April 17, 2015
The Situation: The Cubs have their best roster since at least 2008, and with Mike Olt headed to the disabled list with a hairline fracture of his wrist, they have called up Bryant to man the hot corner and quiet the clamoring hordes.
Background: Bryant was the second overall pick out of the University of San Diego in 2013, and all he's done since is put up, at every professional level he has touched, the sort of stats that inspire hackneyed cliches about video game numbers. He came in fifth in BP's top 101 prospects this winter, ranking behind only Addison Russell on Chicago's top 10.
Scouting Report: I've been in love with Bryant's swing since he was putting up ridiculous numbers as a senior at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas—he hit .489 with 22 home runs in fewer than three dozen games as a senior. (He also had a 4.78 GPA.) That swing has only gotten better since, as he has improved his plane and incorporates his lower half more. Despite his long limbs his swing isn't excessively long, and because he stays balanced, works counts into his favor and recognizes pitches, he has a chance to hit for average at the big-league level. There are contact issues here because he often puts himself into two-strike counts and doesn't shorten up, but he's one of the few players without plus speed who could strike out 150 times and still hit above .270. His ability to hit line drives on pitches at any part of the plate is that good.
Even if Bryant's hit tool is only average, though, he's an offensive force because of his tremendous power. He's naturally strong with above-average bat speed, and his natural loft and ability to let the ball travel deep allow him to hit tape-measure shots to every part of the ballpark no matter where the pitch is thrown. It's an 80 on the raw power scale, and it's got a great chance of reaching that mark in-game as well.
Look where the pitch is located. Look how deep the right-center-field wall is. Look at the height of that fence. Look at where the ball lands, somewhere in the great infinity out of frame.
While Bryant's game is advanced offensively, there's still work to be done with the glove, and the defensive position he will spend the majority of his career at could very well be somewhere other than the hot corner. He's an average athlete with 40 speed, though he does have decent hands and instincts to compensate in the field. His footwork can be sloppy, and he often struggles to get into a position where he can make a quality throw across the diamond, sometimes getting forced into off-balance throws. He's also not immune to mental mistakes; in one game against Everett in August 2013, I saw him throw to the wrong base and, after a ball went through his legs, get frustrated instead of hustling after it. I believe he profiles best in right, where his above-average arm would play, but I don't blame the Cubs for seeing if he can stick at third. base.
Immediate Big League Future: Bryant should be the everyday third baseman as soon as he arrives in Wrigley, and while he might experience the same early struggles that most young players do, he should provide middle-of-the-order production in a short time. With the caveat that every player is capable of failure, his floor is basically the rich man's Mark Reynolds. The ceiling is a guy who competes for MVPs over the next decade.
Fantasy Impact: It seems like just yesterday that I was discussing how little time Bryant might have as a Stash List eligible player. Oh wait, it was yesterday. The Cubs' uber slugger is in a class of his own when it comes to fantasy leagues, as he's the only minor leaguer I've ever seen owned in 100 percent of standard ESPN formats. So there will be no talk about the types of formats to pick him up in, or what you should bid in FAAB, because he's already gone.
Regardless of what Bryant turns out to be as a hitter both this year and beyond, there is clearly a current apex forming in his fantasy value. We're all aware of the expectations for him specifically, and the general hoarding of young potential superstars regardless of league type—which makes it very difficult for owners to stop dreaming of parades and statues. In keeper and dynasty formats, it's completely understandable. I ranked Bryant as the third-best third baseman in dynasty leagues prior to the season (behind Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado), and that's still exactly where I'd have him on this, the day of his call-up.
As far as both the current and future fantasy profiles, let's deal with both the obvious and the overlooked. First, he's going to be a bit more valuable in an OBP format, and those gains will likely be erased in points leagues. This should be expected from a player who should rack up walks and strikeouts. However, what many fantasy owners don't realize is that Bryant is capable of contributing some value on the basepaths as well. Despite having fringy speed (at best), he's 18-for-22 in stolen base attempts in the minors--and given what could be the beginning of a trend in Chicago of aggressiveness, I wouldn't rule out Bryant getting to double digits in steals this year.
So head on over to your host site of choice and proudly hit the "drop" button on your Kris Bryant placeholder. I know you've wanted to for weeks (months? years?), but let Lonnie Chisenhall, Cody Asche, Will Middlebrooks, or whatever other eminently replacement level third baseman you have hit the waiver wire so hard that only the Wile E. Coyote-style dust circle is visible. Then tune in at 2:20 p.m. ET today to watch the fireworks.
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CVCrawfordBP