DENVER – Yes, Theo Epstein sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean the prospects are getting an E-Z Pass to the big leagues.
Who’s next? When’s Kris Bryant getting here? What about Jorge Soler? That’s what players, Cubs fans and the Chicago media wondered after Javier Baez got called up from Triple-A Iowa.
The president of baseball operations didn’t want to go there, dialing into a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon to downplay expectations for Baez, and not broadcast this as the start of something.
“It’s just a promotion of a very talented prospect who’s had an outstanding development year,” Epstein said. “I don’t believe in making grand pronouncements as an organization or making statements. I think we want the talent, and ultimately the performance of our players, to speak for themselves.
[MORE CUBS: Castro thinks Baez can make immediate impact]
“So I’m not going to get into what this means or what this signifies, other than it’s the right step for Javy’s development. And there are others behind him who – at the appropriate time – will follow.”
Insiders say Bryant won’t be called up until sometime after Opening Day 2015. The Cubs won’t want to start the free-agency clock for a Scott Boras client.
“He doesn’t need to do much more,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “But this game is a business, and everyone needs to remember that.”
Bryant is a polished, mature hitter who’s generated 36 homers and 94 RBI through 114 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa this season. The Cubs knew the third baseman would be on the fast track after drafting him No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego last year and then watching him emerge as the Arizona Fall League’s MVP.
“It’s his first year in the minor leagues, and he’s done really well,” Rizzo said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s handled himself really well, so just keep getting better. You never know. You never know what can happen.”
Soler’s in a different position because he’s already on the 40-man roster with a $30 million major-league contract. The Cuban outfielder has put up a 1.078 OPS through his first 14 games at Iowa and is expected to be a September call-up.
[MORE CUBS: The future is now as Cubs call up Javier Baez]
“They bring those guys up right now, and next year we’ll have a really young team,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We can be together, and we can prove it, because we know we got a lot of talent. We got players that can play at this level.”
Epstein’s hope-and-change message isn’t all talk. The Cubs have two 24-year-old All-Stars in Castro and Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and Baez at the top of the lineup and a farm system ESPN recently ranked as the best in baseball.
“We’ll continue to add potential impact talent to our big-league club,” Epstein said. “That’s ultimately what it’s all about. We’re not here to top the standings of the prospect rankings. We want to top the National League Central standings, and ultimately have a lot of opportunity in October and a lot of success in October.
“So this is nothing but an appropriate promotion for a player who’s earned it. And we’ll see what the future brings.”
But with this collection of young talent, and the financial flexibility to go shopping for big-ticket items this winter, the Cubs can see the future isn’t that far off in the distance.