Kris Bryant is here! While most consideration will rightly be paid to his bat, there's also the matter of where he'll play on defense. Bryant was drafted out of college as a third baseman, and although the Cubs have been made some noise about moving him to the outfield, he only appeared beyond there briefly during spring training. Surprisingly, since his controversial demotion to the minors he's appeared exclusively at third.
Bryant's play was solid enough in the minors last season to earn him best defensive third baseman in the Pacific Coast League and Best Infield Arm in the Southern League honors. Brant certainly has impressive arm strength so why, despite his athleticism, have the Cubs questioned his ability to stick at third?
Mostly, it comes down to his height. Standing 6'5", Bryant is taller than almost everyone who has played third in the past 20 years. They don't call it the hot corner for nothing, as the position requires among the quickest reactions of any on the diamond. This is where Bryant's height puts his at a disadvantage, as there is at least a perception that tall players cover less range. This doesn't mean that Bryant can't cover as much ground as Evan Longoria, but it could mean he has a shorter leash at the position, so to speak.
Should Bryant log 100 games and make an appearance at third, he'll join only Ryan Minor, Archi Cianfrocco, and Troy Glaus as the tallest men to play the position, more than 2 standard deviations (σ 2.0 inches) taller than the average height of 61". But what about regular third basemen over the same period? What does their height distribution look like?
Well, Minor and Cianfrocco didn't make the cut, leaving Troy Glaus as the beacon of hope for baseball fans who want to see Bryant spend more than half his career (or more) at the hot corner. Again, the average height of regular third baseman is 6'1, but the standard deviation drops to 1.7 inches, indicating that height is more tightly clustered around the mean, making Bryant even more of an outlier. We can generally assume that any biases in the data over-report height, as well.
While the Cubs have talked a lot about moving Bryant to the outfield, they haven't done too much in game situations to actually prepare him for the position. While Bryant's arm could play in either corner, right field seems likely to be occupied for the next decade or so by now former top prospect, Jorge Soler. This could push Bryant to left, a move made recently by other former third basemen Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon. But for all the talk, it seems impossible that the Cubs would call up such a closely followed prospect only to stick him at a foreign position with the hopes that he can make the transition. Oh, and hit dingers.
So when Bryant débuts at third, is there anyone who could cut into his playing time at third base? So far this season, Mike Olt, another former top prospect who joined the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, has seen the most time at third base. However, he has been dealing with a bruised wrist after being hit by a pitch in Colorado. Even if he was healthy, Olt won't pose a threat to Bryant's playing time. He's just about as bad a major league hitter as you can imagine, striking out at nearly twice the league average while hitting for modest power. He's not a leather-man either as defensive metrics are throwing shade on Olt as well.
While predicting manager's decisions is a fool's errand, particularly when it comes to the unconventional Joe Maddon, it is most likely that now that he's here, Kris Bryant will be the starting third baseman for the Chicago Cubs for the rest of the season. Can he can overcome the perception he's too tall to reach sharply hit balls? We'll have our answer soon enough. Hopefully, by way of public access to StatCast data.
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All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Matt Jackson is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.