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Is Kris Bryant Cubs’ third baseman of future?

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Updated: September 12, 2013 10:53AM



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Maybe Kris Bryant doesn’t flinch because he’s heard the question so many times.

Are you a major-league third baseman?

“I like to think so,” said Bryant, whom the Cubs drafted with the No. 2 overall pick this year. “I want that challenge. I want to compete at a tough position. I’ve always been up for the challenge.”

For all the talk about the stutter-step seasons of alleged core players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, and all the talk about young-blood pitching acquired in the July trades, one of the most intriguing questions for the Cubs’ multiyear rebuild involves Bryant.

And top prospect Javy Baez. And prospects acquired in trades the last two Julys: Christian Villanueva and Mike Olt.

In other words: Who’s on third when Theo Epstein finally has his pieces in place.

About the only thing you know for sure — especially if you follow Twitter — is that it won’t be Ian Stewart, who was a two-time flop for the Cubs and a cautionary tale of getting too caught up in appearances with “toolsy” prototypes.

Bryant, 21, is a lanky, 6-5 power hitter and natural third baseman, but he’s athletic enough with a strong enough arm that many project him as a corner outfielder.

Baez, one of the game’s top minor-league hitters, is a 37-homer shortstop with a lot of errors. Many believe he’ll be at third base when he makes his major-league debut, probably sometime next season.

Bryant, a mature hitter who earned a quick promotion to advanced Class A Daytona, could debut right behind Baez. Both will play multiple positions in the Arizona Fall League, general manager Jed Hoyer said, if only to discover and develop their versatility.

“And Villanueva’s had a hell of a season, and he’s a really strong defender,” Hoyer said. “So you feel like, ‘OK, we have some depth.’ ”

Bryant could be the most interesting to watch this fall and into next spring as he develops professionally and physically. Cubs scouting executive Tim Wilken is optimistic Bryant’s unusual size for third base won’t force him to move.

“He has a very flexible body,” Wilken said. “And he plays a pretty good third base. There’s some things he’s got to learn, but if he stays where he’s at physically right now — maybe with 10 more pounds — he should be able to stay there, I hope.”

Cubs officials are fine with Bryant at either third base or in right field. They focused more on middle-of-the-order power during discussions that led to selecting him over college power pitcher Jonathan Gray.

But if Bryant is the hitter they believe, and he can play third, he becomes a rare commodity.

“It’s one of those things where industry-wide there ain’t a whole lot of them out there right now,” manager Dale Sveum said.

Some evaluators say the way Bryant looks now, he could push for a big-league job late next season.

“That’d be incredible,” said Bryant, adding, “There’s still a lot to learn.”

How quickly Bryant gets to the big leagues, Wilken said, could come down to when the front office wants to start his service-time clock, if early indications mean anything.

“I could see him coming pretty darn quick,” Wilken said.

Bryant, who hit .336 with nine homers and a .688 slugging percentage in three stops this year, doesn’t lack for confidence.

“I think I’ve been good in that area,” he said. “Not really being cocky, but keeping the confidence inside and knowing that I can do it.

“And doing well these [41] games into my professional career has really helped give me a pretty good boost of confidence that I can handle what some of these guys are throwing at me.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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