Push away any visions of seeing top prospect Kris Bryant in a Chicago Cubs uniform this season at Wrigley Field.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has essentially ruled out the possibility of Bryant getting a call up from Triple-A Iowa this season.
“I don't foresee a scenario where he would be up this year,” Epstein said before Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I don't think it's the right thing to do in someone's first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances both to the player and what's going on with the big league club.”
While that might not be what many Cubs fans would like — perhaps even more so after he hit a home run in his first game at Iowa on Thursday — it makes sense for Epstein and the organization to avoid rushing along not only Bryant, but other prospects who are nearing the majors. When asked if any prospects from Triple-A will get a call up this season, Epstein coyly said, “we’ll see.”
“Sometimes there's a rush to take a guy who is still young for his level at Triple-A and he starts to produce the numbers,” Epstein said.
Bryant’s move to Triple-A isn’t forcing the Cubs into a tough decision quite yet at third base. Despite inconsistencies and struggles, the Cubs, at this point, don’t have any plans to send third baseman Mike Olt to the minors to work on his swing or get more at-bats. Olt, who is hitting .152 with a .229 on-base percentage with 10 home runs, 25 RBIs and 62 strikeouts in 55 games entering Friday, hasn’t seized control of the position like the Cubs had hoped.
“Right now we think this is the right place for him,” Epstein said. “He's going to get a lot of at-bats against left-handed pitching and the right type of right-handed pitching. Hopefully he can get a few knocks, get some confidence and find his way back into the lineup on a more consistent basis.”
Epstein and the Cubs have also reached a temporary decision on where the 2014 No. 4 overall draft pick Kyle Schwarber will play defensively this season. The plan is for Schwarber, who was promoted to Low-A Kane County on Tuesday, to play left field and catch one or two games a week to stay fresh behind the plate. Once the season ends, Epstein will meet with Schwarber at the end of the minor league season to determine if a permanent move to the outfield is the right decision at that point.
“If we decide that he looked in left field and his development path with his bat might be so fast that there's maybe not going to be time for his defense behind the plate to catch up,” Epstein said. “Then we can go a different direction and maybe he can even be a candidate for the fall league.”
The Cubs’ 30-40 record has again forced much attention towards the future, but that doesn’t eliminate one of the biggest questions going forward: will Jeff Samardzija still be on the team in August? Epstein isn’t worried about any potential distractions concerning Samardzija’s future as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears, calling it “part of the game these days, unfortunately.”
However, it is important to not get too caught up in when top prospects such as Bryant, Javier Baez and others will be called up to the majors. It won’t do the Cubs, or the young talent, any good if they are promoted before their weaknesses have been properly addressed. The Cubs can’t afford to have another setback.
“You have to look beneath the surface a little bit,” Epstein said. “If a player is still struggling with off speed pitches or a breaking ball, he can still manage to put up respectable numbers. It might not be the right time to come here and get abused by those pitches and get set back in his development. It's not so much about their production as it's where they are on the learning curve with their greatest issues.”