By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Stop. No, don’t do it. Bad Cubs fan, bad.
You saw that the Pittsburgh Pirates called up their top prospect, Gregory Polanco, on Tuesday, and it got that desperate mad scientist brain of yours working against your better judgment. And Polanco played his first game against the Cubs, no less, putting all those wouldas, couldas and shouldas right in your face.
Polanco has nothing to do with Kris Bryant. The two players’ situations aren’t comparable.
I know you want something, anything right now, to dull the pain of what on paper is a throw-away season in which you knew before it started that losing a lot of games had to be accepted. You have to realize, though, that finally being able to say “they’re here” when it comes to the Cubs’ top prospects could end up being more of something with Craig T. Nelson if you demand immediate satisfaction rather than planned patience. And nobody wants Craig T. Nelson.
Bryant currently has 22 home runs in Double-A Tennessee with a completely insane 1.182 OPS after 274 plate appearances. That is all probably not a fluke and is a good enough sample size to conclude that the 22-year-old can hit. It doesn’t mean promotion time, though.
“We tell every prospect to go dominate,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week. “He’s obviously doing that. We probably want to see it for a little while longer.”
But you just have to have that Everlasting Gobstopper now. The Pirates are young and talented, so why can Polanco come up for them but not Bryant for the Cubs? Because they’re different situations.
Polanco has played almost five times as many professional baseball games as Bryant. The former has also played Triple-A games to the latter’s zero. Even though it’s likely that Bryant will succeed against Triple-A pitching, it needs to be seen, and that pitching is different from Double-A.
A Neil Walker injury in a year in which the Pirates think the postseason is possible (despite their pitching issues and some injuries) has also hastened the need for Polanco. The Cubs are hopelessly bad for 2014, not banged up.
There is a fairly specific timetable plan for Bryant and every top prospect acquired under this Cubs regime. Eye-popping numbers are nice. In a sense, that is why the player was drafted, signed or traded for. Those great numbers don’t alter the timetable.
Within that timetable is a consideration of boring-but-still-important paperwork stuff like an impact on taking someone’s spot on the 40-man roster, the subsequent impact on any Rule 5 situations and what we have learned about a lot more recently with guys like Polanco (that Hoyer and Theo Epstein and other front offices often don’t mention) regarding Super Two status.
“A refresher on how this works: All players with three years of major league service time become arbitration eligible. Additionally, the top 22 percent of players who have more than two years but less than three are treated as if they have accumulated three years; hence Super Two. The rule, paradoxically, encourages teams to do things that line up against putting the best possible players on the field. Teams promote unremarkable players as roster filler, because they are not expected to cause much damage in arbitration, while holding back superstars to guarantee an extra year of team control at a discount. Past Super Two casualties include Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, Wil Myers and Gerrit Cole. Jon Singleton was held back by the Astros until he signed a long-term deal, which mooted his arbitration clock. Oscar Tavares was held back by the Cardinals until they apparently decided that either it was safe to promote him or the Brewers were getting too far out in front.”
So, yeah, as much as no Cubs fan wants to hear about it — money. Also, Scott Boras money at some point at that. Ask yourself if you want to burn a year of Bryant’s service time in a useless season, assuming the Cubs don’t go the Singleton route with him. Polanco finally passed Super Two status and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2017 now. The Pirates like that a lot.
The post-Hendry era of Cubs brass believes in prospects playing at every level of the minors and not skipping anything. Bryant will be in Iowa before Chicago, so accept that now.
Consider, too, how that patience has paid off apparently in Anthony Rizzo. Then consider the immediate bang of Starlin Castro’s jump from Double-A to the majors under Hendry that has morphed into some serious struggles, in part because at the time Castro’s minor league bat blinded everyone from some other issues he needed to work out. And, hell, you’re a Cubs fan, so consider the assumptions about infamous Felix Pies and Bobby Hills.
OK, fine, but promote Bryant to Iowa two weeks ago then, right? There’s a third baseman there named Christian Villanueva. He’s not a nobody and has a way better glove than Bryant (how soon you forget Bryant has to do more than just hit).
Cubs are a pregnant alien right now — alien in that they’ve never been here before with what seems like a bevy of young potential under competent minds — and we don’t know the gestation period. Intergalactic scientists Hoyer, Epstein and crew have a way better idea than us of when to let the eggs hatch properly rather than rushing them.
Be excited. Just don’t be rash. You’ve seen that movie before.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.