Chin Music: Cubs’ Bryant Call-up Coming to Roost?

9 Jun

Just to pose the idea would send shockwaves throughout the sport fantasy world and probably elicit more than a few bellows of ‘bonehead’ directed at the poser, had they a megaphone of any sizable make.

‘(No) hell a fury like a (groupie) scorned,’ eh (Congreve)?

But when you’re a blogger, bonafide variety (unpaid), the reads are measurable, i.e., small in number. The tremors I make would barely wake a mouse.

.....Bryant.7.9.14.wc.M.Haas.thmb.2

Chicago Cubs top prospect, outfielder – 3rd baseman Kris Bryant was given call-up to the parent club about two weeks into MLB 2015 after a massive campaign by young fans and media in what looked to be a cave to pressure by Northsider‘s well-credentialed wheeler-dealer, General Manager, Theo Epstein.

Now, after 45+ days of getting a look-see at the 6’5” Las Vegas native, it’s appearing that Bryant and Cubs might be best served if he were sent back down, that’s right, back down to Triple A Iowa for some re-calibration to find better command of the strike zone.

Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong, a sign of weakness to some.

But stubbornly staying a course that’s not moving forward as was hoped, an assumption on this writer’s part, is more anemic and just may run that ship aground if some steps aren’t undertaken forthwith.

As of this posting, Bryant’s at 62 strikeouts, double+ his walks and it’s early June. The OB% is fine (.389) and he’s shown a little pop in his bat (7hr) which we knew he had but is displayed by nearly everyone who swings for fences.

Kris will likely make it in the ‘show,’ even if he stays put (CHI), but remaining in majors to work out the kinks may not be the most prudent course.

Some lose their confidence, make mal-adjustments and alter the natural minor-league course of things, so to speak. The last thing Cubs want is a whiff king, the All-or-Nothing kind of batsman (See; Kingman (‘86), Dunn, Carter (HOU, also Vegan), Souza (TB)).

.......Epstein,T.wc.S.Slingsby.9.8.10.thmb

The free-swingers are fine for those clubs who’re bottom-feeders or treading water, but for any team with serious championship aspirations, that kinda’ guy is not a playoff enhancer. Why? Because in the clutch, with big arms on the mound and clever cabezas in the dugout, the AON invariably comes up short. Big surprise.

And contrary to what sabrmaticians would have you believe, sometimes the issue is real simple. On the Kris Bryant question (and there should be a question), it’s contact, not the movie (terrific flick), but ball & bat variety.

You can’t press GMs too hard. They must be allowed to groom their prospects their own way, at their own pace or the kiddie krowd of klammer is gonna’ mess…it…up. The suits and field scouts generally know what they’re doing. Missteps? Surely, but start second-guessing and you’re just a mounted weather-vane.

A GM must also have the wherewithal to withstand criticism, even waves of it and even it flows in force from the most-favored marketing sector, fantasy fans.

Case in point: Epstein & Co seemingly caving to pressure and calling up KB when they did, as they did, letting an atypical topicality on what’s normally SOP on team-player contract dictate dialogue, appeared to push the brass to bring up Bryant earlier than initially planned, before their ready.

Now it looks like the top prospect is having a contact issue.

But he wouldn’t be the first young hopeful to experience growing pains. Other greats have and been sent back down to the minor leagues for some readjusting.

Mickey Mantle made the big club after Yankees’ spring “exhibition” in 1951.

.......Mantle.wc.cca.1953.Bowman.thmb

He played 96 games with the New York City club, then in July was “shifted” to their AAA Kansas City affiliate for some fine tuning rest of the regular season, only to be retrieved for a few plate appearances in the Yankees’ post-season which back then consisted of one playoff, the World Series.

The numbers in comparison:

Mantle: 96g, 341ab, 61r, 13hr, 65rbi, 8sb-15a, 43w, 74so, .349ob%, .267ba
Bryant: 46g, 170ab, 29r, 7hr, 34rbi, 5sb, 28w, 62so, .379ob%, .271ba

Kris’ performance is not dissimilar to the Mick’s. In some notable regards the Nevada native is trending better, as in on-base % and stolen bases (4-5a). But in the all-important contact department (SOs) the ‘tall drink of water’ is out-pacing the Oklahoma kid who was no stranger himself to the swing & miss.

