Pipeline Perspectives: Bryant gets nod over Sano
Cubs third-base prospect projects to be middle-of-order hitter with glove to match
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding a consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
It's not so easy to find players who fit the offensive description of prototypical third basemen, ones who can hit for power and drive in runs. Even our fairly robust list of Top 10 third-base prospects doesn't include many who one can be nearly certain will be middle-of-the-order types in future big league lineups.
There are two, though, who fit the mold almost perfectly: Miguel Sano and Kris Bryant, ranked Nos. 3 and 35 on MLB.com's overall Top 100 Prospects list. If you were looking for a knock-down, drag-out fight over this one, you'll have to wait for another Perspectives. Jim and I agree that both Sano and Bryant have the potential to be extremely productive Major League players in the future. That being said, we did have to choose sides, so Jim went with Sano and I am giving the slight edge to Bryant.
That margin, however narrow, stems more from my belief that Bryant can be a better defender at third than Sano. Both are big and both will have to prove they can stay there. It wouldn't shock me if either or both of them ended up moving to first base or an outfield corner position. I do believe Bryant is a bit more athletic and he showed an ability to play a solid right field, complete with a plus arm, during his junior year at the University of San Diego. That athleticism will serve him well as he is eager to prove he can be a big man who sticks at third.
I don't think there's anyone who doubts his ability to hit his way to the big leagues. Yes, I'm aware he has 128 professional at-bats (not including his 20 Florida State League playoff at-bats and his 42 in the Arizona Fall League) on his resume so far. But the 2013 Golden Spikes Award winner has made a seamless transition from college to the pro game, showing his power will more than translate.
And he's done it across multiple levels. After a very brief pro introduction in rookie ball, he went to the short-season Northwest League and proceeded to shake off a five-strikeout debut by hitting .354/.416/.692 in 18 games. The Cubs decided that was enough to promote him, but rather than move him up just one step, to the Midwest League, they double-jumped him to the FSL.
All he did there was hit .333/.387/.719 over 16 games, then 7-for-20 with four RBIs in the postseason as Daytona won the league title. He moved on to the Fall League, where he currently is setting the world on fire, leading the league in home runs, RBIs and OPS. Yes, that's a small sample size and the AFL is historically very hitter-friendly, but there's no question taht Bryant is on a super fast track now. One scout said that Bryant is one of the best players he's seen in the Fall League in years. He added that he thought he'd be ready for Chicago at some point next season.
Let's have some fun with projected stats, shall we? Just looking at what he did during the regular season, Bryant hit .336/.390/.688 in 128 at-bats. He had 25 extra-base hits -- 14 doubles, two triples and nine homers. He drove in 32 runs in 36 games. For the sake of this exercise, I'll use Miguel Cabrera as a comparison because, well, doesn't he represent what every team developing a third baseman dreams of?
Cabrera had 555 at-bats in 2013. Using that to project Bryant's debut, it means the future Cubs third baseman could put up a line like this: .336 average, 39 home runs, 139 RBIs. Will he do it as soon as he gets to Wrigley Field? That's unlikely. Will he do it eventually? Count me as one of a growing number of believers.