State of the Cubs: Kris Bryant and the talent awaiting next manager

State of the Cubs: Kris Bryant and the talent awaiting next manager
October 19, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki

After firing his handpicked manager, Theo Epstein talked up the perception of the organization outside the Clark Street bubble.

"The story is the Cubs are coming fast and the Cubs are coming strong," Epstein said.

The Cubs will have to decide if they want to wait out the Boston Red Sox and make a real run at Torey Lovullo after the playoffs - or focus on bench coaches who have already interviewed like Rick Renteria (San Diego Padres) and Dave Martinez (Tampa Bay Rays). Padres executive A.J. Hinch is also in the mix, and another mystery candidate sounds possible.

[MORE: Where will Cubs go with manager search?]

In selling the job, the president of baseball operations went over-the-top with some hyperbole. But if you're looking for something more concrete in Epstein's methodical, long-range rebuilding plan, you can see it with the inventory built up at third base (even if the projection is elite prospect Javier Baez will move off shortstop to second base). Through the draft and a series of trade-deadline deals, the Cubs have turned a huge weakness into a potential strength.

It didn't do much for Dale Sveum, who had to mix-and-match with journeymen and bite his tongue when asked about Ian Stewart's Twitter account. But the next manager should be in a better position to use some of that young talent.

Throughout October, will take state-of-the-organization snapshots, rewinding the 2013 season and looking ahead to the future, trying to figure out what's next for the Cubs.

[RELATED: State of the Cubs; Martinez up next, options at second]

The headliner: Kris Bryant's Arizona Fall League stats (co-player of the week!) will be breathlessly reported all across cyberspace. Super-agent Scott Boras got the No. 2 overall pick a $6.7 million bonus after the University of San Diego third baseman led the nation - and more than 200 Division I programs - in home runs.

There are still questions about whether Bryant's 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame will outgrow third base and force him to move to a corner-outfield spot. But he's also said to be flexible, light on his feet and willing to work. He also put up a .336/.390/.688 line across three levels, finishing with nine homers and 32 RBI in 36 games. He posted a .719 slugging percentage at advanced Class-A Daytona, where he impressed with his ability to fit into a group that won the Florida State League championship.

X-factor: Untouchable in the Matt Garza/Ryan Dempster trade talks in July 2012, the Cubs bought low this summer on Mike Olt, who has been dealing with vision/concussion issues. The Texas Rangers named Olt their minor league player of the year in 2012, but he wasn't even the centerpiece in this Garza deal (that would be pitcher C.J. Edwards).

After hitting .288 with 28 homers and a .977 OPS in 2012, Olt hit .201 with 15 homers and a .684 OPS in 2013. In 39 games at Triple-A Iowa, he hit .168 with three homers and eight RBI. He's trying to rediscover what made him the 49th overall pick in the 2010 draft out of the University of Connecticut.

On the radar: Christian Villanueva, 22, is projected to start next season as Iowa's starting third baseman. Acquired from the Rangers in the Dempster trade, Villanueva showed his defensive skills and emerged as a Southern League All-Star, hitting .261 with 19 homers and 72 RBI in 133 games at Double-A Tennessee.

[MORE: From elation to sorrow: Wrigley's Game 6 mood swing]

Name to file away: The organization is high on Jeimer Candelario, who at 19 was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. He hit .256 with 11 homers, 35 doubles and 57 RBI in 130 games with Class-A Kane County.

Candelario - who was born in New York and moved to the Dominican Republic as a young boy - also seemed to buy into the hitting philosophy and drew 68 walks. He could also fill out his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame.

"He sees the ball real well. He did that even in the Dominican," Kane County hitting coach Tom Beyers said. "When I was roving and I saw him down there, he had discipline.

"Some guys come up in youth sports and they're overly aggressive. With those guys, it's harder to come by. But with Candy, at a young age, he learned that was important. He's probably the other way - at times too disciplined and late on fastballs. That's where he needs to improve."

Donnie Baseball: The Cubs actually wound up getting some unlikely production from their third basemen. As a group, they finished second in the National League with 30 homers, though they hit just .221 and drove in only 70 runs.

Donnie Murphy hit eight home runs in his first 16 games with the Cubs. Luis Valbuena - one of Sveum's favorites - had a .345 on-base percentage in the first half, but he got injured and faded, hitting only .165 after the All-Star break. Cody Ransom blasted eight homers in his first 77 at-bats with the Cubs - but only one after June 18 - and was on a 5-for-61 skid when he got released in September. Valbuena's the youngest of that group at 27. Murphy will be 31 by the start of the 2014 season.

Who's on third? The long-term answer is probably already in the organization, but also a year or two away. The next manager can only hope he'll be around to see the game-changer.