Anthony Rizzo smiled at all the media hype surrounding Cubs prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez during spring training: “You guys are going to crown them the next Babe Ruth.”
Their names come up during manager Rick Renteria’s daily sessions with reporters, and pretty much anytime Cubs executives call into a radio station or do a state-of-the-team media scrum.
Bryant and Baez will represent the Cubs at the All-Star Futures Game, a consolation prize for fans who want to see them at Wrigley Field ASAP. It’s an MLB Network game on July 13 at Minnesota’s Target Field. The rosters unveiled Tuesday made it U.S. (Bryant) vs. the World (Baez).
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Bryant continued his home-run binge with Triple-A Iowa. A three-run shot down the right-field line highlighted Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Albuquerque in Des Moines. That makes it five hits – and five homers – in six games since last week’s promotion from Double-A Tennessee.
“Don’t be patient,” Rizzo said. “I’ve said it before: You don’t ever want to be patient in the minor leagues. But his time will come. And when it comes, just embrace it. When he gets here, it’s baseball. I’m pretty sure it’s the same rules here as it is there.”
Bryant – last year’s No. 2 overall pick out of the University of San Diego – is hitting .346 with 27 homers and 67 RBI in 74 games combined this season.
“It’s hard not to hear about it. Obviously, what he’s doing is very special,” Rizzo said. “When he gets up here, it’s our job to make him feel comfortable. But until then, it’s our job to win the games up here.”
One clubhouse wise guy saw a few reporters walking out of the Wrigley Field clubhouse and gave them a heard-this nugget: Bryant had lunch today at Panera. That’s the kind of long-distance focus that’s been put on the 6-foot-5-inch third baseman, which spawned #KrisBryantFacts.
Bryant, 22, and Baez, 21, are considered young for the Pacific Coast League, and already viewed as franchise cornerstones.
Baez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Florida before getting drafted ninth overall in 2011 out of Jacksonville’s Arlington Country Day School. The shortstop with the Gary Sheffield bat speed put up 37 homers and 111 RBI in 130 games split between advanced Class-A Daytona and Tennessee last season.
Baez has started making adjustments to a higher level of pitching, learning how to play with a target on his back and recovering from the emotional letdown of not making the team out of spring training (which everyone expected anyway). He’s hitting .229 with 11 homers, 43 RBI and 91 strikeouts in 66 games with Iowa.
After living through Rizzo Watch in Des Moines, the franchise first baseman now has All-Star numbers and a disappointing 2013 season in the rearview mirror. Rizzo was asked if it feels like the Cubs are getting closer to The Plan coming together with Bryant and Baez at Triple-A.
“There’s a lot of work to do still,” Rizzo said. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket on two guys. Hopefully, when they come up, it’s our job to make them feel as comfortable as possible. That’s what I’m going to do.”