Following are some quotes from a 1951 November edition of Sport Stars magazine which featured Jackie Robinson on its post-Series cover and highlighted the “Yankees New Golden Boy (66-68)).”

Tommy Heinrich: “Don’t have any worries about Mickey, he has a great baseball instinct. You tell him something once and that’s it. Just remember, he never played the outfield before (SS). It’s quite a rough deal for anybody to break into the majors and master a new position at the same time.”

Mantle’s rapid rise in the pros was nearly unprecedented.

Having played briefly in “Ban Johnson” league while in high school, after graduation in 1950 he’d begun in Class D ball (Independence, MO (KOM)), quickly moved up to C level for New York’s “Western Association” team in Joplin, MO and then impressed with the parent club the next spring. At the time, only “three other players had advanced so rapidly,” a trio which included “peerless Rogers Hornsby (Cards ‘15) (“(NAPBL)”).

.......Mantle.wc.cca.Gem.ASR.1953.thmb

All this meaning, the Yankees were very high on Mantle (“brightest prospect in a decade (SS)”) and the expected short-lived demotion of Mickey to KC was simply a small detour that afforded the budding star the necessary time in the proper place to bring his game up to the high major league standards of what was baseball’s standard-bearer ball-club.

Should the Cubs be planning on a similar re-designation of Kris Bryant in 2015? Did brass make the wrong call on Kris, timing wise?

Bryant has a tad more pro-play under his belt than did Mickey before the big call-up, with three stops in single A ball (‘13) and moved up to AA – AAA in 2014. In a Sunday win over the Nationals, Bryant went 3-4 with 2 runs, a walk and a solo strikeout (62), raising his BA ten pts (.282).

Fielding, base-running, a smart arm, they all matter, but the hit tally, or better yet, the contact points, i.e., command of the strike zone, is a maker or a breaker. And strikeouts are a key indicator of your future. The good news is that a high rate of whiff can be corrected, if someone seeks to do so.

Were Bryant hitting .243 with half the SOs he’s tallied he’d look the better. But in today’s baseball, a rookie who bats above .260, and with Minor stats and build-up of Mr. Bryant, is likely to stay in the show for season’s duration.

The importance of batter’s making contact is not lost on the Northsiders (See; J.Baez (Iowa ‘15)), but don’t expect the salt & savvy that Casey Stengel and general manager George Weiss exhibited in ‘51’s mid-season Mantle demotion to duplicate w/Bryant at Wrigley.

Yes, the ’51 Yankees were loaded with talent & trophies and could afford to farm Mantle’s might for a spell, but then the Series starved Cubs who hope to turn the corner onto championship row can ill afford to stall or even retard development of what they hope is a key piece to that pennant puzzle in Bryant.

In hindsight, the value of the Mick’s brief sojourn in Kansas City is debatable.

In a near-full season with the Yankees in 1952 (142g), Mantle scored 94 runs, stroked 171 hits, clouted 23 ‘tatters (See; George Scott (d.2013)), knocked in 87 RBIs and lead the AL in SOs with 111 and would do so four more times in his career. A high strikeout total in that era, for sure, but imagine the free-swingin’ pathway Mickey might’ve embarked upon had he not been demoted in ‘51.

......canned corn

Maybe Sunday’s fine showing is harbinger of better things to come for Kris, sign of a plate adjustment that’s been in the works and is starting to pay dividends. We’ll see (6.9, CHI (Lester) @ DET (Sanchez) 7:08 EST).

There’s no disputing his popularity has generated great expectations which may bring on him a degree of over-scrutiny, if that’s possible in this ditzy for digits era.

And maybe it was an aberration, a temporary respite that changes the narrative from ‘strike-outs’ to star-in-the-making. If so, Cubs should remember this, that if designing demotion was good enough for Mr. Mantle, it can be good enough for Kris Bryant, too. FFT.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: K.Bryant, wc.cca, 7.9.14, M.Haas; K.Bryant, wc, 7.9.14, M.Haas, thmb; T.Epstein, wc, S.Slingsby, 8.9.10; M.Mantle, wc, Bowman, 1953; M.Mantle, wc, Gem-ASR, 1953; K.Bryant, wc, M.Haas, 7.9.14; canned-corn.
Posted: 6.9.15 @ 6:14pm; edit 6.10 @ 12:45am, 6.11 @ 5:23pm EST

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