The Chicago Cubs finally allow Kris Bryant, the top prospect in baseball and the number-one pick in the 2014 draft, to join their major league roster on Friday afternoon.
The slugger dominated spring training, leading all players with nine home runs in 14 games and a .425 batting average. But the Cubs sent the red-hot hitter down to the minors after his sizzling spring training, prompting his agent, Scott Boras, to publicly accuse the Cubs of holding Bryant back from the majors so that any attempt by the third baseman to become a free agent would have to wait an extra year. Because Bryant can only now accumulate 171 days in the majors this season, his eligibility for free agency would not kick in until after 2021, as MLB requires 172 days for a player to reckon his service as a full year.
Bryant will start at third base and debut in the cleanup spot at Wrigley Field against the San Diego Padres after playing seven games at the Cubs’ Triple-A outlet in Iowa, hitting .321 with two home runs and 10 RBI in only 28 at-bats. Bryant is the first player in over ten years to lead spring training in home runs and not make an opening-day roster. In 2014, Bryant was named the player of the year in the minors, hitting a combined .325 with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs as he traveled between Double-A and Triple-A.
After hearing he had been called up, Bryant tweeted, “Today I got to tell my family that my dream is coming true. Can’t really put into words what that feels like. So excited for this journey!”
Bryant’s appearance will be accompanied by a billboard across from Wrigley Field from Adidas depicting Bryant, captioned, “Worth the Wait.” Aaron Kahn, director of baseball for Adidas, coyly denied that the company was taking a shot at the Cubs for delaying Bryant’s debut, saying, “We just wanted to make sure to tell the folks in Chicago that they have a great thing coming.” Kahn asserted that Adidas had planned on putting up a billboard of Bryant long before his demotion, but did admit that the caption had changed in the process.
Bryant had been clear about his disappointment, saying, “I don’t want to say I’m mad or anything, I’m just extremely disappointed. I wanted my performance to matter, and to me it felt like it didn’t matter as much as I thought it would. The dream is on hold for a little bit but I’m hungrier than ever.”
The players union and Boras protested Bryant’s demotion, but MLB told them to butt out, as it was the Cubs’ decision. Team president Theo Epstein explained, “In this case it was the right thing to do. His performance really mattered, and he made a great first impression on Joe [Maddon]. It demonstrated clearly to everybody that he is really close to not just being in the big leagues but an important role on the team.” He added, “I’ve never put a guy on an Opening Day roster who hadn’t played in the big leagues previously. In 13 years, I’ve never done it. I’m not saying I’d never do it, but the general rule, the presumption, is to allow those guys to go out, play, get comfortable, get in rhythm, and come up when you handpick just the right moment for them to have success.”
Bryant said, “I’m new to this game. I’m definitely learning a lot this spring training. I think I’ve handled it pretty well. I’ll let Scott do his job, the union do their job and I just do my job on the field. That’s all I can control.” When asked if he was angry with the Cubs, he answered, “I don’t want to talk about that right now. When I put on a uniform it’s an honor to play for this team. I’ll use this as motivation and fuel the fire. I’ve been told a lot in my life I couldn’t do it. I kind of go back to my high school days when people doubted me. It’s OK to doubt me. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my head straight and really working hard. Just more motivation for me.”
Bryant concluded, “It’s always been my dream to play in the big leagues. It will definitely be an emotional time for me. It’s definitely going to be exciting but I try to stay in the present moment.”