The Kris Bryant Era starts Friday for the Cubs.
Multiple sources said Thursday night that the top prospect in baseball is to join the team for his big-league debut when the Cubs open a three-game series against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field Friday.
Bryant, 23, will be the third member of the Cubs’ so-called Core Four group of prospects to make his debut in the last 9 ½ months, joining 2011 first-round pick Javy Baez and $30 million Cuban free agent Jorge Soler – both of whom homered in their debuts.
Bryant’s big-league debut is the most anticipated for a Cub since another No. 2 overall pick, Mark Prior, pitched six innings to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley May 22, 2002.
Bryant takes the roster spot of third baseman Mike Olt, who’s headed to the disabled list after an MRI Thursday revealed a hairline fracture in the right wrist that was hit by a 97 mph fastball Saturday in Colorado.
Whether Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is in the starting lineup for Friday’s 1:20 p.m. game might depend on how quickly he can get to Chicago from New Orleans, where his Class AAA Iowa Cubs played Thursday night.
The second game of Iowa’s doubleheader was rained out, and Bryant was scheduled to travel Friday morning – after hitting a three-run homer in his final at-bat for Iowa during a 10-7 victory.
He was hitting .321 with three homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.043 OPS in seven games for Iowa.
The promotion for Bryant comes barely two weeks after he was cut from big-league spring training camp in a move that made national headlines because of his exceptional performance, the Cubs’ stated intentions to compete this season and the business ramifications of the decision.
After getting cut despite hitting .425 with a major-league-leading nine homers this spring and a 1.652 OPS, his agent, Scott Boras, railed publicly over the “integrity” of the decision. And the players’ union called it a “bad day for baseball” and threatened litigation.
By keeping Bryant in the minors for at least 12 days this season, the Cubs assure an additional year of club control before Bryant becomes eligible for free agency. Thursday was the 12th day.
Olt, who saw a hand specialist Thursday and is expected to be in a cast for three weeks, is the second Cubs third baseman to go on the DL in less than a week, joining backup Tommy La Stella. He had come off the bench twice (two strikeouts) since getting hit but had not been able to start.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Wednesday’s game that the Cubs could revisit on Friday the configuration of a roster that carried an extra pitcher for much of the week and suggested Bryant could be a possibility, depending on the needs of the club.
Baseball America’s 2014 Minor League Player of the Year – who played some left field during spring training — is expected to be the everyday third baseman until further notice.
He joins a first-place team off to its best start in six years, and Maddon said he expects good things from Bryant, based on what he saw of the 6-foot-5 slugger but wants to keep the inevitable hype firmly outside the kid’s head.
“The thing I like to do with young players like that is to really just try to emphasize, ‘You’re just one of a group,’ “ the manager said. “I’ve been around prodigies before, and part of [the adjustment] is the rhetoric; that would be the rhetoric from within.
“The rhetoric from outside is going to be glamorous, glorious, whatever hyperbole, whatever you want to call it. From within, it’s got to be real.”
What Maddon doesn’t seem to be concerned with is the likelihood Bryant might struggle as he starts his big league career – even though he didn’t get the same big-league taste late last season that Baez, Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and others did.
“Oftentimes when a young guy comes up there’s that naïvete about it that permits you to perform like you always have performed,” Maddon said, “and I love when the guy’s able to maintain that level of naïve-ness because once he starts getting too sophisticated and starts to overanalyze the thing, that’s when it could possibly become a problem.”