Hello there, do you have a minute to talk about our lord and savior Kris Bryant? How about his small pantheon of powerful friends?
You may recall we had an entire Kris Bryant Day when the man with the dazzling eyes and explosive bat was first called up to join the Cubs. Some of us expected the world from young Mr. Bryant. The article I published looked at the potential dark side of Bryant's ascension by looking at the strikeout bender he was potentially about to embark on. As I noted, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system pegged Bryant to post a 32.9 percent strikeout rate in the big leagues, and that was an awfully big number. Could someone strike out that often and still be an impact player? ZiPS seemed to think so. It said that Bryant would be worth 4.3 WAR.
The good news is that Bryant struck out in only 30.6 percent of his plate appearances. He also surpassed his projection and was worth 6.5 fWAR, the tenth-best mark in all of baseball. He was better than Andrew McCutchen. He was better than Buster Posey without factoring in Posey's pitch framing. He was better than teammate Anthony Rizzo. Bryant was truly exceptional.
If you're a fan of an NL Central team that's not located in Chicago, you may want to avert your eyes for the remainder of this article. You see, Bryant still hasn't theoretically hit his ceiling. Despite being the tenth-best player by fWAR and playing all over the field to the degree that at least one Beyond the Box Score writer, Bryan Grosnick, is ready to peg him as the next Ben Zobrist, we still haven't seen peak Bryant. The rookie hit only 26 home runs this year. There's a non-zero chance that Bryant is one of the few living players that can lay claim to owning true 80-grade raw power. He's not going to be a 26-homer player in his prime. He plays in tiny Wrigley Field and will have a better understanding of the pitchers he faces next year.
Bryant is a big guy but still might have room to fill out just a bit more. Once we take that and better familiarity with the pitching the league throws at him into consideration, that's where more dingers start showing up. He very clearly hits the ball hard and ranked inside the top 20 in that particular category of batted ball evaluation. A spike in Bryant's homer output may also theoretically ensue in his strikeout totals rising as well, but that's a tradeoff the Cubs may be happy to make. Here's where all his batted balls wound up in the big leagues, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Some more of those deep fly balls are going to start going over the fence.
So we already have a potential 40-homer bat. Then there's the fact that Bryant posted glowing marks in both corner outfield positions in very limited time and held his own at third base. The potential is here for Bryant to be a very special player indeed. Bryan's assessment of the youngster's potential to be a quasi-Zobrist isn't too far outside of the realm of possibility.
I can go on and on about the potential that Bryant possesses, but there's a larger point here. The Cubs are a youth movement personified and galvanized in the heart of a dying star. They are spearheaded by Bryant. He is flanked by the Earth-shattering power of Kyle Schwarber and the brilliance of Jake Arrieta. There's Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez. There's Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. There's Kyle Hendricks and Hector Rondon. And there's about ten trillion more prospects fermenting down in the minors. The Cubs have made an assembly line of terror for themselves and will be laughing all the way to the bank as they churn out player after player. Not all of them will pan out, and some of them will settle in as nothing more than decent players. That's perfectly fine because the insane collection of young talent currently sitting on the 25-man roster isn't finished developing. That includes Bryant, the man who was worth 6.5 fWAR this year.
Speaking of Schwarber, you may recall that he did this the other night. Hitting mind-meltingly ridiculous home runs is Schwarber's main calling card. It's why the Cubs drafted him fourth overall last year despite their system already being flush with potent bats. He likely ends up as a full-time outfielder despite being drafted as a catcher, and he's hit only .143/.213/.268 against lefties (Joe Maddon has been using him almost exclusively as a platoon player of late), but there's so much to love here. This is a player that was drafted last year and already has signed a promotional deal with New Era and has a ball encased in plexiglass on top of the Wrigley scoreboard. Kiley McDaniel (formerly of FanGraphs, now of the Atlanta Braves) gave Schwarber a 60 FV grade on his midseason prospect update. He gave Bryant a 75 and Soler a 60.
Then of course there's more reinforcements in the minor leagues. Outfielders Billy McKinney and Albert Almora are stalking around at Double-A for starters. McKinney will likely wind up in left while providing power and average, while Almora is a young fleet-footed center fielder with the chance to profile as a leadoff type. Their teammate Wilson Contreras, a catcher, broke out in a huge way with his bat this year. A-ball shortstop Gleyber Torres could wind up as a top-of-the-order spark plug and 2015 first rounder Ian Happ will provide a pure bat at either second base or in the outfield. Donnie Dewees, also drafted this year, is yet another outfielder with the chance to hit for power, as is A-baller Mark Zagunis. And the Cubs have a couple pitching prospects as well in Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood too.
The Cubs are to be feared. The Mets should be afraid. The Cubs can beat you every day of the week and twice on Sundays, and they're not done. There are plenty of signs floating around Wrigley Field claiming that "next year is now," but boy, just wait until next year. You're going to see something really special from Kris Bryant and 24 of his closest friends.