In today's Minor League Update over at Baseball Prospectus, I received a question in the comments about why Kris Bryant is still in Double-A despite numbers that rival that of the best college hitters in the country. It's not the first question I've received on the subject, and while fans are typically extremely over-aggressive in wanting their team's prospects promoted, Bryant's dominance of the Southern League makes it a legitimate question.
Another reader provided this link as a potential answer, but it's generic statement from Cubs GM Jed Hoyer about wanting Bryant to dominate Double-A longer which provides nice filler for the pages of MLB.com but doesn't really provide us with any answers. It's a generic platitude that doesn't really answer any questions.
There are some reasons why Bryant is still in Double-A, however, and they are quite legitimate.
The first is logistics. Bryant is a third baseman and will remain one for the foreseeable future. There have been talks about him playing other positions, but those have taken place much more frequently outside the walls of the Cubs offices than inside them and are based primarily on the potential logjam the Cubs have at the position if all of their prospects pan out. As for Bryant individually, there's no reason to have to move him off of the position right now, nor do the Cubs want to do so.
Because of that, there's no place for Bryant in Triple-A right now. While fellow prospect Javier Baez gets all the attention at short stop, Christian Villanueva is a legitimate prospect in his own right and is manning third base in Iowa this season. He doesn't have the hitting prowess of Baez and Bryant, but if he were in a lesser system, you'd know a lot more about him. His best tool, however, is his defense at third base, and while his bat has potential, it's going to take much more time than is Bryant's. There's really not a good way for Bryant and Villanueva to both be on the same roster and both get the time they need in the lineup, as Bryant needs to continue to work on his defense in order to stay at third and Villanueva needs all the at-bats he can get. Remember also that the Pacific Coast League only uses the DH about half the time, limiting the opportunity for additional at-bats.
We also can't downplay the possibility of Javier Baez getting at-bats at third base some time this season. The Cubs are going to want him in the majors at some point this season and Starlin Castro still isn't going anywhere, meaning Baez will have to get some at-bats elsewhere. Third base is a possible destination, further clouding the third base situation in Iowa.
The second reason is Bryant himself. Despite his monster season, Bryant isn't without his flaws. As mentioned, his defense at third base is average and it's important that he plays there every day if the Cubs want him to be able to remain at the position. He's also not a finished product as a hitter. We've become accustomed to Bryant hitting between .330-.350 in the minors, but with a strike out rate north of 25 percent, he's not likely to do that in the majors. His BABIP's north of .400 are partly a product of him hitting the ball hard so frequently against minor league pitching, but are not realistic at the major league level. Bryant still swings and misses a ton, and while it will always be a part of his game, the Cubs would like to see him take some small steps forward in that area.
Lastly, it's important to remember that prospects don't have to stop in Triple-A. There's no rule saying that Bryant has to hit every rung on the organizational ladder before being promoted or ever even step foot in the state of Iowa. The jump from A-ball to Double-A is the toughest in the minor league development chain and Bryant has proved himself in the upper minors this year about as well as anyone could have hoped. Once the Cubs have seen what they need out of him, they could feel comfortable promoting him directly from Tennessee.
Unlike many of the player development arguments that were used this spring to cover up super-two manipulation, the Cubs reasons for Bryant still being in Double-A, whether they want to come out and divulge them to the public or not, are legitimate. In a lesser system with no one blocking his path, he'd be heading to Triple-A soon. Likewise, if he was in A-ball and was blocked from getting tested in Double-A, virtually any other prospect would be asked to move aside for the sake of Bryant's development. As the situation stands now, however, none of those moves are necessary.
Bryant is fine where he is in Double-A, and bumping him to Triple-A at the sake of other prospects is unnecessary. There's no reason he can't make the developmental adjustments he needs to make and get his necessary experience in Tennessee as well as he could get it in Iowa.