing very, very well, and we’re happy he’s doing very, very well. That he wouldn’t have anything left to learn at Double-A, I guess that could be debated. As an organization, everyone is comfortable with where he’s at.”

This is what Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday: “We tell every prospect to go dominate. He’s obviously doing that. We probably want to see it for a little while longer. It’s only been two months at that level and he’s sort of been skipping up through the system without a lot of time at one level. He’s everything we hoped for. Hopefully, he’ll keep it up.”

Conversely, this is what TV analyst Todd Hollandsworth, who was promoted to the Dodgers at age 22 — Bryant’s age — and the next season was named National League Rookie of the Year, said: “You have to learn it up here, you have to play up here, you have to learn if you can stand on your own two feet at the major league level. So the sooner you get these guys going, that’s when the process really starts.”

That process sure worked out well for Will Clark.

You remember “Will the Thrill”? Like Bryant, Clark was the second player picked overall, by the Giants in 1985. He played 65 games in Class A before becoming the Giants starting first baseman. He hit a homer off Nolan Ryan in his first big-league at-bat; he would go on to hit 283 more home runs.

Sometimes, additional minor league seasoning is overrated.

This is what Mike Bryant, Kris’ dad, a former pro ballplayer himself in the Red Sox organization, said about Chicago’s patience in promoting his fence-busting son: “You understand their decision ... but from a selfish standpoint, the challenge is what it’s all about for him. He’s been there before; he’s been knocked on his ass. If he hits .150, he can handle it. I’ll provide the mental salve.”

And this is what Kris Bryant said Thursday after getting off that bus to Jacksonville, where he said the weather was fine and it hadn’t started raining yet: “It’s not anything I can control. It’s just a distraction I don’t need, nobody needs. Tennessee is awesome. I just want to go out every day, play as well as I can and make it tough on the guys in charge.”

A few days ago, Mike Bryant emailed me two sets of statistics. The first was for a ballplayer’s first 387 at-bats in Class A and AA: .297 batting average, 17 home runs, 58 RBIs, .392 on-base percentage, .501 slugging percentage, .894 on-base plus slugging percentage. Nice stats.

Those were Bryce Harper’s stats.

The second set of numbers were for a ballplayer’s first 379 at-bats in rookie ball, Single-A, Arizona Fall League and Double-A: .343 AVG, 28 HRs, 91 RBIs, .424 OBP, .673 SLG, 1.097 OPS. Nicer stats.

Those are Kris Bryant’s stats.

Bryce Harper is making Gatorade commercials; Kris Bryant is riding a bus for eight hours from Birmingham to Jacksonville. Shows you what I know about baseball.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.