Twitter erupted Saturday night following news that Kris Bryant was pulled during the middle of Triple-A Iowa’s game. He didn’t appear to suffer an injury in the game, which only fueled speculation that the 22-year-old slugger was headed for The Show.
Unfortunately, it was learned soon thereafter that Bryant departed the game after aggravating a left-foot injury suffered earlier in the week, when he fouled a ball of his big toe, and would undergo an MRI the following day.
And just like that, the excitement regarding Bryant’s potential call-up shifted to concern about the injury. With less than a month left in the minor league regular season, any injury requiring a trip to the disabled list would likely kill his chances of receiving a September promotion.
With youngsters Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks now in the major leagues, and outfielder Jorge Soler likely to join them in September, news of the Cubs calling up Bryant over the weekend wouldn’t have been a complete shock.
Team president Theo Epstein previously stated, via ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers (on Twitter), that he doesn’t “foresee” Bryant playing in the major leagues this season—which is what any wise front-office official would say when trying to temper expectations with a potential generational slugger such as Bryant.
But let’s say the Cubs ultimately decide to reward Bryant with a promotion in September. If that were the case, then what should be expected from the promising slugger?
"Bryant isn't your ordinary prospect. He isn't Corey Patterson, Felix Pie or Josh Vitters," says Tommy Birch of The Des Moines Register. "Bryant has the hype of Kerry Wood, the sky-is-the-limit potential of Mark Prior (before the injuries) and the power of Anthony Rizzo all rolled into one."
When Bryant hit a two-run, walk-off homer against Lehigh Valley last Thursday, he became the first professional player to hit 40 home runs this season, and he did it in just his 122nd game. The home run was also his 18th in 56 games since joining Triple-A Iowa.
However, Bryant is far from a one-dimensional power hitter; he can’t help it he’s 6’5”, 215 pounds with a swing that enables him to loft the ball out of the park with ease to all fields.
Though he’s currently batting just .306 at Iowa, Bryant has hit for a high average at every minor league level—not including his two games in Rookie ball after signing—during his brief career.
|Kris Bryant's Career Statistics|
However, as you can see in the above table, those averages repeatedly have been aided by high batting averages on balls in play (BABIP). In Bryant’s case, his knack for consistently working deep counts produces a high number of walks and even more strikeouts, both of which will always be elements of his game, along with hitting home runs. When Bryant does put the ball in play, he’s getting a hit roughly 40 percent of the time.
That being said, the fact that he has established such a high baseline BABIP during his career means his actual batting average inevitably will come down against more advanced pitching, just as it’s done in Triple-A.
In theory, at least based on his batting average/BABIP regression with Iowa, Bryant’s batting average would drop to .260-.270 should his BABIP fall to .330. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, especially when a majority of his hits will be for extra bases. I just wouldn’t count on Bryant sustaining his current .334/.429/.680 career batting line at the highest level.
Bryant homered in his first career spring training at-bat this year, effortlessly blasting a two-run home run to center field. After that, he went one for his next 17 (.111 overall) with 11 strikeouts, one walk and, you guessed it, a home run. Honestly, that could be the type of performance we see from Bryant if he’s promoted in September. He’ll inevitably show off his ginormous power—especially over roughly 30 games compared to 11 in spring training—and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits 5-7 home runs, but it’s basically a guarantee that there also will be strikeouts.
The only way Bryant will hit for a high average this September is if he draws more walks than expected. With a 12.7 percent walk rate over 678 career plate appearances, Bryant has proved to be a patient hitter that sees lots of pitches each trip to the plate. However, major league pitchers won’t be afraid to challenge his strengths as a hitter while at the same time working to exploit his weaknesses.
Once Bryant is fully developed and an established big leaguer, he has the potential to be a .270-plus hitter with 35-plus home runs in a given season. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see him struggle in the average department over one month in the major leagues.
A low batting average in his highly anticipated debut may look bad on paper, but it won’t be enough to overshadow the baseballs he destroys along the way.