By now, you've surely heard the news: Mike Olt is going on the disabled list with a broken right wrist and won't be available for some time. I wish there was something more interesting to say about this transaction, but here we are. Have a good weekend everybody!
Nah, I'm just kidding. Olt's injury, of course, clears the way for 23 year old third baseman Kris Bryant to finally make his debut for the Cubs (not that Olt was blocking him). Our long national nightmare is finally over after 12 long days, and Baseball America's top prospect is expected to start tonight, at Wrigley Field, against James Shields and the Padres.
Bryant hit an astounding .425/.477/1.175 with 9 homers in 44 plate appearances this spring to convince the world he was ready to play in the majors. The Cubs, taking the smart long-term approach, sent him to Des Moines for a short time to "work on his defense" or some such nonsense that would guarantee them an extra year of control over the youngster. Was it fair? Not remotely, but it was their right under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and it was the right decision for the franchise. Bryant hit .333/.379/.625 with 2 homers in six games in Iowa after hitting .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers combined across two levels in 2014.
Let's just stop right there
His is the most anticipated debut since the last most anticipated debut. We do love our prospects, after all. They're blank slates and we love to dream on them. But here's the thing: Kris Bryant may be arriving, but that doesn't mean Kris Bryant has arrived.
What I mean is anyone (and that's most of you) anticipating that Bryant is going to emerge fully formed, like Venus from a clam shell, is likely to come away disappointed. Very few players can simply step right out of the minor leagues and hit major league pitching without skipping a beat. Fewer still that still struggle to make contact as much as Bryant, who struck out 162 times in 138 games last year, fanned 14 times in 14 games this spring, and already went down eight times on strikes for the Iowa Cubs in six games. This is not to say that Bryant can't or won't be productive, just that the kid is probably going to have to make some adjustments before becoming the Kris Bryant we will probably get to enjoy over the next 10-15 years. We do him a disservice if we forget that, and if we allow ourselves to be disheartened.
Take, for instance, the greatest third baseman of all time, Michael Jack Schmidt. The Phillies Hall of Famer dominated in his second minor league season, hitting .291/.409/.550 after being selected in the second round of the 1971 draft. Like Bryant, he had incredible power, but struggled to make contact. He debuted that September at 22 years old and hit .206/.325/.294. The next year, as the Phillies' regular third baseman, he hit .196/.324/.373 with 136 strikeouts in 132 games, back when that was actually considered pretty bad. In fact, his 30.7 strikeout rate would still be considered pretty awful.
Lower your expectations and have patience
But here's the thing about Michael Jack Schmidt: He got better. He got a lot better. The Phillies, who weren't going anywhere anyway, were patient and allowed him time to develop. They were rewarded. At 24, he hit .282/.395/.546, leading the National League in homers and slugging percentage, and finished sixth in the MVP race. He would lead the NL in homers eight times, win 10 gold gloves, and 3 MVPs.
It will be tough for everyone to just chill out, but it's best for us, for the Cubs, and for Bryant to understand how difficult the game is. It's important to remember that young players, even young players who turn into the greatest player to ever play their position, struggle. It's essential to remember that growing pains are natural. Allowing Bryant plenty of slack as he learns the contours of the game will help ensure that he does reach that incredible potential, and reaches it soon. Just probably not right away.