PEORIA, Ariz. — Before there was Bryant Watch 2015, the eyes of Cubs faithful spent the final three weeks of last year’s spring training fixed on Javy Baez.
So the second baseman, more than most, can appreciate what Bryant has been able to do in this year’s 2015 audition — which includes leading all of baseball with six home runs and, sandwiched between two strikeouts Monday, whacking an opposite-field double that hit the middle of the wall on the fly.
“He’s just trying to let everybody know that he’s here and he’s coming up,” Baez said. “And he’s trying to find out the way to get there.”
The question is more when than if — the Cubs still figure to let him spend the first few weeks in the minors, at least, to keep a year of service time.
As for the where: Bryant served as the team’s DH on Monday and will again Tuesday. The “soft plan,” manager Joe Maddon said Monday, was for him to return to third base on Thursday.
Bryant threw off to the side at 90 feet Monday as he manages a tired right throwing shoulder that cost him starts in the field the last three days.
“I’m really just taking it slow,” Bryant said Monday. “No need to kill myself in spring training. I’d love to be back out on the field playing third base, but I’m really taking it kinda slow. Just normal fatigue. I’ll be fine.”
Bryant was happy to stay sharp as the DH, saying at-bats against big-league pitching were valuable this time of year. After striking out on three pitches against Padres pitcher Brandon Morrow, who is fighting for the team’s fifth starter job, he tagged him for a fourth-inning double.
Caution with Bryant’s shoulder would figure to slow down any plan to play him in the outfield, something Maddon detailed a day earlier. Bryant said he had “no clue” about when he might start taking fly balls, “but I’ll do whatever they tell me.”
He didn’t sound too concerned about the outfield work, which would be in the name of versatility and by no means a permanent move off third base.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said. “I’m a baseball player. So as long as I’m on the field playing, catching the ball, running down some fly balls, it’ll be fun.
“I played some outfield before in college. It was fun. I’m looking forward to another challenge.”
While he played some outfield at the University of San Diego, Bryant has stuck to third base since the Cubs drafted him second overall in 2013.
“I haven’t really been an outfielder my whole life, but I think it’s a position I can get used to pretty quick,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of plays at third base — bunt (defense), first-to-third defenses.
“In the outfield, you really have to worry about getting a good jump on the ball and hitting your cut-off man.
“I think I can catch on pretty quick.”